An editor new to the business wondered in an online forum what other editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author. The query provoked an interesting discussion, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting for writers to be privy to something editors talk about when you’re not around.
The In-House Editor & House Style
Whether or not the writer incorporates suggested revisions seemed to be a big concern for the in-house editors in the forum. These are editors employed by publishing companies, magazine, and journals as staff or freelancers.The job of those editors is to communicate house style and ensure the work meets house standards.
Although you can always question seek clarifications from an in-house editor, there may be limits. When an author is uncooperative, the in-house editor may have no recourse other than to give up and turn the manuscript back to the acquisition editor with a list of recommendations.
You usually can’t fight house style and direction, and as a writer, you should know that when you turn the revision process into a fight with an in-house editor, the magazine or publishing company you thought would be publishing your work may not publish it after all.
The Independent Editor & the Self-Publishing Author
The relationship between an independent freelance editor and a self-publishing author is different. Editors in the forum told about writers (no names were used!) who rejected their suggestions and produced books riddled with errors or who rushed to self-publish books that were clearly not ready. Every editor, it seemed, had stories like that. It became clear that the original poster and some others worried about how their client’s work would affect their reputations as editors.
But as the forum discussion progressed, there seemed to be some consensus that the reading public understands the author is responsible for the book’s contents, not the editor. Experienced editors know that once they’ve given the writer thoughtful advice—and backed it up with standard guides like the Chicago Manual of Style along with conversations with the writer about how their choices affect the reader—that what to do with editorial remarks is the author’s decision.
One experienced editor in the forum wrote that “editing is a diplomatic awareness-raising exercise, not a battle of wills.” I tend to agree. I enjoy working with a writer who will push back on my suggestions. It keeps me on my toes when I have to explain myself, and my experience has shown me that a conversation between editor and author can help the writer clarify her vision and generate new ideas.
Whose Book Is It, Anyway?
The consensus was that the independent editor’s job is to offer suggestions and other information that enables the self-publishing writer to make good choices more confidently. The goal of the editor should be to help writers achieve their vision for the work. A good editor does not give orders or impose her own style or vision on the author’s work. Editing is two-way conversation, not a sermon from the mount.
Yes, you might work with a dictatorial editor. Maybe you’ll work with an incompetent editor or one with a God complex, but they are not as common as the movies and New Yorker cartoons would have you believe.
Editors want to help, not hinder, the writer.
So back to the original question the forum member posed. What do editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author? The fact is, we cannot do anything but cringe when our names appear in the book’s acknowledgements and the reviews comment negatively on the editing or problems we know could have been avoided had the author adopted our suggestions and taken more time to revise. But it’s the author’s name on the front of the book, not the editor’s. And that’s as it should be.
Editors have no control over the self-published author’s output, nor should we. Some of the saddest words in the world are, “My editor made me do it.” The author is the decider and should remain in control of the work.
We editors can offer the best of our experience and knowledge to our clients. We can explain the reasoning behind our revisions and suggestions and discuss alternatives.
Editors can only hope writers will truly listen and carefully consider their advice before they decide to act on it or reject it. We hope our suggestions will not be dismissed out of hand, and we hope that writers will give their work all the time and effort it deserves. But we cannot do anything to make sure that happens.
So what do editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author? We release our angst with the words: “Not my book.”