Lucky? God yes. But I really think that's how it's supposed to be. I can't see it working any other way. For either of us.
I'm just focusing here on the editor-writer relationship between professionals (i.e. someone paid to edit your work for a publication they are representing), not the give and take of editors and betas that happen between friends, peers, classmates, writer's groups or critique groups. I'll touch on those relationships in later blogs I'm sure.
This is the important thing to remember about an editor: they have a vested interest in getting your writing the best it can be. They're not out to get you or to turn your story into something you hadn't intended for it to be.* They slash and cut because they care about the story. I can say this because I've been on both sides of the desk and know how it feels to the writer and what the editor is trying to get accomplished. Remember, the very fact that you have an editor means that someone liked your story well enough to devote their time and resources to it. Not only are they accepting the story, or novel however, they're also accepting that you are willing and able to take your best and make it better. They're even going to help you do it.
Yes, they may tell you that your favorite sentences don't make sense, and they're going to suggest that what you said on page 12 contradicts what you say later on page 135 (among many, many other things). Maybe you knew that and have your reasons, but here's the thing-- YOUR REASONS ARE STUPID. Well, not really... but if your editor doesn't understand it (and most of them are pretty adept at understanding the way in which a story works) than chances are the readers of your book aren't going to get what you were trying to say either. Fix that. And as for that masterful sentence that you think completely encapsulates everything you ever meant to say. Um... maybe? But maybe it was perfect for the story that you were telling at that time, but as the story progressed, it lost its shine. Don't fight over language unless you really think it's absolutely essential.
Not to say that you can't disagree and argue against changes that are being suggested-- STET is there for a reason-- I'm just saying, pick your battles. If your editor doesn't think a scene, character or moment works, it’s up to you to make it work. Maybe somewhere in there you forgot to fully explain the relevance. You forgot to tell us why the butcher's daughter is the only person who could point your hero in the right direction. Go back and see if you could make it stronger, make the character essential and uncuttable.
Maybe this won't work for you, but for me, the story is more important than almost anything. There are things that help the story, things that make it shine and sometimes I don't articulate them as well as I'd like, and I'm hoping my editor will find those places and help me see what works and what doesn't. There are things that are unbelievably important to me as far as metaphor and theme that I really hope I nailed, but if not, I hope she will trust me to disregard a suggested cut and instead allow me to tweak and play with it until it's just as important to everyone else as it is to me. If I’m really lucky, she’ll find places where I could have bolstered my theme, tied things together, made my characters shine brighter that I hadn’t seen and point them out to me. I’m excited about that! Giddy with the very idea of it actually.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but where's the advice? Okay, here's something really crazy to try. When you get the edits, download them twice. With the first copy, blindly, without looking at all the red, go to the "Track Changes" button and take a deep breath and press the "Accept All Changes." It's okay, you can breathe again, you still have another copy, you haven't made any life altering mistakes. Relax.
Now, let's take this detached and unemotional game a step farther. Read all the notes and with very little thought to right and wrong, make the suggested changes. Remember, stay detached, because you just have one last but very important step. READ THE STORY. Read it like it's something you've never read before, never sweated over, never played with and cried with and devoted your life to. Just read it like you want others to read, without thinking of all the things that are different or wrong.
Is it broken? Are there important plot points and character development missing? Is your author voice missing, dry or lifeless? Chances are, it will be a little bit (life would be too easy if it weren't). But then, you still have the other copy to tinker with.
Of course that's just one way to go. We’ll see how it works for me this time. Meanwhile, you have any tips of your own? I am open to any and all suggestions. ALL OF THEM.
*If you do feel that they are trying to change your story into something you didn't intend, you have two options: Make it what they want it to be (they accepted the story based on what they thought it was, not what you intended) or walk away.
Ironic P.S. Haha, so I had this written and decided that I should probably have some people look at it first to make sure it wasn’t riddled with pointlessness and vague asides. I sent a gdoc to a few people. I don’t know if you’ve ever edited with gdoc, but if you don’t turn off the notifications you get an email every time someone makes a note.
It was then that I realized I had forgotten a few very important pieces of advice. Firstly, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS! It’s one thing to prepare yourself for the time when you’ll receive your work back, riddled with red highlights and comments, it’s quite another thing to get an hour straight live-streaming barrage of emails (SEVENTEEN! HOLY SHIT!) pointing out all the ways in which you failed (okay, someone of them were also “Yay” and “Awesome”), but still. Yikes.
Second, and this ties into all of the things that went before, but to reiterate. YOU HAVE TO DETACH FROM THE WORK. Usually, by the time you’ve gotten to the editor stage, you’ve been hanging out with your manuscript long enough that you’re ready for it to be in someone else’s hands for a while. Hopefully. If not, you probably should get there real quick before you open the document sent back to you.
As I like to have my toes in as many social waters as possible, this post can also be found on DreamWidth. You can comment here or there...or not at all if you want to make me cry.