This was written by a client of mine, Morgan Gallagher. Despite our differences (she lives in the UK and I’m in the States), we have managed to form a wonderful relationship while working on her first book, Changeling. I had asked her to write a short blurb for my Client Testimonial page if she liked my work. In response, I got this wonderful article about her experience working with an editor…me. Thank you, Morgan…you made my year.
The Inevitable Comma
by Morgan Gallagher
Using an editor is a scary business. Having spent much of my adult life rubbing shoulders with writers in the bar at SF conventions, I’ve heard a lot of comments about editors. Very little of it positive. I’ve listened to Harlan Ellison rant about editors changing his work when they weren’t qualified to… well, do check out Harlan’s thoughts on the matter for yourself! I’ve talked to James White, at length, about editors, and whilst he did have an excellent editor at Tor that he both admired and was fond of, he always told me that the trick to being published was to do the editing work yourself. We once spoke about rejection letters, and how he’d never had one, and the secret, he said, was to do all the work yourself. So there was little to reject… or edit… once you had submitted. Wield your own blue pencil. This was, basically, Harlan’s stance too – the writer could do the work and craft the words themselves. The epic depths of the stupidity of the editor, is always plumbed by mention of what was once done by a hapless editor to Damon Knight. His short, ‘Eripmav,’ featured a vegetable sucking vampire from another planet. The entire short was a shaggy dog story, leading to the terrible dénouement, that the veggie vampire was finally killed by a steak to the heart. Said hapless editor thought he’d spotted a mistake that no one else had, and changed it to ‘stake’ just before print, thus killing the story with his very own stake to the heart.
Another editor anecdote comes via a very well known children’s author, whom I cannot name for reasons about to become clear. Whilst staying with her we chatted about editors. I asked how she coped with hers, and she confided she ignored most things. She showed me the next day, that when her typewritten manuscript was returned for correction, she instructed her secretary to retype the same sentence, cut it out onto a strip, and staple it over the marked-for-change original. It was then sent back to the editor, who would then allow the correction through. She showed me one such ‘edit’ and the written comment beside it saying “So much better!” and sure enough, when you lifted the flap of stapled down addition, the exact same sentence was written underneath….
Therefore, it was with great trepidation, I sent my final manuscript of my first novel, Changeling, off to a professional editor. I’d always taken on board the words of the writers I admired, both as people and writers, and worked hard to do most of the content editing for myself. “Murder Your Innocents” is a dictum I take seriously. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I needed an editor, I was just worried about all the bad editor rap I’d been in contact with. And the ego thing, of course. When my publisher suggested I get the final manuscript edited, and suggested a friend of hers who was very good on spotting mistakes on grammar, I bristled and said “Mistakes!” in true Lady Newbury style (“A handbag.”) My work wouldn’t have mistakes, I edited as I went along!
When the manuscript finally returned, it took me a couple of days to set aside the courage to open it. Just In Case. I didn’t peek once: I left it until I was actually going to sit and methodically work through my version of the manuscript, with Toni’s version. It felt like going to the dentist… something you had to do, but dreaded, nonetheless.
Imagine my shock, when not only did I immediately find her comments and corrections invaluable, I was actually enjoying the process within the hour. I posted on Twitter, within two hours of starting the match by match edit that a good editor was worth their weight in gold.