Bridging the Gap Between Writer and Editor

Kyler Trautner Ro Fusopk65 U Unsplash
Photo by kyler trautner on Unsplash

Last week, with my tongue only slightly in my cheek, I posed the question, “why do writers hate editors so much?” And I promised that this week I’d give you some of my ideas around what we can do about it; your mileage may, of course, vary.

The first way to reach out to writers, I think, is through a combination of clarity and transparency. Clarity about what we do, and transparency about the way in which we do it.

Obviously some of this is done via the mechanics of editing—creating, maintaining, and sharing a style sheet, for example. But a lot of it is done via communication, and those of us who work directly with writers (rather than through publishers) have an edge here: we can really be clear about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I think that one of the best things to happen to editing is the ability via Word to comment on a text. I don’t just use this area for queries; if I make an edit, I often use the commenting field to explain why I made the change, at least the first time that I do it. When you’re working with individual authors, some of whom are first-timers, you cannot make assumptions about their knowledge and understanding of grammar, syntax, usage … and people tend to get a lot less prickly when they understand why you changed their writing.

The other advantage to doing this is that you are, at least internally, defending every edit you make. This is essential if you want to keep the writer’s voice, their quirkiness, their rhythm, all the things that make their writing unique. Showing your authors that you respect them by not being (or seeming) arbitrary will go a long way toward winning their trust if not their love.

It’s all in the communication. It’s all about helping the writer understand that you’re on their side—that you’re there to make them look better.

At both the beginning and the end of a project, you might want to consider taking time to discuss your editing process with the writer. Of course that’s already been hashed out in the contract (um, you do always work with a contract, right?), but an informal summary makes writers feel at ease. Depending on the contract, you might say something like, “In this manuscript I’ll be focusing on… “ and then fill in your editing program (overlong paragraphs or sentences, typographical errors, awkward sentence structure, missing words, misplaced punctuation, missing subheads, etc., etc.). This doesn’t have to be a complete list; it’s a reminder. When you finish the project, return the edits with another summary of sorts: this is what I was looking for, this is how I approached it, this is a pattern of yours I see emerging… whatever makes sense for you, the writer, and the manuscript.

Be sure in this cover letter that you call out what the writer has done well! When I teach critiquing, that’s the first thing I tell students: there is something good in every manuscript. Be sure that you honor that first and foremost, because that’s where the writer’s passion inevitably lies.

Showing that you care about the writer’s work and giving them insight into how you work, what to expect, and why you do what you do, will all go a long way toward bridging the gap between writers and editors.

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website September 9, 2015.

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