Techniques

Westercon 69 and My Resulting “To Do” Items

Checklist.

I’m currently attending Westercon 69 in Portland and enjoying both the company of friends old and new, and the panels. I’ve attended quite a few panels on writing and getting published, with many of these geared toward indie and small press authors. As a result of listening to the audience questions, I now have the following items on my list to add to this site.

  • Tips for Hiring an Editor
  • Tips for Working with Editors
  • Signs You Need a New Editor
  • What are General Editing Categories
  • Editing Contracts
  • What is a Style Guide and Why Do You Care?
  • How to Be a Good Beta Reader

Those are just the topics off the top of my head. If you are particularly interested in one or more of these, let me know in comments or on Facebook, and I’ll move them up in the queue. Otherwise I’ll tackle them in some random order.

For those people I have met at Westercon – pleased to meet you! Hope you are having a great convention.

Edits Must be Tracked or Reported

This is a topic where I seem to differ from some other editors, so it’s certainly not a universal rule.

I strongly believe that edits I make to an author’s work need to be tracked or otherwise reported to the author. I cringe every time I hear an author say that their editor made changes to their work without running it past them or “hid” the edits during the editing process. I realize this is known to happen in publishing houses, where the editors sometimes have the ability to overrule the authors completely, but I’ve been told stories of it being done by freelance editors as well.

This goes completely against what I consider the role of an editor to be — to work WITH an author to make their work the best it can be. At the end, though, the work belongs to the author, not me. I can make suggestions, correct issues, and offer education, but I don’t own the decision about what to do with that input.

Because I believe this, I also believe in being completely transparent to my authors when I make edits. I typically always leave track changes on (I typically edit in Word) so the author can see edits. I use the comments feature in Word to ask questions, make suggestions, or explain my thoughts about why I’m making an edit. If I have to make bulk changes like formatting, styles, or spacing changes, I will often turn track changes off to make those, then include that bulk change in my editorial cover letter. The only reason I turn track changes off is because Word notes each individual change and the amount of noise becomes unwieldy.

I want my authors to see all the changes. I want them to know that I won’t arbitrarily change things without telling them.

So, if you are working with an editor, ask the editor when they will track edits and when they just make them without tracking.

Editors must respect the author’s “voice”

Have you ever read a story and known, without looking at the attributions, who wrote it? That’s because most authors have a distinctive “voice” that is part of what sets them apart from other authors. It’s a large part of what makes an author unique.

Even though “voice” is a well-known literary term, it can be difficult to quantify exactly because it’s a rather complex mix of punctuation, sentence style, storytelling style, syntax, character description and development, diction and even story length or pacing. Some readers may be able to correctly identify the author of story but not be able to clearly explain why they were able to do so. Other readers can identify aspects of the author’s voice that are particularly obvious to them.

An author’s voice is something readers rely on. They expect Famous Author A to sound like Famous Author A. They buy books based on this expectation and will not hesitate to communicate their disappointment if their expectations are not met.

In the land of fiction, in particular, there may really be no new plots if you distill stories down to their most basic themes. So what allows authors to sell what is basically the same story over and over again? It’s the unique way that author tells that particular story, that author’s voice.

Voice poses a particular challenge when it comes to editing, especially when editing fiction. Works of fiction, much more so than non-fiction, are inherently more subject to “rule breaking” and grey areas that require judgement calls. Editing fiction requires the editor to be ever-mindful of the voice of the author.
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