There was a discussion on the NaNoWriMo boards about whether or not editors put “their stamp” on your work.
In thinking about it, if an editor is, in fact, doing that, then you need a new editor.
I’ve had an editor for a while. Her name is Gayle, and she’s awesome. Why is she awesome? Because while she is ripping my work to shreds, she keeps in mind the key fact that it is my story, written in my style. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Gayle will do everything that requires doing to the story. She will ask, “Is this what you wanted to achieve, because it sounds like something else.” She will order me to rephrase something. She will have me add a little something to the dialogue.
But at no point does she reshape the course of the story, or alter my writing style.
I will admit, I have an odd style of writing. If I’m writing a paragraph of any sort, I want it to have a lot of info, and I have gotten really good lately at keeping it concise. I tend to get verbose otherwise, and as a consequence, I am prone to run-ons. It’s something that the constant and patient nudging of my editor had cured me of, and as a result, I became a stronger writer.
But, all aside, let me list a couple of things.
1. You should have an editor. Even if you think your work is brilliant, even if you think that it can get published right away, before you take it to a publisher, take it to an editor. There is no work out there that should go on the market without going through at least one edit, and one of those edits needs to be done by someone other than yourself. Your work may be brilliant, but there’s no question: another set of eyes is necessary to ensure that your plot doesn’t have more holes than Swiss cheese, and that your commas and apostrophes are where they ought to be.
I cannot even tell you; if I had a dollar for every person who confused “lose” (verb) and “loose” (adjective), or for people who mistake “its” (possessive pronoun) and “it’s” (contraction of “it is”), or anyone who confuses “their” (possessive pronoun), “they’re” (contraction of “they are”), and “there” (pronoun/noun/adverb), then I wouldn’t have to work. Yes, there are differences. No, these words are not interchangeable. And yes, even on the Internet, it’s important to watch your grammar.
For everyone who thinks that they won’t be judged by bad grammar, you cannot possibly be more mistaken, and if you think that slips of grammar on the Internet are no big deal, you’re delusional. You’re judged by your grammar everywhere: job applications, professional correspondence, etc. Your employers do a Facebook check too, and believe you me, they get a far different impression from misspellings and horrible punctuation online than your own. And if you’re a writer, then it’s twice as important to make sure that yours is polished up. This is why you hire an editor: to make sure that the things that you may think to be minor are actually correct.
2. Your editor should help you refine your story, not make it their own. My editor is a writer in her own right. Her style, though, is vastly different from mine. She may not be into the sort of books that I like. However, she does nothing whatsoever that would steer the direction of the story into her style and vein of writing. She makes sure that, no matter what changes take place, the story retains my style and, most importantly, my plot.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trad-pub or self-pub, but if you had a Bad Editor story, you may be likely to hear that the editor had asked the writer to re-do the story so that the plot runs in an entirely different direction than what you have intended. NO. This is the point where that writer should, in all seriousness, go to the editor’s boss and say, “I need a new editor, post-haste.” Your story needs to remain yours. It may see a scene insertion, a scene deletion, discussion of a different scene altogether, but at the end of it, it should remain as your own piece of work. You may also see a bunch of different dialogue, but again – none of this should change the plot in a way where your story is no longer yours.
3. Your editor should be willing to flex. Again, Gayle is awesome in that regard. She and I had locked horns on multiple issues in Books 2 and 3, and if I were to come across a portion of it that she wants me to change and I do not, we discuss it. She’s open to the fact that in some instances (explanatory/expository paragraph vs. dialogue) I will leave it as-is, but she may feel that the dialogue is better.
There is no “correct” way to write a book, but there are many ways to express the same point. A good editor should be able to recognize those bits and pieces in your style, and if he/she may feel that something needs to change, but you do not, then it is okay to actually walk through the changes and discuss whether or not to make the changes.
4. Your editor knows who wrote the book. Not to be all “I’m the writer, hear me roar”, but in truth, no matter what changes your editor makes, your editor has to know that you, as the writer and owner of the story (debatable under trad-pub) have the final word. This is especially true if you own the rights to your work, and especially true if you’re self-pub. Your editor may have revisions, you may make the changes, but at the end, the control is your own. Unless you’re in a situation with a trad-pub that designates someone else as Copyright Owner, you call the shots on your work, and a good editor knows and acknowledges that.
Remember this: you may have learned several things in your creative writing class, or learned creative writing on your own, or it’s always been in you. But an editor is trained to spot certain things that you, the writer, may have missed. Technical writing is very, very different from creative writing, and tech writing trains a person to look at writing in general very differently from someone who had graduated with a creative writing degree.
It goes without saying: if you’re a writer, get an editor. Even before you finish your first draft, make sure you have an editor lined up. Even if you think you may not need an editor, you need an editor. And you also need time to ensure you have a good one.