I’ve been traditionally publishing my writing for nearly thirty years now, and in that time, I’ve worked with a lot of different editors. I mean a lot. It’s not always fun. I think most writers would like to submit their work to an editor and be told that not only is it going to be published, it’s brilliant and perfect and doesn’t need a single thing changed. (I know I do!) But a good editor can make your work better, what a friend of mine once referred to as “polishing the diamond.” A bad editor, though, can be a nightmare to work with. Luckily, almost all of the editors I’ve worked with over the years have been good ones, and even the ones that were less-than-good weren’t that bad (although it may not have seemed that way to me at the time). Let’s talk about the different kinds of editors you might encounter in traditional publishing along with strategies for working with them. (I suspect much of this information will also apply to self-published writers who hire freelance editors to get their work in shape, but as I’ve never gone that route myself, I don’t know for sure. So if you’re a self-published writer, take the following information for whatever it’s worth.)
First off, traditional publishing is a collaborative venture. The writer collaborates with a publisher, and together they bring the writer’s work to the public for mutual artistic and commercial benefit. Both parties have a vested interest in making the work the best it can possibly be, but they don’t always agree on the ways to accomplish this goal. Every editing experience is an artistic negotiation, and compromise is necessary on both sides. If you’re going to go the trad publishing route, you need to accept this. You’re choosing to collaborate, and if you’re not okay with that, then self-publishing is a better path for you. Collaboration does not mean an editor is your boss and you have to do everything they say, but the reverse is also true. Editors are not your employees. You’re partners, and you both need to approach the writer-editor relationship as such.
The vast majority of editors I’ve worked with have helped improve my work, in ways both large and small. In my experience, a good editor should possess the following qualities:
· A deep understanding of narrative and how different narrative elements work together in a story.
· Expertise in the genre of a writer’s work.
· An ability to understand what the writer is trying to accomplish with their story.
· An ability to figure out the best way to help the writer accomplish their goals.
· Strong language skills. (Although much if not all of the grammar and sentence-level editing may be left to a copyeditor.)
· An ability to balance the writer’s concerns with those of the magazine or publishing house.
· A clear understanding of the dividing line between the writer’s job and theirs.
· An ability to communicate clearly and succinctly about what they think should be changed in a manuscript.
· Knowing how not to be overly prescriptive. If they think there’s too much exposition in a scene, they’ll say “Cut back on the exposition here” and leave you to figure out exactly how to do that since you’re the writer.
· Having realistic expectations of how much work a writer can accomplish in a given time.
Here are some different types of editors I’ve encountered during the course of my career. Although maybe I should say different editor experiences, since my working relationship with a specific editor could’ve been very different from that of a different writer. Also keep in mind that an individual editor can fit into multiple categories.
This is an editor that doesn’t do anything with your manuscript. It goes straight to a copyeditor or, sometimes, straight to print without any editing whatsoever. This may sound great – no changes to make! – but this editor isn’t helping to improve your story, and your work may be published with errors, some small, some large.
This editor only makes a small number of suggestions, and they’re often on the micro level, dealing with small plot and character inconsistencies and unclear phrasing. If they spot a big problem, they’ll let you know, though. Maybe this editor is too busy to do a more in-depth edit, or maybe your story is just that good!
I’m the Editor So I Have to Suggest Changes, Whether or Not They’re Needed
This type of editor suggests changes because they think they have to, regardless of whether a manuscript needs those changes. They feel they have to do this to justify their job. These suggestions are often arbitrary and don’t necessarily make the story better, just different.
This editor believes a story should be a joint creation of theirs and the writer, that editor and writer are true partners. They like to collaborate in the early stages of a story’s creation, helping to shape it, but after that they’ll step back into a more traditional editorial role. This is especially true with media tie-ins, which by their nature are more highly collaborative.
