Before you criticize the editor...
I have been chatting to a dear friend of mine about writing this post for a few days now. It’s borne from a bad experience with a client, and a level of frustration only a fellow editor and author coach will truly understand. We commiserated over this debacle I faced over a really long video chat, and I simply said, “You know what, I’m a little tired of editors being blamed for shit work.” Of course, there are exceptions to just about everything in our indie community: reader loyalty trumps just about everything, including a poorly-written and poorly-edited book.
I have been an Independently Published author for 7 years (this coming May), and 3 of those years was spent getting my Bachelor of Information Science degree in Publishing. I wanted to become an editor, so I made the decision to qualify myself. While many editors have degrees in English, I attended the only University in South Africa that focuses on Publishing as a process, and before we truly specialize in a particular field in an optional 4th year (which I start in two weeks), we learn the ins and outs of EDITING – macro editing, micro editing, developmental editing, substantive editing, copy editing, and lastly, proofreading. However, regardless of which type of edit we’ve studied, and learned, there is one fundamental rule that we follow: Editors may not, under any circumstance, make a change to an author’s work. Why? Because it is illegal. Copyright Law is a thing, and as professionals, we are obligated to adhere to the guidelines provided to us, not only by industry standards, but also by the stipulations in whatever Copyright Law we adhere to.
So, what can we do? Grammatical corrections aside (those are a given on any manuscript, and are generally done so with a style guide), all we can really do is make suggestions that will take a mediocre manuscript, and make it the best it can be. No editor will be happy with craptastic work, and no editor will want their name attached to craptastic work – but here’s the catch: it is 100% up to the author whether they action the editor’s suggestions or not. An author has no obligation whatsoever to accept our suggestions, be it for developmental reasons or not, yet, when a sub-par book is published with plot holes, spelling mistakes, characters whose eye and hair colors change from one chapter to the next, the reader is quick to say the editing is bad bad bad. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but I have noticed that editing pops up in reviews more and more these days, and when the book is magnanimously awarded a 2 star, maybe a 3 star if the author is lucky, for poor editing, it’s the editor who looks bad. I’ve seen numerous reviews, for big-name authors and lesser known authors, with GET A NEW EDITOR as the headline, and while I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are, in fact, bad editors in our indie community, most of the time it’s not the editor’s fault.
As editors, we are an objective set of eyes, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with an editor who becomes so invested in your book baby, it becomes their book baby too. That’s when you know we’re committed to not only your book, but your success. However, it is straight-up copyright infringement for me to change an author’s work without substantiating the change. If I tell an author there is a major plot hole, and suggest how it can be fixed, the author can still say “I like it the way it is”, and I have absolutely no control over that. I can’t force an author to do anything, even if I substantiate the change until I’m blue in the face. For this reason, I have a standard contract with every client in which I clearly state: THE EDITOR IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR CHANGES/SUGGESTIONS THAT MAY/MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED BY THE AUTHOR.
As a reader myself, I wholeheartedly believe that readers are allowed to leave honest reviews, and comment on whatever they feel needs improvement, but being an editor, I feel that being blamed for ‘bad editing’ simply isn’t (always) substantiated.
So, the next time you feel the need to blast the editing of a book on a very public forum like Amazon and Goodreads, keep in mind that editors’ suggestions can be ignored, discarded, and even argued. Unless you’re traditionally published, of course, because let’s face it, if your publisher tells you the character can’t ride a Harley, or shouldn’t smoke and have sex at the same time, you probably have very little say, as does your editor.