What do editors know?

It’s only subjective! They don’t know everything! You have to stick to your guns!

Over the years I’ve been privy to conversations wherein authors discuss/ argue/ wail about their editors. Likewise, I’m often asked by aspiring  authors and illustrators, ‘What should I do when my editor makes suggestions and I don’t agree with them?’

Sometimes there’s a fine line between your judgement as the author, and the comments/ suggestions/ insights of your editor. I won’t deny this is a tricky dance. I definitely won’t be able to resolve it in one small blog post. But I’ll give it a go…

The first thing I’d say is, observe your inner voice.

If you’re reading the editor’s notes and internally you’re arcing up, angry, exasperated, fit to burst with indignation, then you’re probably not really reading the notes.

Your ego is in charge. Your ego has slipped into defensive mode and, can I just say, no good will come of it.

After that first slap, after the initial shock that comes with a heavily annotated manuscript, (‘But they said they LOVED my book. Now look at it!’) do nothing.

Allow yourself to be indignant for a day or two. Chew it over, angst about it, whine to your long suffering partner or friend, or better still, take several brisk walks.

Then, LET IT GO. At least, as best you can. 


Now, with a clearer head and some bandaids on your wounds, go back to the manuscript.

Read the editor’s notes calmly, with as little emotion as possible. Be systematic.

First, tick the comments you agree with wholeheartedly. (I call these the ‘der comments’. The ones I cringe over and think, ‘Well, der, how did I not see that?’).

Tick off the punctuation and typo mark-ups, too. That will really move things forward.

Then, consider the remaining comments. The bigger ones. The ones that require thought.

Work through those systematically as well.

Scribble your own responses in the margin. Be blunt. Just for now. Just while you’re gaining momentum.

At this stage, maybe, gently gently,  you could actually try some of the editor’s suggestions. Some of those annoying ones that you’re not sure about. Just as an experiment. Try out stuff ‘in the rough’. You never know…

Another practical tip. Do this initial run-through on hard copy, not on screen. It’s too easy to get in a tangle on screen (especially if this is a long novel) and this can add to your frustration. Remember, easy does it. 

Also, do this initial work in a nice café, or somewhere you feel happy and inspired and slightly removed from the daily grind. It can help to clear the fog and put things in perspective. So many authors have a tendency to disappear up their own bottoms and take the editing process too personally. Sorry. But it’s true.

Here’s a bonus. You’ll find that as you do your rewrite not all of the editor’s suggestions will remain relevant. Brilliant! 

A tweak here, a reveal there, will negate the need for changes further down the track.

But, then, oh bugger! A new scene (perhaps one suggested by the editor) might necessitate another new scene further on. You do what the editor asks then, as a result, discover you’re going to have to write even MORE.

This is where it gets tricksy.

This is also where you might find yourself resisting. Finding excuses not go ahead, excuses to ignore the ed’s suggestions or argue the toss.

After all, you’ve been working on this  bloody thing for an eternity. Can you really summon the energy to crack it open and do even more work?

Sadly, you may have to. That’s what Real Authors do. Remember, all writing is rewriting.

Through all this, remember that your editor is on your side.

Your editor wants the  best for your manuscript. She or he wants your book to shine, otherwise why would they put so much thought and care into their notes?

Your editor also wants your book to sell and I hope you want that, too.

In addition, your editor is your first real reader. She is certainly your most astute, attentive reader. She’s being paid to do this, so she has to treat it seriously.

If you’re new to this game, think of it this way—you now have an Editor. An advocate, a guide, a professional word angel. What a blessing! Be gracious and thankful.

Editors, publishers, illustrators, designers. Even beautiful actors! It takes a big, loving team to make a book sparkle. This is the Danny Best team. Not all team members present!

A  dear friend of mine, a man I respect without reservation, once said, ‘When my editor speaks, I listen very, very carefully.’

I think that sums it up beautifully.

Listen. Then take a deep breath and sharpen your pencils. The real work is only just beginning…

Jen xo

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