Friday, October 5, 2012

Editors Are Exactly Like Parents, Not Besties

by Cat Woods

Give me an E! Give me a D! Give me an I-T-O-R!

What's that spell?

Help. Yeah, that's right. Help of the most amazing kind.

Last week, Matt Sinclair talked about the partnership between writers and editors. He stated that solid communication was the key to a successful project. As a writer who has recently worked with several editors on three shorts stories and one novel, I'll expound on this idea from the writer's perspective.

Here's the deal about editors: a good editor who shares your vision for a piece can strengthen your story in ways you never dreamed possible. As long as we understand that editors are not our friends.

Rather, editors are exactly like parents.

And just like parents, editors have a job to do. Namely, help us grow up and make something of ourselves. They cannot achieve this by sitting around youtube every night, eating pizza, painting toenails and gossiping about who wore what that day at school. Instead, they provide a set of rules to guide us toward our literary success. They are task masters, not besties.

Editors (like parents):

  • Withhold dessert until we've eaten all our veggies. It's all about a healthy balance. Do we use all five senses? Do we have too many or too few characters? Is the front end of our story too action-packed with the back end fizzling out? A best friend would likely sneak us a cookie when our parents weren't looking instead of making us suffer through canned asparagus.
  • Make us brush our teeth and shower. Editors force us to be presentable. Do people actually like our characters? Is the MC the strongest person in our novels, or does the fun-loving side-kick garner far more sympathy? Does our MC whine? Is he brute? Are they sensitive and strong and flawed and fun? In short, are they likable enough to carry reader interest through an entire story? Besties don't pay our dental bills. And as long as we don't stink too badly, they'll let us hang.
  • Demand that we speak respectfully. Oh yes, because even in writing, our dialogue can be off-putting. Editors will provide an unbiased reaction to our character interactions and demand that we don't abuse the power of language. They'll make sure that what our characters say is believable and pertinent. They'll also help us pinpoint where we might get a bit preachy. This is not something a bestie would do. As you probably remember, best friends can smack talk nearly as well as we can. 
  • Dictate that we clean our rooms. Editors will point out our piles of dirty laundry in the middle of the floor and will scavenge for those stray legos under the bed. They want our manuscripts clean and devoid of garbage that detracts from the writing itself: anything from typos to grammar to content and beyond. Not so, the besties. Because they like you and want you to like them, they may be more prone to shoving a toy behind the dresser than making us pick up every last marble off the floor.
"But what about my betas and critique partners?" you may be asking. "They are not parents, nor are they besties. Aren't they as good as editors?"

And that, my friends, is the question I pose to you.

Can beta readers provide the same quality of feedback that professional editors can? Is there a beta-reading threshold that can take a piece "only so far"? If you're a published--or soon to be published--author who has worked with both critique partners and professional editors, can you speak to us on the difference between the two?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods has been editing her heart out this past year. Her short story, Annabelle, was published in SPRING FEVERS in February. Little League, another short, is due out on October 29th in the upcoming anthology THE FALL. When she's not editing, Cat parents her four kids (in the non-friend kind of way) and blogs at Words from the Woods.


JeffO said...

I can't speak from the experience of published/soon-to-be published, but I suspect the answer to your question really lies in the strength of your betas.

Matt Sinclair said...

Jeff's point and your questions are excellent, and they will likely inspire a blog post, too. Selecting (or culling) our betas is crucial to setting our manuscripts on the right path to a quality editor. But I've learned more from what might be my "gamma readers," that is, the readers I found after my betas offered their thoughts. My gammas, however, were more exacting in their critiques, and I've learned that they should be my betas.

Jean Oram said...

I think it depends with critique partners and betas. If you have someone who is willing to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and call you on your grammar, again and again, they can be as great as an editor. But I think an editor is going to be much harder on you. An editor isn't going to give up. They are going to keep drilling you. Your beta is probably going to be softer and not take as many passes. But, that said, betas are your audience and can provide feedback that an editor may not be able to.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good questions! A serious edit takes a LOT of time. I think unless you can repay in kind & with similar skill level (or cash!), it's probably better to have an outside editor.

Michelle said...

Great points.
I have found many crit partners just like to help make your writing more like theirs - perhaps I'm guilty of that too. And that's where a professional editor is different.

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