The Would-Be Collaborator
This type of editor is also a brainstormer, but they continue trying to be a co-writer on both macro and micro levels throughout the entire process of getting a story ready for publication. This can be super frustrating, especially when the two of you have different ideas of how the story should be written. The worst version of this type of editor is the one that actually rewrites some of your prose without asking permission or even telling you that they’re doing it. Luckily, this extreme type of Would-Be Collaborator is rare.
The Frustrated Writer
This type of editor tells you how they’d write the story rather than helping to improve the story you’ve already written. This is because they’d rather be a writer than an editor, and they may eventually leave editing to give writing a shot (while perhaps still freelance editing as well). This is one of the worst types of editors to work with because they aren’t acting in an editor’s role. Instead, they’re trying to force you to accept them as a co-writer, or worse, as the “boss” writer to whom you must defer. I don’t believe these editors are consciously aware of what they’re doing, but that doesn’t make them any easier to work with.
The New Editor
This is someone so new at their job that they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. They’re learning as they go, experiencing growing pains along the way, and you get to experience those pains along with them. There’s not much you can do except have patience. New editors won’t tell you they’re inexperienced. They want you to have confidence in them, and they don’t want you to ignore their suggestions because they’re new, so you may have to figure out for yourself that you’re working with someone who’s new to the job.
The Editor with Unrealistic Expectations
“I need you to rewrite the entire book from beginning to end. Can you get a new draft to me in two weeks?” This could be the sign of someone who’s a new editor and doesn’t have much, if any, experience at how long major revisions can take. Or it can be a sign of an editor that pushes writers to get revisions in as fast as possible to make their job easier.
The Overworked Editor
This editor is doing the job of three or more people. While they want to give you their best efforts, they’re exhausted and their focused is scattered. They may give you only a cursory edit and take a while – maybe a long while – to get to you about questions.
The Editor Who Takes Forever to Give You Feedback and Needs Changes Tomorrow
This could be because they’re also an Overworked Editor, but it could be that they’re simply a procrastinator or not a good judge of how much work they can accomplish in a specific timeframe, and they’ve gotten behind. Or they might be having personal issues that have slowed their productivity. Whatever the reason, they wait until the last minute to get changes to you and push you to finish them ASAP.
The Editor Who Gives You Contradictory Feedback
For example, I was once working on a pitch for a novella about a beloved TV character. The editor told me they liked the character to be portrayed somewhat humorously, as he sometimes was shown in his series. When I sent in a proposal, the same editor told me that the character should be portrayed seriously, and I should rework the proposal. At that point, I was out. Contradictory feedback from an editor is a huge red flag for me. I don’t want to waste my time giving an editor what they say they want only to have them turn around and tell me that wasn’t what they wanted in the first place.
The Editor Who Changes Their Mind
This editor makes a suggestion, you implement it, and then once they see the new text, they decide that change doesn’t work after all and want to you revise it again, a different way this time. If they do this a lot, it can mean a great deal of rewriting on your part. I once pitched a proposal for a Star Trek novel to an editor. They loved it but asked for revision after revision after revision, until the story concept bore little resemblance to what I’d originally pitched, and then they decided the new concept wasn’t working and cancelled the project.
The Editor Who Can’t Make Up Their Mind
This can be an editor who’s very indecisive by nature, or they can also be an Editor Who Gives Contradictory Feedback or an Editor Who Changes Their Mind. These editors can’t effectively guide writers because they can’t decide where they want to take the manuscript.
The Editor Who Doesn’t Know What They Want
This editor knows that something about your story should be different, but they’re damned if they can tell you what it is. They may ask you to take another pass at the manuscript in the hope that you’ll somehow magically fix what’s bothering them, but of course there’s no guarantee it’ll work.
The Editor Who Thinks They Are the God of Literature
These are editors with ego, people who consider themselves experts on literature and storytelling, and who believe they could write your story better than you, if they were to lower themselves to actually produce writing. They often look upon writers as lesser beings who only exist to provide raw, rough material for them to shape into a sparkling masterpiece. I’ve managed avoid working with editors like this so far, but I know they’re out there. Hopefully, I can manage to keep avoiding them for the rest of my career.
