Up until this year I’ve had good experiences with my editors--and I’ve worked with five professional, paid editors. I’ve always been someone who is pretty good about understanding the difference between a good, tough edit and subjective choices and almost always err on the editor’s side when it comes down to it. I might love my book, but I know when someone is working with me to make it the best it can be!
This year I hired someone who I was incredibly excited to work with. They were a new-to-me editor and I thought they were a great fit for my work. Though not necessary, it’s great to hire someone who works in your genre and demographic, since they’ll know the norms of the market and readers of one genre might have issues with certain words, but those of another genre expect them.
Well, folks, my dream editor turned into a nightmare.
I’m not here to bash a professional, and I won’t name the person as I think most of our issues stemmed from being a bad fit, but I will point out the three biggest red flags so you guys can learn from my mistakes.
1. Not Knowing the Demographic
You just read that I thought this person was a great fit for the book. And I did. They are a writer of fantasy and had a character similar to one of mine, so I thought they would also serve as a second sensitivity reader. (I hired an actual sensitivity reader as well, which one should do when writing a character from a marginalized community with which they don’t have lived experience.) While these are all great facts, I overlooked one key piece: they write and read YA. My work is adult.
If you’re a reader of both age groups, you’ll know there are huge differences in the writing itself between the two, especially in genres that tend toward “gritty” in the more adult group.
When I received my manuscript back, the editor pointed out that the piece was “screaming to be written in first person present.” If you’ve read even a fraction of the fantasy genre, you’ll know that third person past is almost a law. (It’s not, actually a law, and write however you want, but this goes back to knowing norms and what readers expect.) They also voiced distaste for how many POV characters I had and how I used scene breaks instead of making every scene a new chapter--I have two main POV characters with perhaps a cast of about ten supporting characters who have several POV scenes of their own. My chapters do tend to be long, but my scenes aren’t often long enough to be full chapters. Both of these are obvious genre norms.
They also pointed out that a certain darker scene wasn’t necessary, despite the fact that it is, albeit the importance is revealed later. This was also due to what readers would want. Now I’ve only read part of the first book in The Song of Ice and Fire series, but I’m confident adult fantasy readers are no stranger to manipulation and murder.
In the editorial letter, they also listed genre books I should read for research--four in fact--but all the examples were YA. The only two adult books listed were in the “this is bad writing” column and were Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Now, from what I’ve read of both Tolkien and Martin they are incredibly different in style, pacing, and content. And, also, may I add, quite successful, regardless of how well one likes their particular work.
2. Not Researching My Work
Now, this was a red flag I had no way to anticipate, but it’s something to look out for when you’re working with someone and feel iffy about the situation. I mentioned before the editor clearly didn’t understand my demographic. However, a quick peek at my site would tell them I’m an award-winning author with several books under my belt. The book they were editing was mid-series, the first book of which was chosen for Excellence in Independent Publishing in 2015. I don’t mention this to brag, I mention it because I clearly know how to write, and the first book was written in the same style as the third.
Included in the “recommended reading” list were three books, at least one of which was a document they compiled themselves on rudimentary writing tips.
Coupled with the comment that I should change POV and tense mid-series shows not only disregard for my publishing chops, but also misunderstanding of the project I hired them for. It shows they clearly did not even check out my site before we began working together, which isn’t necessary, but shows a thorough, professional outlook.
Most of the above, while annoying and bordering on pointless, is the result of miscommunication and a bad fit between project and editor.
I finally threw in the towel, however, when I read their final comment on my first chapter. It began with “wow-zah” and went on to explain how it took them all day to edit this chapter (it was very long) and they weren’t going to continue to line edit, only do “big picture” edits for the rest of the manuscript. I explicitly paid for their in-depth line edits--which was twice that of any of their other packages. This would be like a proofreader saying they already told you how to spell “Mississippi” and they weren’t going to point out where you misspelled it for the rest of the novel.
Beginning a comment with “wow-zah” is quite familiar for someone who I’ve only emailed with a few times and hired on a professional level. While I feel comfortable leaving a comment of “This sounds twatty” on Cameron’s work and I’m sure she feels the same, we have a decade of friendship and familiarity built up.
Every stage of the editing was also at least a week or two late--and while I understand things come up, if it’s chronic over a four month period, and I don’t get my manuscript back in time for my release date, we’ve a problem.
They’re final comment was on choosing to publish indie, rather than through the Big Five. They stated that while they understand I was “self-publishing” this, I should still try to have a quality piece and really should read all the books they listed (I had. And they’re great, but also the wrong demographic and completely different from my work.) May I note that while I said they were a writer, they have yet to publish anything, traditional or otherwise.
How did I deal?
This entire process was agonizing, and I don’t think I’ve sent so many all-caps venting comments to our writers’ group chat ever. And frankly I hope I never will again. This did make me sit back and think really hard on every line, and I found a few bits of passive voice and so forth that were still clinging on.
I also began to wonder whether I was even a good writer, if this book was hopeless, if I had made a huge mistake. Sure, I won an award, but what if this person was actually telling the truth and everyone else was lying. Yeah, imposter syndrome hit hard.
So what did I do? I stopped reading their comments after the first chapter. Taking the few useful pieces of advice they gave--and there were a few, mostly the aforementioned passive voice and a few instances of wordiness--I overhauled the manuscript and did a line-edit of my own. Then I hired a different editor, who was kind enough to slip me in last minute. The result was great, and I’m glad I got the spur to do that overhaul, but I’m confident I would have gotten there eventually without the agony, rage, and self-doubt.
Have you had any bad experiences with an editor? Any great experiences? Tell us about it in the comments! And be sure to stop by V's site and pick up her newest fantasy novel Madness and Gods.
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