Authors and their Editors

For a long time I’ve wanted to write about the author/editor relationship and today is the day. What has prompted this desire is my awareness of another instance where a good novelist has unwisely chosen to ignore advice from a good editor. (Not me, by the way).

Let me start by saying that good author/editor relationships are very, very important. Woe to either the author or the editor who must work with someone with whom they do not trust or respect. For an editor, editing a writer you love makes the job so easy and fun. And for the writer, having an editor who “gets” what you’re trying to do also makes life so much easier.

And when that happens, both author and editor should listen closely to what the other is saying. In the case I’m talking about, an author had an editor who LOVED the author’s previous work with another publisher, and, in fact, had read the multiple books by this author more than once. The editor, naturally, was delighted to be able to work this successful author.

But then when the manuscript was delivered, the editor noticed that not only was the content of the manuscript completely a surprise, but it was also likely to be harmful to the author’s career if published. It was a total departure from what the author had written previously. It was simply not a good move on the author’s part.

What was the author’s response to this editor’s valid concerns? The author essentially said (angrily and in a huff), “But God told me to write this book!” Yes, the author got mad at an editor who LOVED this author’s work and who was trying to save the author from disaster.

I couldn’t help but wonder if that author might just pause a moment and consider that in Christian publishing, God often chooses to speak to authors through their wise editors. To be honest, I doubt this author ever even considered such a thing. After all, “God told me to write this book!”

That’s hard to argue with, I suppose. But given the histrionics that accompanied this declaration, it’s hard to imagine the author heard from God at all. I’d like to refer that author to Galatians 5, but that would not likely stand against the “God told me to write this book!” argument.

So the author is now off to find a new editor. One who will rubber stamp the author’s insistence that this book is from God. What a sad mistake.

Another recent case almost makes me want to laugh. This example involved an author who insisted to the editor that he be shown every single edit made in the manuscript, including every comma added or deleted. I do not predict long-term success for that author.

This sort of author/editor breakdown happens every so often. It’s too bad when it happens. Editors have a purpose in the life of the author….and it’s not always just to insert or delete commas. Sometimes we editors can see from a different vantage point than the too-close author.

Happily, I can also report that these breakdowns are rare and that they are outweighed by the many times authors and editors sail along in a happy marriage, each respecting the other’s place in their life. Each allowing God to speak through the other.

If you’re an established author, my word to you is be very careful before you dismiss your editor’s advice or warning. If you’re a new author, I hope you find an editor who understands your mission as a writer and can help you get where to you want to go.

Life will be sweet then. God told me so.

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7 Responses to Authors and their Editors

  1. Sherri Woodbridge January 14, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Nick – This was very useful advice. Thanks for posting it and the blog looks great.

  2. BJ January 14, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Should be required reading for every author, Nick.

    Having an editor one trusts and being blessed with a good, mutually respectful working arrangement–a working arrangement that’s actually enjoyable–that’s a gift to any writer.

    I know whereof I speak.

    BJ

  3. BrendaLou January 14, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    Gosh Nick, keep this blogging thing up and I might just write my novel. In reality, God hasn’t told me to do it yet. If He wants me to do it, He’ll probably have to shout in order to get me away from my quilting!

  4. Richard Mabry January 15, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Nick, do you think this malady is most likely to affect established authors? As I stand on the verge of publication, I can’t imagine an author reaching a state where they imagine themselves to have arrived so fully that every word they write is beyond improvement. To act in this way seems like either the height of pride or the epitome of stupidity.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience.

  5. jacque January 15, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Nick, glad to see you back! Dave just did his first guest post today on Seekerville. What a hoot. They threw him a virtual birthday party and 40 people took time to comment on his post and leave funny poems.

  6. Kim January 22, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Such insightful words, Nick. Thanks for so clearly and helpfully laying out the benefits of a great author/editor relationship. The best writing is often collaborative, and the end user–the reader–should always be kept in mind.

  7. Cheryl January 29, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    Nick,

    I have edited several authors and I was nodding my head throughout your entire post. It is soooo disheartening to take someone’s life work and craft it into something beautiful to read and then watch the author dismantle it, right back to where it began, before it ever reaches a publisher’s or the public’s eyes. I understand that “one’s own words” feel most familiar (and thus comfortable), but why does someone hire an editor in the first place? BECAUSE THEY NEED EDITING! (smile)

    I don’t mean to sound militant, because I truly had warm relationships with those authors and we did “practice chapters” together to achieve mutual voice before we ever tackled the full manuscripts. They wrote the checks and, all said and done, their happiness was what mattered most (unless you count the likelihood that God meant for someone particular to read their stories and, in a poorly crafted state, that might never happen).

    I just don’t push their books to the front of my “This is my best work” shelf. (On it is a #1 NYT Bestseller and several that were self published and simply given away to friends, family and community.) It has been my privilege to be involved in such a passionate pursuit for so many.

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