The Editor That Doesn’t Get Your Work
I can write some damn weird stuff, especially in my short fiction. A lot of this work is experimental in nature and can be very surreal and symbolic. I’ve occasionally had editors commission a story from me, but when they get it, they don’t understand it. (This always makes me wonder why they asked me to do a story for them in the first place. Weren’t they familiar with the kind of weird-ass horror/dark fantasy I often write?) These editors try to get me to turn my bizarre story into an ordinary prosaic one with clear cause and effect, etc. Sometimes making a few strategic changes satisfies them, and when it doesn’t, I offer to write a new story. I won’t turn one of my weird stories into a mundane one for them, though. I’ll look for a different market for it.
Too Many Editors
It’s rare, but sometimes you get multiple editors working on your manuscript. This is especially true when writing tie-in fiction, when someone representing the IP holder also weighs in on your work. The different editors can have different opinions about what changes to make, and you may end up with a lot of suggestions and no idea which ones to take and which to reject.
The Editor That Can’t Clearly Communicate What They Want
This editor knows what they want but they are unable to state it in a way that is 100% clear. If you ask for clarification, they usually can give it to you, though.
The Editor That Can’t Succinctly Communicate What They Want
This editor will write you a long, detailed paragraph to tell you that you should delete a sentence in your manuscript. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what the editor wants when you read these unnecessarily detailed suggestions.
The Editor that Overcommunicates and Overwhelms
This editor bombards you with so much feedback that you may not be able to figure out what to do with it and may feel overwhelmed. This type of editor is often one who also can’t communicate clearly and succinctly, and they’re often new at their job. They haven’t learned how to be clear and succinct yet (and maybe they never will). I’ve had a few editors like this, ones who will send me a long bulleted list of changes, numerous track changes comments in the manuscript, and long, chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of what needs to be fixed. It can be a nightmare trying to sort through this mess and figure out what you need to do to revise your manuscript.
Tips for Working with Editors
· Everything’s negotiable. Editors make suggestions; they don’t deliver commandments. If you don’t agree with an editor’s suggestion, you can try to find a different way to solve the problem that’s been identified. Or you can try to brainstorm a different solution together.
· Don’t ignore suggestions because you’re lazy or stubborn. No one told you to traditionally publish. You sought out such a relationship. You wanted to work with an editor, so work with them.
· Don’t assume an adversarial stance. The editor isn’t your enemy (even if it feels that way sometimes). The editor is your ally, and they care as much about your story as you do. (At least, they should.)
· Pick and choose your battles. I had a friend who once had a knock-down drag-out with an editor over the use of a semicolon in a story. You don’t want your working relationship with an editor to be one of constant conflict, especially over small stuff. If you have to dig in your heels and refuse to make a change, it should be over something important to your story, something you feel will significantly damage the story if it’s changed.
· Ask for clarification. If an editor’s suggestion isn’t clear, ask them to explain it more fully.
· Try to figure out what they’re really saying. I had a tie-in editor once tell me that fantasy novels shouldn’t contain humor in them. I knew this was bullshit, but I also knew the comment had to come from somewhere. Eventually, I figured out that two characters I created for comic relief were too silly for the editor. I toned down the silliness, and the editor was satisfied. Always look for the comment behind the comment, one even the editor might not be aware of.
· Don’t procrastinate. It’s too easy to put off revisions because then you don’t want to do them. It’s like being a student who doesn’t want to start working on a paper. Get started on your revisions as soon as you can and work steadily on them until you’re finished.
· Figure out how not to be overwhelmed and stressed. Make a revision plan for yourself. Work on making the easiest changes first. Keep your revision sessions short. Take breaks (especially if you find yourself starting to get frustrated and angry).
