The Answer to the Editing Question You're Too Afraid to Ask
July 24, 2016
Editing 101: If the Shoe *Doesn't* Fit
September 3, 2017
Gay Male Author Seeks Same for Bouts of Impassioned Editing (But Should He?)
August 21, 2016
June [when this post originally appeared online[ being Pride month, I thought I’d address a topic that is fairly close to my heart: GLBT authors and editors.
Choosing an editor, at the best of times, can be like all of the worst kinds of dating. You’re looking at resumes and websites that might as well be personal ads in the back of questionable newspapers—or photos you’d rather just swipe left off of your phone. How much can you really learn from fewer than 140 characters?
Often, authors narrow their searches by looking for people who match them. People in their social circles or somehow connected on LinkedIn. The search is often pretty narrow: “I’ve written a gay romance novel about cat-loving men in Sheboygan, so I’d like to find a gay man who knows all about Sheboygan felines;” or “I’ve written an expose on lesbian influences in laundry detergent packaging, so I want to have it read by a lesbian who washes her own clothes.”
It makes sense, right? You want someone who knows a certain amount about your material to be able to read it and tell you whether it makes sense, or whether something is truly amiss. You want to meet your match and stroll off into the editorial sunset.
And I would agree with you. Sorta.
You see, you do want someone like that to be reading your book, but as a reader—not as an editor. This is the person you should hand your manuscript to when you’re thinking, “This might be good. I would love it if someone could read it and maybe give me a little light commentary on it. Nothing formal, but just point out what I missed. I could pay him or her with pizza.”
At that point, handing your book about lesbian laundry packaging to some of your lesbian (or bisexual, or simply laundry-loving) friends might be great. They can read your book and talk to you about what resonated with them, and what didn’t. After which, you can go rework what you’ve done, and then consider going out to search for an editor.
On the other hand, if you hand your book about the Sheboygan-based romantic escapades of your cat-loving hero to someone who a) hates cats; b) has a strong dislike for all things Wisconsin; or c) wears black every Valentine’s Day in protest of the commercial misappropriation of the death of a saint… sure… you might be setting yourself up for a some very non-constructive (and non-productive) criticism. But you might also find out where the holes are in your manuscript, because he’s bound to be looking for them.
Boiled down, this means that you should keep your “we know all the same stuff!” friends as your friends; and keep your “I don’t do laundry” or your “I prefer ‘Shipoopi’ to Sheboygan” frenemies as your editors. (Or, you know, hire someone who is a good, neutral editor and have a business associate as your editor—that works, too.) Basically you need to find someone who might have some in common with you, but who will still challenge you.
What does any of this have to do with Pride month?
I’ve been working as an editor for a number of years. And I’ve edited a lot of books (fiction and nonfiction) for which I was simply not the target audience—and a very few books that were written for “my type.” I’ve learned, over time, that the books I edit that aren’t “my kind of book” are the ones where I often find it easier to give better, fuller, and more active critiques.
I guess it’s a little of a “devil’s advocate” kind of thing (I swear I’m not referring to the really awful 1997 movie—I’m referring to the guy who argues against sanctifying a saint during canonization proceedings at the Vatican), where I’m able to use the knowledge I do have to try to poke holes in the manuscript. (“You’re the author—convince me I’m wrong!”)
Oh, sure, I’ve had arguments and push-back critiques with some gay male authors, too. And we’ve learned a lot from each other in the process. And (I think) the results have been really positive for both of us. But the critiques took me longer—and the points of contention were occasionally harder for each of us to describe and understand—because we were starting on the same page.
Think about it. If you’re looking at a package of laundry detergent, and you’re looking to see whether that shape on the front might remind you ever-so-slightly of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, if you turn to someone else who has studied art history (we’ll say that’s the point of using O’Keeffe in this description, just to keep this clean) and say “Does that look O’Keeffe-ish to you?” Your art history-loving friend is more likely to say yes than someone who has only ever seen O’Keeffe’s cityscapes, and never seen her flowers.
Having a similar background is great if the two of you are friends who are in a museum discussing art theory. But if you’re an author looking for critique and your reader already knows enough about your subject matter to not question why you’re making your assertions, well, that can be a problem.
For editing, you need to find someone who knows something about your subject—just enough to understand the innuendo, as well as the right questions to ask—but not so much that he/she doesn't ask any questions at all. If you're a GLBTQ author, that means you might want (and need) a GLBTQ editor, but make sure you get the right one and swipe left on the rest.
Okay. This is getting a bit long, so I’ll tell you what. I’m going to let you think on this a bit, and send me your thoughts. In a month or so we’ll revisit this topic and get into some broader genre discussions, where you both want and don’t want your editor to know your topic—all at once.
For now, let’s just take a moment or two to celebrate all of the cat-loving gay romantics from Sheboygan, the Georgia O’Keeffe-admiring lesbians in the laundry aisle at Target, and the incredibly diverse pantheon of GLBTQ authors who have given us so much pleasure and discussion through the years.
My family—my husband*, my cat**, and I—wouldn’t be where we are without them.***
*If I’m going to be honest, technically he’s only my fiancé.
**And, well, technically, our cat is a dog.
***And, okay, for full disclosure, we’re also not stick people.