I’m learning a lot about editing and the process thereof. The longer I do this, the more I become aware of many of the common errors that writers make and the more I realize that writers tend to be very fickle! Of course, it’s only natural that they should be protective of their work, it’s also only natural for them to be skeptical of people approaching them, but I’ve seen and run into several situations that just frustrate the bjeebus out of me. No, I of course am not referring to any specific people but I want to get a few of these out there just so people know what it’s like on the other side of the “submissions” box.
Situation #1: “A publisher likes my work? The hell with the little guys, Random House here I come!”
This has happened more than once, much to the irritation of the editor that is contacting the writer. While as a writer, being contacted by a publisher that wants to use your work naturally has to be an exciting experience, assuming immediately that just because a small publisher working on a short story collection likes your writing enough to contact you Random House is going to pay attention is rather silly. I work for a small publishing house. A very small one. At this point we are having to go out and find / contact writers because at this moment few writers actually know who we are. That is only to be expected, being small and just out of the starting gate. Random House, on the other hand, I don’t believe accepts unsolicited manuscripts at all and even if you have an Agent (and getting a good one is frustrating and finding one is dicey) Random House is likely to paper your walls with rejection letters for years before even considering you. Particularly if you’ve never proven yourself to be a cash cow.
Is this to discourage people from trying? No. For all we know you could be the next J.K. Rowling! And while I’d much prefer that we discover the next J.K. Rowling, I wouldn’t blame anyone for trying other places. However, just because a small publisher says, “Hey, I like your story – can we use it?” doesn’t mean that the next stop is a large publisher and book deals on the level of Rick Castle (yes, I watch that show, guilty pleasure).
Situation #2: “A small publisher won’t get me the attention I so rightfully deserve!”
Well, I’ve got some news for you on that score – you won’t get any attention from anyone with an attitude like that. Behaving like a “prima donna” and expecting that the publisher has to do what YOU think should be done is kind of like telling the doctor performing surgery on your spleen that you think he should cut over here instead. It just doesn’t work like that. Acting like you’re the next Stephen King before you’ve put a book out won’t endear you to anyone in the writing community.
I get that you’re probably a good writer. I’m one too, actually. I understand that the stereotype is that the people that can’t write become editors but that’s quite untrue in my case. However, in the writing world, if you can get any publication, it’s good. Discounting vanity presses like Publish America and other such scams. Even if it’s not the big book deal you’d always dreamed of, it can work into that down the road. People seem to think a lot of the time that they can just leap into becoming a mainstream author when it takes a whole lot of work to get there. I know, it’s my job to get people there and one of my goals to get there myself. And being on the other end of the publishing industry, I’m aware of exactly how much work it is.
Situation #3: “This isn’t good enough as it is? But you liked it! Why do I have to change it?”
Yes, I did like the story. It was fantastic. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need editing. Even Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey and Neil Gaiman need editing to their work. It’s just part of the process. Everyone makes mistakes that need cleaning up and that’s the way of life. No matter how good a writer is, they can’t skip the editing process.
Even if I like your story – and I wouldn’t have contacted you (proverbially) if I didn’t – I still recognize that there are things that need to be cleaned up, like grammar and word usage here and there. It’s just natural. There are many authors that kick their feet about the editing process and claim that we’re trying to steal their work but the truth is that we just want to make it the best it can be. Which brings me to Situation 4.
Situation #4: “You’re a tool of the system! You’re trying to make my work not mine anymore! How dare you!”
People just don’t seem to realize that it’s the editor’s job to fix the problems with the author’s work. We have to identify and help you glue shut your plot holes, rip out inconsistencies, and generally make sure that your work is fully finished before we can put it out there. An editor’s job is to make sure that the work is the best it can possibly be and that it can, and will, sell. I understand that you want to be “avant garde” with your comma usage and that you feel that split infinitives are the cutting edge but that doesn’t make it okay to leave them in the work. Unless you’re E.E. Cummings, which I sincerely doubt you are.
The basic point is that editors don’t want to steal your writing. Chances are they have stories aplenty of their own and they aren’t trying to gank yours and scamper off with it into the bloodsoaked editorial sunset. In fact, in my case? If your work isn’t good enough I don’t make money – neither do you. So my job is to make sure not only that it’s well-written but that both of us will profit from it and everyone can go home with a paycheck and a smile.