So infinity scientists walk into a bar.
Editor—This is very unbelievable. Infinity isn't a real number. Nobody will believe this. And what does the bar look like? What kind of bar? Irish bar? Modern slick bar? Dive bar? Give us some details!
Are you traditionally published? Are you indie? In many ways, it doesn't matter, does it? A book is a book, isn't it? The process is essentially the same, isn't it? Well, except for the marketing budget.
I submit that there also is a difference when it comes to the editing phase. Let me explain.
In traditional publishing...
...the author-editor relationship is defined by the editor's (presumed) interest in the author's manuscript. Why else would they be working together? The relationship begins when the editor likes the author's submitted manuscript enough to deem it good enough (or salvageable enough) to potentially appeal to readers.
Under this dynamic, where the editor initiates the relationship, the author can proceed under the following assumptions:
- The editor is interested in her work.
- The notes the author gets from the editor can be read with the belief that the editor likes her work.
- The editor holds the keys to publication. In the case of differences of opinion, the weight of the author's opinion (right or wrong) depends on the editor's judgment, ethics, mores, and clout within the publishing organization — not to mention any policies the publisher itself may have in place (e.g., no characters who own ferrets, no portrayals of cigarette smoking).
The first scientist says, "I'll have a beer."
The second scientist says, "I'll have half a beer."
Editor—Is it possible to order half a beer? I've never heard of this. What if the second scientist orders a small beer?
In independent publishing (or self-publishing)...
...the author has the initiative. The (smart) author seeks out and selects an editor. She may or may not know the editor's work very well, aside from what it might say on the editor's website. The editor's decision to work on the book might be driven in part by schedule and financial imperatives. After all, who wants to turn away paying work? In this case, the author must operate under different assumptions:
- There is no reason to assume that the editor even likes the manuscript. The editor may actually hate the manuscript. Or the author's style. Or where the story goes.
- The notes the author gets from the editor must be read with that caveat.
- For better or worse, the author holds the keys, and makes the ultimate decision as to what ends up in the final published book.
A third scientist says, "I'll have a quarter beer."
A fourth scientist says, "I'll have an eighth of a beer."
Editor—Nobody is going to believe this. What is the point of this scene? Things are happening very easily? Where is the obstacle? Squeeze some juice out of this scenario. Are we going to see ANY of these scientists later in the story? What do they look like? Are they male? Female? What ethnicity? Are they old? Young?
I expect many will object to this assessment. Generalizations are not generals. Any traditionally published author can end up with an editor who doesn't like her book. And any indie author can randomly end up with an editor who loves her book. My hope is that every author can and does find the ideal editor for her book.
But consider that in traditional publishing the vast majority of books are rejected many many times by many many editors before they finally find a home. Most editors are not likely to like any given book. That's only natural. Think about it. If you were handed a published book chosen randomly from a bookstore, how likely are you to like it?
A fifth scientist steps up, but the bartender raises his hand and says, "I understand."
Editor—This is wonderful. It builds anticipation. I am wondering what he understands!
What is an indie author to do?
First, understand that good editors are professionals. On one level, any good professional editor is going to help you by catching plot holes, grammatical errors, continuity errors, consistency problems, etc. And if she knows your genre, she will also be able to catch issues that might trip up your genre's readers.
But let's face it, readers read books for love and enjoyment. On some level, the ideal situation is to have an editor who loves your book like you do, like a reader would — not so that the editor will kiss your butt but so that she'll be able to bring an emotional dimension to her helping you, the author, achieve what you're trying to achieve.
If you're an indie writer who has hired an editor, your challenge then is to parse out the valid critiques of your own writing from the notes that might, just might, reflect only the editor's dislike of your voice, or ignorance of your story's milieu, or inability to grok your sense of humor.
The bartender pours two beers.
Editor—I don't understand this. Why is the bartender pouring two beers? Who ordered two beers?
...I think this is a difference in the relationship, but it doesn't have to lead to a disadvantage (either way) in the outcome. It's just something to keep in mind.
As a writer, as it turns out, I'm blessed to be working with a wonderful editor who is a huge believer in my work.
As an editor, this paradigm is humbling. I feel fortunate to have edited mostly stories and novels I've chosen. My days going through the "slush pile" were only as a reader. My respect for freelance editors braving this world rises every day.
Editor—Suggest this rewrite:
Two scientists walk into a shadowy Irish pub with sawdust on the floor and dart boards across the back wall. The two well-groomed women, who wear lab coats over business suits, approach bar. The taller woman says, "I would like to have beer!"
Her friend says, "I'll have the same."
With a friendly grin, the bartender pours two tall, frothy dark ales.
Editor—Now we can get on with the story!
Laura Lis Scott is author of the feminist political satires A Spy in Stilettos and The Colonel's Secret Service. She is editor, designer, and co-founder of Toot Sweet Ink, a new indie publisher of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, and contemporary fiction. Lis Scott has waited tables, delivered campus mail, driven a truck (more like a van), wordprocessed business and legal documents, written and produced videos, produced B-movie trailers, directed television, designed and developed websites, edited magazine articles, blogged professionally (and amateurishly), served on non-profit boards, co-founded a web development company, raced cars (on actual racetracks — street racing is dumb), and written a handful of stories. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; now she lives in Colorado, where the sun always shines, even on the cloudy days. Laura has BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University of New York. She can be found on Twitter @lauras. Her website is lauralisscott.com.