A reader wrote to me with a series of questions on the writing life, the publishing universe, and everything. I answered the first couple that she had by return of email – but then I realized that the rest were wide-ranging enough for other people interested in the subject to perhaps find of interest. I asked her permission to answer the rest on the blog.
Where did you find the right editor? How can you find an editor who speaks your language and has your same spirit so you don't end up with a book that you didn't really write? (like a decorator who makes your house look like her taste instead of yours?)
If you are published by a traditional publisher, your book is purchased by an acquisitions editor – or, in other words, an in-house editor who has the power to make that purchase.
This is the editor who has picked up your book and loved it enough to buy it. You don’t find the editor, in this instance, it’s the editor who chooses and finds YOU – they buy your book and they are your biggest and best ally throughout the publishing process.
Good editors have the good of the book in mind. Good editors do not change the message of your book, or its tone, or its voice. They MAY suggest changing its point-of-view character because they feel that you are approaching the story from an angle that will not show it to its best advantage. But a good editor will never come in with an attitude of 'I love your book now change it.' This is your book, in the end.
A good editor will discuss it with you, suggest things that the editor feels are going to improve the book and make it more successful – and that is what you both want, for the book to be as successful as possible. But you are the one with the vision in your head. You know your characters better than anyone else, and it is your name that will be on that book cover once it’s out there in the wild.
The trick is to pick your battles – yield to editorial savvy and experience in places where you are able to do so without damaging your book, but know which hills you are willing to die on and if they are targeted have a rational argument about why those particular changes would be detrimental to your own vision of the book. It comes down to instinct and experience, in the end. Your editor will have oodles more of the latter than you, probably, so pay attention to it – but remember that the instinct has to have its voice too, and the ONLY one to speak that language for any given book is the person who wrote it.