I’ve had the privilege of editing the work of writers who have published many books and have come to Delphinium later on in their careers. Editing a master is very different than editing a new writer. Established authors have managed to stay in the game for decades and beyond their sheer talent, they’ve had to develop a dogged perseverance to keep writing and publishing despite the success or failure of their previous books. Not to mention the fact that each of these authors have had bad experiences with editors who, while admiring their work enough to publish it, perhaps never digested it fully enough to be able to edit carefully and successfully.
Being a writer myself and watching the relative success and failure of my own books has been a humbling experience that overshadows my approach to editing the work of others. Whenever I make a suggestion in a sidebar comment, I do so with the intention of trying to get the author to see an alternative, ideally to ponder my point and come up with an even better solution than the one I’ve offered. And even if there is push back and the author doesn’t want to make a change, my suggestions usually provoke a reevaluation that leads to revisions that often will help to strengthen a manuscript.
The best way to edit, in my opinion, is to do it with no ego, to take a cheerleader’s positive attitude toward the revision process, to give everything to the activity and then accept the outcome whatever it is. Authors never do everything I suggest and I have to live with that. And quite honestly, there have been a few occasions where a reviewer will echo something I’ve pointed out that the author decided not to change. And when this happens I hardly feel vindicated but rather feel that I failed to get my point across.
Whenever I reach an impasse and have the urge to shakes things up editorially, I remind myself of a story that one of these established authors told me. It involves an acquiring editor who took a collection of short stories, most of which had already been published in the New Yorker, and cut the printouts of the stories into pieces and rearranged them on a drafting table and wanted the author to consider making further changes. She—smartly—refused.
If you liked this post then you may also enjoy When Good Novelists Write Not-so-Good Novels.