· Don’t make your editor’s life more difficult. Don’t make your editor miserable by constantly arguing with them, and don’t constantly bug them for more feedback and clarification. They have other work to do besides babysitting you as you revise.
· Accept reasonable deadlines for revision. If the revision deadline the editor requests doesn’t seem doable to you, try to negotiate a different deadline. Both of you might have to compromise, but hopefully together you’ll find a deadline that will work.
· Don’t submit changes too early. If you do something fast for an editor, they’ll expect it just as fast the next time, if not faster. Turning in revisions at the deadline is fine. Turn them in a day or two early if you want, but don’t turn them in weeks early, even if you can get them done in that time.
· If you need more time to do your revisions, ask. You might not get it. Maybe your book already has a place in the publisher’s production schedule. But it never hurts to ask. Just don’t wait until the last minute to ask for extra time. Ask as soon as you think you may need an extension, but be prepared to finish your revisions by the originally deadline if necessary.
Good editors are worth their weight in gold, but even the best editors aren’t perfect. Remember your editor is a human being too, and do your best to find a collaborative working style that’s effective for you both. Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself, though. Remember, the editor isn’t a boss and you’re not an employee. The two of you are creative and business partners, and you both should behave as such.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
Halloween Kills: The Official Movie Novelization Out Now
My novelization of the latest movie in the saga of Michael Myers – Halloween Kills – came out in the USA this week. It’ll be another week or so before it’s available in the UK. For some reason, the Audible version dropped a week early, so some fans got a chance to check out the book early. I had a blast writing this, and after waiting a year-and-a-half for the book’s release, I’m anxious to learn what people think it of it. The film’s reviews have been mixed, but so far the response to my novelization has been mostly positive and enthusiastic. So if you saw the movie and loved it, this book is for you, and if you hated the movie, then the book is really for you, since it fills in a lot of the gaps in the story. Ordering links are below.
Minutes after Laurie Strode, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor.
But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes. As Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. But as a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage decide to take matters into their own hands, a vigilante mob forms that sets out to hunt Michael down. Evil dies tonight.
Barnes & Noble Paperback
Planet Havoc: A Zombicide Invader Novel
Scoundrels and soldiers band together to survive the onslaught of alien-zombies spreading across the galaxy in this riotous adventure from the bestselling game, Zombicide: Invader
A deserted R&D facility tempts the hungry new Guild, Leviathan, into sending a team to plunder its valuable research. The base was abandoned after a neighboring planet was devastated by an outbreak of Xenos – alien zombies – but that was a whole planet away... When the Guild ship is attacked by a quarantine patrol, both ships crash onto the deserted world. Only it isn’t as deserted as they hope: a murderous new Xeno threat awakens, desperate to escape the planet. Can the crews cooperate to destroy this new foe? Or will they be forced to sacrifice their ships and lives to protect the galaxy?
Barnes & Noble Paperback
We Will Rise
My next original horror/dark fantasy novel for Flame Tree Press is due out this July and is now available for preorder. No cover image yet, but I’ll share one when I get it. If you enjoy my dark surreal horror, you’ll like this tale of a city plagued by a ghost apocalypse. Here’s a synopsis:
In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.
A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?
Barnes & Noble Paperback
Barnes & Noble Hardcover
Want to take a writing workshop with me? A couple of my workshop presentations have been recorded and are available to watch on YouTube:
The Art of Suspense
Done to Death – Avoiding Cliches in Horror
WANT TO STALK ME IRL?
Right now, the only face-to-face convention I’m going to is Stokercon in May. I’ll be doing a workshop or two for Horror University, although nothing specific has been scheduled yet, and I’m sure I’ll be doing some panels too. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!
Stokercon. Denver, Colorado. May 12-15, 2022.
WANT TO STALK ME VIRTUALLY?
Want to follow me on social media? Here’s where you can find me:
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZEz6_ALPrV3tdC0V3peKNw