Friday, September 28, 2012

Communicating With Your Editor

by Matt Sinclair

As some of you know, I not only write, I also work as an editor. It's how I make my living. My professional life deals with staff writers and the occasional freelancer--all nonfiction. Plus, as president and chief elephant officer of my publishing company, Elephant's Bookshelf Press, I am responsible for all the editorial and publishing of our (so far) anthologies.

Suffice it to say, I've been dealing with both sides of the editing desk for a long time. I remember an informational interview years ago with a friend's sister who was working at a magazine. This was back when email was new-fangled, the Internet was only making its presence known to the masses, and the World Wide Web didn't exist. The answer to one of the questions I asked during the interview remains in my mind to this day. Although how I phrased the exact question has faded over time, I basically asked what was the most important part of the editorial process. "Communication," she said, without batting an eye.

This summer, I had a few reminders of how important communication is to the partnership of writing. In one of my freelance jobs, I used to deal with a couple editors. This worked out well for me as it often enabled me to have multiples jobs spread out over several weeks. I was in the midst of revising a piece when I received an email from one of the editors, who let me know she was leaving to take another job. In the intervening transition, it turned out some information was lost. One of the pieces I'd been assigned was supposed to be longer than the original assignment. While it wasn't too hard to boost up the word count (and increase the amount on the invoice), it still translated to a bit of wasted time on my part and the editor who took over for the departing editor.

On another project, I was shocked to find what appeared to be a writer who was reluctant to make basic changes to the manuscript. Grammatical basics were emerging as a problem, leading me to wonder if it was a communication problem or something deeper. The copy editor on that assignment kept in regular contact with me about the progress, and things were eventually resolved, but it injected a bit of uncertainty to the editorial process.

The key message I want to convey is that, as solitary as writing might seem, it takes a partnership between writer and editor to deliver the best final product. To be honest, I think the new freedom of self- and independent publishing has left many writers forgetting or disregarding the value of that partnership. What is the most common criticism of Fifty Shades of Grey, for example? It could have used a good editor.

No matter how simple and carefree a scene might appear to the writer, it might confuse the editor, which means it probably would confuse most readers, too. Confusion can creep in from many directions. Whether the issue is about the essence of a story, the editorial process, or even whether your agent likes or dislikes your current manuscript, speak or email with your partner. Try not to assume someone is questioning your abilities as a writer, and if you're confused by the feedback you receive from an editor or agent or other member of your team (again, even self-publishers shouldn't be doing everything "alone"), ask questions.

You'll be glad you did.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which earlier this year published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. EBP's latest anthology, The Fall, will be released in late October. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories that will be in The Fall. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68


Liza said...

Well said. It's so easy to fall in love with our own words, to be blind to what is confusing or vague because we know the topic so well. Good writing can't be done in a vacuum.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Liza!

Denise Covey said...

The most needful thing for an indy author is a good editor to complement that amazing story!

Denise Covey said...

The most needful thing for an indy author is a good editor to complement that amazing story!

Jean Oram said...

Excellent advice, Matt! Communication is key for sure. With so much online communication it is easy to assume one thing or sit and wonder. Pick up the phone or email! They'll be glad you did. :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Denise and Jean. I like the phone comment, too. A little communication goes a long way!

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