Authors and Editors: Butting Heads or Holding Hands?

Is it Spring, or is it the season for me to attend another editor’s talk about different editing flavors? As I approach the later chapters of my book, I’m wondering who I will choose to edit my manuscript.  It’s exciting, and I have to take some deep breathes, and calm down.

I’m writing the scariest parts of my Israeli experience now, and sometimes it feels like I’m struggling with a bit of PTSD.  Although I’m thankful that I never experienced the blood and gore that some did during the conflict – my vivid imagination had worked overtime throughout our trip and I could have been a poster child for what fear looks like.

Missiles coming towards us, bomb shelters, and disagreements about whether we should stay or leave Israel —  our vacation came equipped with struggles between faceless enemies, and even friends and family, as our adventure unfolded. Conflict is required for all good writing and if I can hone my writing skills to tell our story in a captivating way, I believe the seeds are there to keep readers interested.

Also floating around my brain is the discouraging publishing attitude that our first efforts are described as the writer’s shitty first draft. Not that anyone has said that to me because I’m not finished yet – but I still find this saying offensive. It attacks my confidence, and in the back of my mind as a writer I wonder – is it true? Well, time to be my own best friend, put my big girl panties on, and write another chapter.

In between writing, I’ve been attending lectures and paying close attention to the editors I meet on my journey. This lecture was an interactive session held at Publishers and Writers of Orange County – that’s California, not New York.  I strongly recommend this group if you’re a writer, agent, editor or publisher.  The purpose of the organization is to educate those of us in the industry about the business of writing.

What a beautiful, sunny day it was to shine the light on the relationship between authors and editors. Are you an author? When I hear the word writer, I think bright, creative, and brave hearts—willing to splay out their innards for the world to see.

Editor. What adjectives come to your mind?  To me, gratitude is the first word. How can you not be grateful to someone willing to work with you to make your heartfelt story or article better? And yes, I do acknowledge at times it requires taking a pause and sometimes covering my mouth with duct tape to truly listen, and get beyond my natural defenses. Having learned to love meditating and its benefits, sure comes in handy : )

Laurie Gibson, April’s PWOC speaker, stressed that the relationship between author and editor can and should be filled with collaboration, cooperation, and companionship. Good, honest, and direct

Laurie Gibson, Editor, enjoying the humor in imperfection..

Laurie Gibson, Editor, enjoying the humor in imperfection..

communication is the key. During her talk, she delighted us with solutions to our questions.

In actuality, an editing team is required to help publish a professional-caliber book. Laurie emphasized the types of editing used by indie-published authors: manuscript review, developmental, line or copy, and proofreading. Although the same editor might have the experience to do all types of editing, she recommended having different editors for the various phases. Once they’ve worked on your writing, they too become so intimate with your words, they can miss errors. You need multiple pairs of eyes.

Having editing experience spanning over 20 years, Laurie believes the relationship is more “holding hands than butting heads.” After all, she said, “People in the editing occupation are there for love—because they love books and stories—it’s a passion. They don’t stumble into the profession by accident—they have to work at it.”

She believes blood-stained slashes on the page, are mistakes made by a rookie editor wanting to make their mark.  She lamented, what if the manuscript was written by the next Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling?  Were those missing commas worth the potential psychological damage? Conscious of authors’ sensitivities, she uses a purple pen rather than a red one. Speaking of purple, Laurie was the proofreader for The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Laurie has edited 200 books requiring various types of editing. Karla Olson, Publishers and Writers of Orange County and Publishers and Writers of San Diego’s founder, calls her “the best.”  If that’s not enough of a recommendation, I don’t know what is. By the way, Laurie can be reached through her LinkedIn Profile at

Another book Laurie worked on was The Dining Car by Eric Peterson. When describing the book, Laurie told us it made her laugh so hard, it brought tears to her eyes.  As she passed around the book, I smiled as a melody of oohs and aahs began to play. You would have thought we were at a tasting for a famous chef. Who wouldn’t want the same reaction to our book? As each member touched the velvety dust jacket, inspected the cover’s clever artwork that had us peeking through the dining car window like voyeurs, and admired the interior layout, it was obvious this book was like a fine wine and each detail should be savored. That’s how we feel about well-made books. This one’s competing for the Benjamin Franklin Award.

We pay money for our editors to find our mistakes so we don’t lose credibility with our audience. They walk a tightrope between doing their jobs and treading lightly on our hearts. Like a detective on the prowl, these experts search for those awkward phrases and commas in the wrong places, to help smooth out our writing.  Because our goal is to share our Sunday best writing with our readers.

Manuscript review requires the editor to read the text, ensuring quality. The author wants someone with professional credentials to provide feedback both general and specific. Is the characterization consistent? If your character is a curmudgeon, don’t have him buying all the sweet young neighbor’s Girl Scout cookies—he should slam the door in her face with a look of self-satisfaction on his own miserable mug.

Laurie advised us not to waste the reader’s nor the agent’s time.  If the agent asks for 80,000 words—don’t try to sneak more in.  Understand your genre readers’ attention span, and give them what they crave. Read the best of the type of books you write, and learn from them.

Developmental editing—Laurie described this editing as manuscript review on steroids. Perhaps you have an intriguing story, but the delivery crash-landed.  It’s time for the editor to roll up her sleeves and look at each word and sentence. Maybe she’ll suggest rearranging chapters for a more creative flow. Remember she said, “Humans like to be surprised.” And, as was pointed out, don’t take eighty pages in a book about fly-fishing to put a pole in the water!

Line and copy editing—down to the nitty gritty of editing.  Grammar, punctuation, word order, capitalization—you want to hire someone who believes God is in the details.  But you also have to remember that, as the writer, you always have the right to say,“Hell, no!”

Proofreading follows the printed or digital (PDF) proof copy, looking for layout gaffes, typesetting mistakes, chapter number inconsistency, and indisputable content errors. Here you find the wretched lives of widows and orphans. Be sure you know the current rules—there should be one space after the period and colon—not two.

Even after Laurie’s talk, she continued teaching and inspiring me.  In writing this blog, I wanted to have a picture of her, so I asked her to send me the one that you see above.  When I received it, I emailed her saying – um, somehow in this picture a part of your face accidentally got cut off.

Yet, there was a nagging more enlightened part of me, whispering that there was a reason, and I should just relax and go with the flow. She wrote back and said the imperfection was intentional – “we can be lighthearted and have a little fun in this business. Perfection is not required : )” Bam, did you hear the choir of angels in the background?  Once again the Universe has given me a gift. An invitation from an editor – whose job it is to catch our mistakes — to chill out. I feel truly blessed to have met Laurie and look forward to where the path will lead us.

Those are the teachings I gathered from Laurie and the other professionals attending the meeting. If you’re still reading this blog – I suspect you’re in the writing profession, too. I hope it’s been helpful – I know it was for me.  It’s nice to know there are editors in the industry beyond the hard-asses always portrayed in movies. Maybe I’ll see you at PWOC sometime…as always I hope you Join Me On My Journey…