The Editor’s Creed
Copyright K.M. Frontain, 28 August 2007
Permission to reprint granted to all
I’m not here to be your fan, but I will be your first fan the day your story is published. I am here to see the flaws in your submitted work. It’s my job. Author, try to understand this when you get back your first revision, your second, or any of them. Flaws hurt and create upset, but it’s not about hurting and upsetting you. It’s about fixing a story. If I’m honest, if I’m any good at my job, you’re going to hear about the flaws in your story. There’s no getting around this. I’ll try saying things as politely as I can, but I must say the truth. Author, try to remember blunt does not mean I want to hurt your feelings. Blunt merely means I’m working as hard as I can while being honest about what I see. I will not waste time writing advice full of apologies for doing so. Expect honesty from me. Expect directness. I do not go out of my way to attack you, the human being, when I make a request, say a character isn’t sympathetic, give you a suggestion, tell you more than once to fix the same flaw. This is about getting a story edited and that is all.
My tools of the trade are words and grammar. Definitions, usage, punctuation, POV. I require knowledge of all these things and a skill for seeing the difference between a style choice and bad writing. Author: I will do my best to explain why something is bad writing. Please listen. I’m not here to change your style, but if I point something out, calmly look at your manuscript again and check for what I discussed. What if I’m right? You’re the one who must live with the end results of your revisions. The editing process, a real editing process, can result in growth for an author. Try to welcome it.
Author, your tools of the trade are words and grammar. Definitions, usage, punctuation, POV. I expect you to use these properly. If I discover you require relearning the rules for any of them, I’m going to say so. I will insist that you learn to use them properly. Only when you truly understand the rules can you work the tools of your trade in a manner that defies the rules. When you reach that point, I will smile as I read your work, because I will admire that you arrived at that pinnacle.
Revision work is not my work. It’s the author’s. My work is looking for flaws. Flaws are misuse of the tools of the trade, misleading or unclear writing, mistakes in the plot, characters that aren’t believable, poor story flow. Once I find these and point them out to the author, the author is the one that must do the work of patching, covering up, weeding, replacing. If I do the revisions for the author, it’s unfair to me. It’s unfair to the author. It’s unfair to every other author waiting for me to spend time on their story. It’s not my story. Author, the story belongs to you. Take pride in being professional and do your revisions. Don’t expect me to fix the story for you.
Editing isn’t about my vision of a story. It’s about the author’s. Author, remember that when I make suggestions, they are suggestions. The story is yours. The characters are yours. Tell me how you see your characters and your story, and I’ll do my best to help you meet your vision.
Editing is about teamwork. I am a human being. I am like you. I make mistakes. I don’t know everything. I miss things. I sometimes need things pointed out. Author, I won’t take offence if you teach me something new, offer me a different way to view an idea, send me a link that shows you did your homework, or highlight a paragraph I may have missed that backs up the plot twist a few pages later in your story. Teamwork is about listening to each other. I listen.
I have a standard to live by as well. So does my publishing house. Author, remember that when you decide you disagree with my advice. People will know who edited your story, and if it leaves my hands in bad shape, shame on me. And that’s why I’ll insist on logic when we discuss fixes. Logic trumps opinion. I’ll insist you explain your reasons so I can understand them, but if those reasons don’t make sense, I’m going to say so.
Author, if you have a good reason, I’ll see it and agree. Author, if you don’t have a good reason, I’ll keep showing you why it isn’t good. If we come to an impasse, I can consult other editors belonging to my publishing house. If they agree with you, I don’t mind.
Remember: I’m a human being. I don’t expect to be perfect, but I do expect you to treat me fairly and to remember we are discussing a point about a story, not arguing to hurt each other personally.
Author, I will do my utmost to be fair to your perspective. I promise. But I won’t lower my standards. Expect to work and work hard. I want to see a story published that we can both be proud of.