Before starting to edit a novel, I remind myself that it’s not my story. I prepare for the author to have her own style, her own pace, and her own idea of how everything should turn out. I tell myself that my edits will likely be irrelevant to the book’s ultimate success or failure. In fact, even the author’s choices may turn out to be irrelevant. Connecting with the right agent or editor, at the right moment in his acquisition schedule, with exactly the right story is almost as much about luck as it is about talent, research, and editing.
Every reading experience is subjective. If I read a scene in which an abused wife makes a choice to take a beating rather than fight back, I may think it’s about survival because I’ve been in her shoes. Another reader might see the character as weak and hard to bond with. Another reader might simply be sick of domestic violence stories. Every reader brings his or her own baggage to the narrative. Any suggestions I make to the author are subjective, seen through my experiences and my reading preferences. In the long run, an agent or in-house editor may disagree with my content ideas. The writer may end up revising the same sections over and over until she comes full circle.
I’m a point-of-view purest and often make suggestions about tightening and signaling POV changes, but I realize many readers don’t care about POV, so why push it? Suggestions is the key word. When it comes to content or voice, I never tell a writer he should do anything. I merely suggest a possibility or suggest he consider another alternative. If the author ignores my suggestion and I see the manuscript again, I have no reason to argue the point and no reason to be disappointed. It’s not my story.
My objectives are to find the typos, improve the syntax, watch for inconsistencies, and offer content suggestions. If I help the writer improve her craft along the way, it’s a happy bonus. As with parenting, an editor has to know when her job is done and when to let go.