Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The editor’s dilemma …


Now that I’m in the editing business with Indie-Scribable (sans clients, as of yet, but I know they’re out there!), I’ve been thinking about how I approach manuscripts written by others. It used to be easy when I was a medical editor: you bring the text into line with house style. Piece o’ cake. The hardest part was slogging through dense and repetitive doctor-prose. (They’d all rather say “utilized” than “used,” among other things.)

With an indie writer’s precious work, I have a different idea. Keep known style points in mind but be open to adaptation. As I mention over at the Indie-Scribable website, I’m not one of those editors who is obsessively hostile toward adverbs and adjectives. They have their place. (Use adverbs wisely, I say.) If I sense that the writer is skillful about it, shouldn’t she get to sprinkle a few of ‘em hitherly and yonly? It’s a rhythm thing, a color thing. If she’s inclined to swagger, then I want her book to swagger.

So here’s a question for you indie writers out there. What do you really want from your copyeditor? A firm hand that corrals your work into proven patterns? Or a lighter touch that lets your writing show the small idiosyncrasies that identify you as a writer?

Interestingly, I had the latter for my first novel, Parts Unknown. I was a little apprehensive waiting for the edits from the HarperCollins copyeditor, but when they arrived I saw that she had approached the text with complete respect for the sound of my voice. She fixed a few technical issues, capitalized a few trade names, and queried about a few passages where my meaning wasn’t as clear as it could be. I was overjoyed.

What do you say? When you hire an editor, what do you expect? What are you hoping for?

PS — Don’t forget, my first three clients get a special rate, and all clients receive a copy of one of my ebooks. If your manuscript is ready for copyediting or proofreading, drop me a line!


15 comments on “The editor’s dilemma …

  1. kingmidget
    February 18, 2016

    I want an editor who will find my typos and continuity issues, but who will leave my style of writing alone. Yes. I sometimes use incomplete sentences. Sometimes. I’m even choppy. But, it’s on purpose. An editor who is going to change my story, or my style, can move right along to the next manuscript. 😉

    Here’s another example of what I might look for. I’ve written the first part of a three part story. I’m two thirds of the way into the second part. I went back and read the first part a couple of weeks ago and found these details I had lost along the way. Like one of the main characters likes to sketch. That detail completely disappears after the first chapter. Why? Seems to be something that could weave its way through the rest of the story. There were other details that I thought could do the same thing that were only mentioned in the early chapters. So, now, part of what I’m doing is figuring out what to do with them. An editor could find those types of things as well.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 18, 2016

      So right. In fiction the incomplete sentence is a key tool for mixing up your rhythm and approaching realistic speech and thought. And you can always tell if a writer knows what he’s doing with that kind of thing.

      Good point about the sketching character, and a good editor should pick up on stuff like that.

  2. pinklightsabre
    February 18, 2016

    I think it’s like King Midget said above, and as you suggested in Parts Unknown with HarperCollins, but at the same time, I do want a trusted BS sensor from someone who’s more read than I, whose taste aligns with mine but goes beyond it. It must be a tricky balance, indulging in the indie writer’s style, having some open-mindedness to it, yet the instinct to know when to call BS, with a broader sense of the industry. I’d love to act on your offer now and look forward to the day when I can; I’d trust with you with my baby. And that sounds odd, and I’d expect you to call BS on it 🙂 Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 18, 2016

      Yep, BS sensing is a good skill for an editor to have. I wrote something once where someone flew a biplane over the mountains, and an editor said, “You need oxygen at that altitude.” He was right!

      Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to the day I can call BS on your stuff! It’d be an honor. 😇

  3. Carrie Rubin
    February 18, 2016

    I guess I’d like the copyeditor to catch the obvious mistakes or anything too wonky or overused, but still allow my voice to shine through. Hopefully much of the wonky stuff (complicated words, confusing sentences, awkward metaphors) will be picked up by beta readers before the copyeditor even sees it, thereby letting him or her focus on the less visible issues. But in the real world, I know it’s not this black or white.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 18, 2016

      That’s why it’s probably a good idea to ask an editor to do a sample edit on four or five pages. Make sure you’re a match!

  4. John W. Howell
    February 18, 2016

    I want an editor to keep an eye out for plot holes and fix technical mistakes. I also don’t mind “voice ” suggestions if they are glaring problems. I also don’t want an editor to feel they can’t disturb the “artist” by making logical suggestions. I think you are right about four or five pages to see if the fit is right.

  5. 1WriteWay
    February 21, 2016

    I think sample edits are a perfect way to find if the writer and editor are a match. It’s a delicate balance, but I would want my editor to at least let me know if he thought my choppy sentences (or whatever) needed to be revised, and then let me decide whether I’ll heed his advice. When I edited for students (way back in the day), I used red ink for edits that needed to be made and green ink for my suggestions (as in, take it or leave it). English was not the primary language for most of these students so my editing was also an opportunity for them to learn. And they were dissertations (social science) for the most part so there wasn’t a lot of room for “style.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 21, 2016

      I like that red ink/green ink idea. I wouldn’t want a client to think my edits were carved in stone, but if I can make a case that makes sense, I’d hope they would see the benefits!

      • 1WriteWay
        February 22, 2016

        I heard an interview with the editor for DFW’s Infinite Jest. He took modest credit for editing because the decision he said ultimately rested with DFW. The editor can only suggest. (And, no, I haven’t read Infinite Jest.)

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 22, 2016

        I haven’t read it either. Feel like I owe it to myself to read Proust before I read that one.

        IJ always makes me think, Why bother editing a book like that at all? It’s like the contents of DFW’s head dumped onto the page. Let it be what it is …

      • 1WriteWay
        February 22, 2016

        According to the editor (wish I could remember his name), the original ms was a lot longer and DFW wanted the help. He didn’t cut everything the editor suggested, but it sounds like they had a good professional relationship. It reminds me of what I often think a relationship between an editor and writer should be. In an ideal world.

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 22, 2016

        I think it’s Michael Pietsch, and he’s some big exec. now.

        Congratulations, too. You’re my only page view today! Woo hooo!

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2016 by in Writing and tagged .
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