Wednesday, October 22, 2008


As an editor for a couple of publishing houses, I have the opportunity to work with some authors on a regular basis and build a relationship. It makes my job both easier and harder.

It makes it easier because, as we develop our working relationship, the authors are able to understand my job is not to fold, staple or mutilate their work, but to help them polish it to its finest gleam. We are a team, dedicated to putting out the best possible book.

Those authors work with me, listen to the suggestions I offer, engage in a give-and-take discussion and improve their basic skills with each manuscript submitted. It's not very often that the issue is the writer can't tell a story -- but remember, I'm lucky in that I have an acquisitions editor ahead of me reading the slush pile and sending me only what's contracted! So, I have that advantage. And, especially when working with someone new, I make sure to give explanations of why I've done something -- it's a misplaced modifier, or tense issues in a paragraph, or run-on sentences (which I find are occurring more and more!)

But as we've developed a trusting relationship I've even had some authors contact me to ask how to handle a particular issue as they're working -- knowing they've identified an area they need to put extra effort and need an answer to a how/why/what question, push their own boundaries or skills a bit, or learn what the "house" rules are.

My job also becomes harder when a writer just keeps "cranking" out the same stories, with the same punctuation errors, same sentence structure problems, same passive writing, or whatever issue or issues that author has. It can be frustrating for an editor working with an author who has not made progress in learning the difference between there/their, peak/peek or who considers the following a correct sentence:

He walked to the store, he needed milk.

I keep chipping away, including the explanations, but it takes me much more time as an editor, so that cuts into my income because I have to spend the extra time on the repetitive errors. That means I might not volunteer to work with that author again after a while, knowing it'll take me longer to get the manuscript edited, and thus, since I work on a per unit billing process, rather than an hourly rate, I'd rather do more units and earn more!

Bottom line, though, is I love what I do, the interaction with authors, the chance to read some wonderful fiction before it hits the shelves and keep learning because, yep, editors are always learning as well.

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge


  1. Libby, when you get a sentence like that (He walked to the store, he needed milk.), how would you handle it? Would you only correct punctuation - or would you suggest alternate choices like:

    Needing milk, he walked to the store.

    Or something more elaborate that showed the character of the guy? (As soon as I read the original sentence, my mind created a scene - but to give him purpose would take two or three sentences.)

  2. I'm with you on this one: harder and easier. I love seeing authors grow in their skill level, but it is frustrating when they don't heed advice--especially for marketing--that is only in their favor and benefit.
    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I'm not Libby, but I'll answer, Helen. If I was editing and came across a sentence like that, I would follow your instinct to urge the writer to put this in a scene and use it to show character.

    The writer I am editing right now tends to write those kinds of vague declarative sentences, and I am working hard to show him how to add little touches of detail that set us firmly in a place in the story.


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