Thursday, July 20, 2017

Independent writer? Team player? Can you be both?

This month's theme at Blood Red Pencil is independence, very appropriate for July because this is the month it's celebrated every year in the United States. Independence, however, has a far broader application than one country declaring its liberation from another.

Take writing, for instance. Like other art forms, it promotes solitude. With some exceptions we work independent of others, turning our imaginations and creativity loose and letting them lead us wherever our characters go to tell us their stories. Those characters become our closest companions while we all share space in our heads. How do we view and deal with flesh and blood professionals who are equally vital to our stories?

Consider the following fiction scenario depicting some of this editor's experiences with writers over the last 25+ years:

Writer: I can't  believe I let my critique group talk me into hiring an editor. They all said my story was unique, so why do I need somebody to edit it? Everybody in the group suggested changes; but after I explained why none of their ideas worked, they all backed down and seemed to understand my reasoning. I still can't believe I wrote that fight scene. It's the best one I ever read, if I do say so myself. The writering group was stunned into silence when they read it. I can see it now: the big publishing houses will compete for the right to publish my debut novel. The advance will set me up for life.

Editor: What's this? A fight scene? Where's the setup? Who's fighting? Is it—no, it can't be; he's out of town. Maybe it's—no, he took his wife to the ER a couple pages back, and he's still there with her. Wait a minute—that's physically impossible. Oh, dear. I wonder what the best way would be to approach this writer. She seems quite convinced her book is the next New York Times bestseller. Maybe I could coach her, help her to see why she needs to work on more effective ways to hook her readers and keep them engaged. It's not a bad story, but definitely a diamond in the rough.

Writer: I can't believe that editor had the audacity to suggest my fight scene was less than perfect. What did she mean there was no setup? Those two characters argued on page three. It's only page 76. Readers are smart. They'll remember the bad blood between those guys, and they understand subtleties. What! Physically impossible? How dare she say that? They might have to be a bit more agile than the average Joe, but really! Then she had the gall to ask if I had done my research on the story's locale. Research? That's ridiculous. This is fiction. A rewrite? No way. As I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ain't broke. I'm going to send that editor a piece of my mind right now. I can't believe I had to pay her and then tell her how to do her job. I'm glad I only wrote a check for her to edit the first half the book.

Editor: It seems I struck a nerve with this independent writer; I tried so hard to be tactful. I became a freelance editor to help self-published and independently published writers compete with authors from the big houses. The notion that self-pubbed writers are second rate because they aren't published by Random House can be changed if we all work together to produce great books, but that's easier said than done. I'd better send the writer an apology for ruffling her feathers; that was not my intent. Too bad. With a little work, hers could have been a great story.

Writer: I guess that editor found out who's boss. She was just the hired help, nothing more. At least she recognized I have talent, but then she went on to suggest I take a writing course. That would be like telling Beethoven he needed to take piano lessons. (Of course, maybe he did take piano lessons.) Hey, I know grammar pretty good. Commas sometimes confuse me, but that's not important. She mentioned fragments. Hey, the reader will understand what I mean. Hmm, she also said my storyline has potential. It's not potential, honey, it's reality. I've already written it. What's this? She rewrote my fight scene to show me another way it could be presented. How dare she! Wait a minute. Oh, I see. That does make more sense. My characters wouldn't have to be contortionists to do it this way. She did use a lot of my words, but the action flows better. That's a great verb, more powerful than the one I used. Wow, I didn't know that about my story's setting. I guess I should check out the place so I don't turn off any readers who live there and who might tell their friends not to buy my novel because it's wrong. Maybe I shouldn't fire her quite yet. I suppose I could learn to work with her, as long as she understands I call the shots. Several in my writing group have been real happy with her work. Two have sold their manuscript, and three self published. All of them are selling books. Maybe I should send her another e-mail and tell her I'll give her one more chance.

Editor: I see this writer's having second thoughts. I'm glad. What's this? Whoa, she reworked the fight scene, using several of my suggestions and adding some good ideas of her own. It works now. I'll let her know right away what an improvement she made. Maybe she understands that my goal is to help her book be the best it can be, not to rewrite it and make it mine. Who knows? We might be a great team after all.

Writing is an independent profession. Publishing a first-rate book is a team effort. Editors play a major role in polishing the rough diamonds of our stories to highlight all its spectacular facets. Cover and interior designers put the wrapping on the package to maximize eye appeal. Marketing experts work to help introverted and inexperienced writers sell their wares. Specialists create e-books and audio books to reach readers who prefer those options. Of course, you may not need all these pros for your project. Just remember that none of them desire to take over any writer's work, but only to make it the best it can be and reach the widest audience possible.

Can you be both an independent writer and team player? What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and private tutoring sessions. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors to help you polish your book into a marketable work.


  1. Part of being a newbie writer is to know that you don't know what you don't know. I was fortunate when I began writing to meet two women from the local Sisters in Crime chapter who took me under their wing and helped me learn. POV? What's that? Oh, now I see it. One is a grammar queen who to this day edits my books. She's forgotten more than I'll ever know. Be a sponge, new writers. Open your eyes and ears and suck in as much as you can from people who know more than you do. Learn, no ego involved.

  2. Ah, Polly, if all writers had your learning attitude! Your words are spot on. Even after decades of editing, I still am learning ways to improve my clients' works, as well as my own. Thank you for your sage advice that all writers need to follow.

  3. Nothing worse than working with writers who ask for, but don't really want, an honest critique. Sometimes the more defensive you feel during a critique, the more you need to examine that part of the manuscript. I always follow the rule that if more than one person points out the same thing, then it needs attention. If they all have differing opinions about the same passage, then it still needs attention. :)

  4. Good points on realizing which areas in a manuscript need work. Humility goes a long way in a teamwork scenario -- on the part of both the writer and the editor.

  5. Great post -- I can't speak for the expertise of all editors, but my editor at Five Star was amazing, teaching me more than I'd ever learned in writing classes and workshops or from books. Each time I received her edit letter with suggestions and required changes, I'd grumble for a couple of hours, then say "Yes, ma'am," and go to work. :D

  6. My experiences as an editor have generally gone in a positive direction, but sometimes the routes included detours on the part of the writer. Having said that, I can't imagine any other kind of work I would have enjoyed as much or that would have brought me the surprise of a few dear friends who were once clients.

  7. Great post, Linda. I have had similar conversations with clients, much to my dismay as they seemed unwilling to learn from the writing and editing process. As Pat said, I have learned so much from the editors with whom I have worked, and that has made me a better editor.

    Thank goodness more recent clients have been more willing to work with me, rather than balk at every suggestion.

  8. When writer and editor work together as a team, their synergy brings a project to life. When they don't, editing becomes one of the most challenging professions I can imagine. As you note, many clients do cooperate and learn; they are the joys of our work.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook