I smiled when I wrote the title to this post. And I’d like to state, very clearly, this has nothing to do with either of my favorite editors, Janet and Dalia. I love these people and work well with them. I feel like Janet and I have established more than a working relationship: we’re friends. I’ve watched her go through a lot in the past few years, and she’s come through it like a trooper. Editing books with these two wonderful people is something I look forward to. I wish everyone in publishing could have editors like Janet and Dalia.
The reason I’m posting about this topic is because an author friend of mine had trouble with her editor, and it sounded all too familiar to me. I once had the same trouble with an editor, and it can make the entire publishing experience frustrating and dismal if you don’t know how to deal with it.
The relationship between author and editor can be tricky. Just like in life, you either get along with some people or you don’t. And there’s no rhyme or reason. And if you don’t get along with your editor, it can be extremely difficult. There must be a give and take on both sides at all times, and egos have to be put aside for the sake of the book so nothing is compromised.
In my case, I had an editor who didn’t know how to communicate well electronically. She made notes and comments on the side of the manuscript in capital letters, with exclamation points. And she wasn’t shy about it. She would write: “WRONG,” at the top of the comment, and then go into a pedantic rant about a small detail that wasn’t even important to the story, the love, or the romance. A chapter later, she would write, “WRONG AGAIN!!” and continue on with another rant about some idiotic fact that made no sense to the storyline or the book. I simply removed the issues, and rewrote a sentence or two. That’s all it took to fix. There was no need for a two page pen pal letter from this editor.
When you’re dealing with people through e-mail or electronic communication, you have to choose the way you speak with care. Capital letters can mean anything from arrogance to insult. I take it as a direct message whenever someone uses all caps with me. It’s like shouting through cyberspace, and I don’t like it when it’s directed at me without just cause. I have a long fuse, and I’m not confrontational. But if someone were to shout at me in person, they’d better stand back, grab something, and be prepared for a response that might floor them…something they won’t forget any time soon. This is just instinct for me; I think most people react the same way.
But when an editor does this on a word document, while you’re working on a manuscript you care about, it’s not easy to deal with. Your first instinct is to shout right back, in all caps. But the best thing to do is sit back, take a break, and calm down. Going back with snide remarks and swipes isn’t going to make the book any better and you’re not going to feel any better. I’ve learned this through experience, trust me.
I’ve also learned not to take everything an editor says or suggests seriously. Sometimes they are right. I’ve conceded many times because editors have been right. But they aren’t always right, and you have to know when to stand up for what you believe is right for the book. You know your book better than anyone; you know your readers better than anyone. But you also have to learn how to react to an editor in a nice, professional manner, because you might be working with this editor again down the line. You’re never going to like this person, you’re always going to think this person is an idiot, but you’re going to have to figure out a way to get along with this person.
I think the worst editorial experience I ever suffered through was with a copyeditor who had a loud, condescending tone/voice. I’m not sure if she really was condescending or not (why you have to be careful with e-mail and electronic communication). But she sure sounded that way, and I don’t take well to pushy people. If someone pushes me too far, I’ll either push back or pull. Either way, they are going to be sorry (smile). This editor used words like “parse” whenever she didn’t like the way two characters were interacting…”This doesn’t parse well…” I would look at the comments and think, “WTF?” Who the hell uses the word “parse?” And she loved to change character dialogue. Yup. She did that. And she was only a copyeditor, not a managing editor. Her job was to fix spelling and correct grammatical errors, not add input to the storyline.
And there’s only one way to deal with condescending people who think they know it all: total dismissal. You’re never going to win with people like this. And there’s no point in complaining to the publisher. It only adds fuel to an already smoldering fire. Unless you truly believe that what the editor is doing will hurt the integrity of the book, the small changes don’t really matter and sometimes it’s just easier all the way around to let them have their way.
So if you ever come across an editor who knows it all, rants about things that don’t matter to the book, and you get the feeling she doesn’t really understand what you’re trying to do with the book, handle it with care. And always keep the integrity of the book as the main focus, not the editor who needs a good swift kick in the ass. A week later, none of it will really matter.