Editing 101: When Editors and Authors Collide

One of the strange things about working as a freelance editor in the digital world is that you seldom (if ever) meet the authors you're working with. In fact, depending on where your jobs come from, you might never have any contact at all with the person on the other side of the manuscript.

The latter version is how much of the past year of my freelancing has been: I've been working as a freelance editor and proofreader mostly for one particular company - they've been sending me the jobs, and I've been working on them and sending them back. Frequently, the only "contact" I've had with the authors is putting a note on the final edit saying "Here's what I've done/what you need to do."

Part of me enjoys the no-strings-attached world of that. It's nice to be able to do my work and send it back without any debate or discussion. That work has all been for authors who are self-publishing, and so they can accept or reject my revisions as they see fit (for better or worse) and there's no hard feelings.

On the other hand, there have been a few times when I have had author contact, and that typically does make for a richer experience. It's good to know that we're both working toward the same goal - and that we each understand the role the other is playing.

When I know why an author is using the words she is using to describe a main character, it's easier for me to understand both the character and the author. When I hear from an author that he intends to use 1950s slang for his 2017 character to set him apart from the crowd, then I can also allow that to flavor my responses (and stop questioning what's going on).

There are, of course, those times when authors and editors clash, however. For me, that tends to be when an author is choosing words or phrases that aren't going to be understood by the reader on the other end. After all, I'm not even one to fight over grammar unless something is truly unintelligible. I may point out grammatical errors and offer suggestions for fixing them, but if an author really wants to use them, that's often a style choice.

But when the grammar or word choice or writing style becomes so bad that even I can't understand it (and I've had years of reading between the lines), then I start to push back. And, sometimes, that can be kind of painful.

How much do I push back? Well, to be totally honest, what it comes down to is whose name is going to be on the final product. If I'm going to be named as the person who had final say on the page (which is kind of the implication if you list someone as your editor), then - yes - I'm going to want to have final say.

On the other hand, if the author's name is the only name that's going to appear, I'm more likely to defer to the author for the final decision. (Though I'll want to be able to make all of my recommendations so that I can point them and say "See? I tried!")

Of course, in a perfect working relationship, the two (author and editor) will be working together and finding creative compromises so that both names can be proudly displayed. That's the kind of collision that creates a new star - instead of simply a black hole surrounded by planetary fragments.

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