Putting together a book is a collaborative effort. Whether you are an independent publisher or writing books for a publishing company, you should end up working with an editor. An editor’s job is to back-check your writing, make sure everything makes sense in the story itself, and correct any awkward or grammatically incorrect sentences.
Remember I said “collaborative effort.” That means it’s a process of give and take. An editor may take issue with dialogue, sentence construction, or something more important like plot points. If the story doesn’t have major holes or continuity problems, then it’s really down to your writing. A good editor will NOT attempt to change your style. A good editor WILL attempt to make changes they think sound better or are more pleasing to the eye. That’s their job.
But that doesn’t mean you have to accept all their changes. They don’t always see things the same way you do, or hear the characters the way you do. At some point, the writer has to decide which changes make sense for the tale and those that do not.
I’ve never worked with a publishing company other than my own, so I can’t speak to working with the editors you’ve sold your book to. But when you’re hiring your own editor, you need to make sure it’s someone you can work with. Someone who “gets” what it is you’re writing. Sometimes a collaboration will break down. Other times, the editor is not treating your work harshly enough. Neither of these situations is ideal.
Editors are supposed to be your friend and your nemesis. They have the distance necessary to find the problems in your work that you don’t see. This can be the difference between a mediocre story and a great one. But I’ve also seen certain books ruined by a change in slant or a story’s visceral nature. I’m not going to name names, but there are a couple of author friends of mine whose original versions of their books were much better before a major publisher got a hold of them. But again, that’s an opinion, not a fact.
In my experience, working with an independent editor on shorter works before giving them a shot at something huge is the way to go. It allows both of you to test the relationship and decide if it will work. If it doesn’t? Pay your bill and move on. Perhaps that editor will be good for something else later on, or maybe you’ll never work with them again. Either way, you have to keep trying until you find a partnership that works for both parties.
There are sentences I’m not going to change. There’s dialogue I won’t change if I feel it’s inherent for the character and disagree with the editor’s insights. It’s my story. But a good editor should make you take a second look and ponder if that’s really what you’re trying to say. If they don’t understand the writing, what reader is going to?
I’ve been fortunate to work with two fantastic editors–Sue Baiman and Jennifer Melzer. The two of them keep me on my toes and bring up issues I hadn’t thought about. Sometimes they confirm my suspicions about certain plot points or character decisions. Sometimes, they hear a voice differently than I do and I simply ignore those changes and move on.
Editing is an important part of the publishing process. Find someone that works well for you and enhances your writing. Skipping this step can be detrimental to your career if you end up publishing sub-par stories. Take the time to discover those that can improve your work. It’s the professional thing to do.