Editing Tip #109 – Hiring an Editor Doesn’t Mean Losing Your Voice

Francesco via Flickr under the Creative Commons license

Have you ever thought (when you were first starting out) that if you hired a professional editor to do a substantive/content edit or a line/stylistic edit that suddenly your narrative voice was a risk of disappearing? That the manuscript you laboured over would become someone else’s child?

These are very real fears for first time authors and should not be taken lightly.

It’s crazy how we hear about published works being pirated by unscrupulous online companies and feel the violation of someone else claiming our work. But what about that fear of losing your narrative voice because an editor re-writes so much of your book that it no longer resembles what you wrote?

If this is happening then…

  1. You might have hired an editing natzi.
  2. Maybe you still have a lot of learning a head of you.
  3. It might not be as bad as you think.

You Might Have Hired an Editing Natzi

These types of editors do exist. They run the gambit between being newbie editors who are trying to make your book resemble what they’ve been taught is ‘the right way’ to write, to being long-time editors who have allowed themselves to fall into a particular way of editing that isn’t necessarily right for all writer or all books. If you happen to hire one of these, get out of the agreement ASAP. While they can say ‘they know their stuff’, their knowledge is limited and biased based on their new or ingrained experiences. Now, I’m not saying that they don’t know how to edit – I’m just saying that the way they edit isn’t right for everyone. And, if they are re-writing your manuscript and not simply giving examples of how to begin to modify certain elements of your writing – then run, run as fast as your legs can carry you!

This actually happened to a long-time client of mine. She was one of my first long-distance clients and her writing style is very unique. However, we were having PC/MAC compatibility problems which were causing me to do twice the work I was being hired for. So, I suggested that she look for a new editor who better met her expectations and was computer compatible. She tried five different editors, all of which were ‘discount editors’ from various Elance/Upwork hiring sites, and all five editors completely re-wrote her manuscript. There wasn’t an untouched bit of narrative anywhere! The voice of her main character, the narrator of the story, spoke with a particular cultural dialect that these editors simply saw as “WRONG” and totally missed the boat on understanding narrative voice. Needless to say, we’re working together again with a healthy respect for the PC/MAC barrier 😉

You Might Still Have a Lot of Learning Ahead of You

If you’re seeing a profusion of comments that essentially are getting the idea of “show don’t tell” across to you and your editor is give you examples for how to switch from storytelling into story-emersing (painting pictures in your head rather than echoing campfire tales); or reading notes on when and when not to use the passive voice in your prose, then it sounds like you’re on a bit of a learning curve. These are intrinsic story writing elements that writers learn by doing – and that often means taking courses or workshops and attending conferences and local writers group/critique meetings to help you hone your craft. If your editor is doing this for you, and you don’t have the time to go back and workshop your book, then you’re looking at hiring a writing coach/editor. Not only does that mean your writing will look dramatically different in your final draft as compared to your first draft, but that you’re having to learn these techniques over a shorter period of time and that often means having someone show you what something could look like, instead of trying to guide you through the entire process from step A to step Z. None of this means you’re losing your voice – it means you’re finding it 😀

I’m working with an older lady at the moment (few years older than my mother). This manuscript is her first attempt at fiction writing. Her experience with writing revolves more around procedural or business writing. Much of her story (and it is an intriguing one at that!) is “told” in that campfire vein and when I try to show her how to tackle immersing the reader in the moment and letting them experience it right along with the character(s), she is truly afraid that by taking this advice her work will no longer be her own. This is a delicate relationship right now, but I honestly believe that if she can clearly identify her learning curve here, she has a wonderful story many readers would thoroughly enjoy.

It Might Not be as Bad as You Think

Are you seeing a lot of ‘red’ marks on your manuscript? Track Changes bubbles with suggestions about stronger verb usage needed, awkward phrasing that needs clarifying, and yes, even a few passages re-written to show you what your editor means about ‘how to go about changing this item’? These are all very common comments to run into, and if you’ve never been through the editing process before it can be scary and very intimidating! But honestly, it’s normal. Yeah, there may be a lot more there than you expected, but the more practice you get putting these suggestions into your next, and your next, and your next book, the fewer you will see as you grow into your role as an author.

In high school I prided myself on being the Essay-Editing Queen. My best friend knew this and gave me a very rough draft for something she was putting together for a grade 12 class (I was in OAC or Grade 13 at the time). This meant that she knew the fundamentals of essay writing, since she’d done it for 3 years previous (and yes, she was studious and made good grades, so this was not a far-fetched assumption). Now, my friend gave me this piece to edit during some down-time in our Grade 13 Social Studies class while sitting at our ‘assigned’ group. So I read through the essay and then promptly started showing her what was redundant, what was in the wrong place, how she was missing information (proof) and where she was being repetitive. I basically told her she still had a lot of work to do. The girl sitting across from us, who did not know either the extent of our friendship nor the high expectations for which we both reached when it came to English class essays, was appalled at the way I spoke to my friend and ‘cut up’ her work. My best friend just thanked me, gave me a hug and then did her darndest to illuminate what just happened so that this poor girl didn’t pity her and hate me. It’s all about perspective 😉

So, depending on just how much experience you have before writing your first publishable book and how willing you are to continue learning and honing your craft, any one of these scenario might be off-putting at first. Regardless though, if you feel like you’re being berated instead of helped and there’s far too much re-writing going on instead of guiding, then get a second and a third opinion. Most editors worth their salt will offer a free chapter edit or consultation. Take advantage of this!

Happy Editing 😀

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Categories: Editing

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