Believe it or not, you can always improve. Not every word you've written is golden, especially after revisions have gotten it to the point where your manuscript crosses my desk. But that's okay! It's normal. As the author, you have spent endless hours with your story, wrestled with plot lines gone astray, and watched your characters grow from an idea to fully-fleshed out fictional people who have found a permanent place in your heart. Because of your attachment to your story, you may be unable to see mistakes.
Editing is more than pointing out grammatical errors and fixing a comma or two. An editor needs to be honest and tell the author where the story dips or when characterizations falter. It's our job to point out the missteps before your story reaches the public who won't be nearly as polite. (There are readers out there who actually count typos and will make a point of dinging you in a review for 10 typos out of 100,000 words. It's true. I've seen it!)
I've encountered some clients who resent being asked to revise. Usually these are the inexperienced writers who aren't familiar with professional editing. Perhaps their friend has read it and told them that it is flawless, I don't know. What I do know is that it is only the inexperienced who balk at having their work criticized in any way.
You read that right: only the inexperienced. You would think it would be the opposite, right? With the novice craving insight and the pro thinking they don't need it? That's never been my experience. Why? Because an author worth their merit craves feedback and understands the necessity of a second pair of professional eyes looking over their work before it launches into the world.
What do I mean by criticism? No, it's not the words "you suck" written in the margins of the work. It is professional feedback phrased as "I suggest" or "please consider" or "I noticed some story contradictions" or another version of the above. I've been in this business for a few decades now both as a writer and an editor. Professionalism is the key in both giving and receiving a critique.
The public will tell you if something sucks and doesn't care about your feelings. An editor does care, even if you perceive him/her as tough in their commentary. No, you don't need to take all of the suggestions given by your editor. A good editor doesn't want to change your story or your style, he/she only wants to see you succeed. Use what resonates with you and disregard what doesn't. However, the key to a good working relationship with an editor is learning to be open to the possibility that your work isn't flawless.
Publishing is a tough business. The only way you will be in it for the long haul is to receive honest feedback with grace.
Next week on "From the editor's desk" I will be discussing what traits to look for in an editor. Here's a hint: your daughter being an English major is not one of them.
Professional editor and bestselling author