For the three years I was both MFA Freeburg's bookkeeper and fairly-independent window-cleaner. I didn't strive much to gain more window-cleaning clients. I was being paid a nice salary and was getting a decent commission every quarter for my window-cleaning jobs. So on most of the days when I wasn't either in Freeburg taking care of my bookkeeping responsibilities or cleaning windows I was -- for the most part -- in my man-cave hammering away on The Land of Betrovia trilogy. Relying on word-of-mouth advertising to bring in new window-cleaning clients was working quite well.
But that changed last Fall.
Even though November 2013 was one of my busiest, and most-fruitful, window-cleaning months ever, the following December, January and even February were quite slow -- primarily due to the weather. And because cleaning windows was now my main job and not merely one branch of MFA Freeburg's varied income streams, I headed out the door nearly everyday to drum up new commercial and even residential window-cleaning business.
Since cold-calling on local businesses wasn't as fruitful as I had hoped, letting fellow indie authors know that I was available to help beta-read and even edit their WIPs seemed like a good idea.
Even though I didn't make a cent doing this, the experience that came with doing something more than agreeing to review their novels was quite enlightening. I suppose the best thing I learned from this is something I realized when "grading" high school students' papers/essays: it is hard for writers to accept constructive criticism graciously.
Now let's see what the wonderful writers (and editors) who frequent the Writers' Cafe
think about this topic.
"I just got my book back from my publisher, they want me to comb over the work their editor performed. I see some things that I agree with, but, there is much that I do not agree with. Their editor seems to have a thing against fragmented sentences. We all know that part of writing fiction is that you don't have to play by the rules. I find fragments to be an effective style choice for making a scene snappy. For upping tension. Well, my editor apparently sees things differently and there are moments when I feel I'm losing my voice to their over enthusiastic red pen. So, I'm rejecting about half of the changes."
"My editor knows I intentionally use fragmented sentences and she would never try to correct that. That's my stylistic choice...my voice. She's an old-hand at determining stylistic choice. She will, however, pop me with the Oxford comma!"
"With an editor with a publisher you have to decide which hill you are willing to die on. If you feel your fragmented sentences are a style choice then say so, but know that you may have to bite your tongue to get the book published."
"My editor is an idiot, of course he thinks the same of me. One of these days I'm going to punch him so hard it'll cause me 7 years bad luck!"
"The first thing that I will tell a new client is that they are more than welcome to reject my changes, and that I won't be offended one bit if they don't want to agree with me on something. In the end, it's the author's book and not mine. I've even asked them if there are certain things that they are choosing to ignore grammar-wise for style purposes, and then I don't change those things when I come across them in the book. Or, if I've jumped in to edit in the middle of a series and have read the first book(s) in the series, then I get a feel for what I shouldn't change for style. I do use CMoS and Merriam-Webster when editing, but there are a few rules that they don't seem to cover, so I turn to other sources for the 'correct' way to do things. I'll provide links to explanations if the author cares to learn more about the choice."
"The author should have the final say on everything in their book. I may make suggestions, but I'm certainly not offended if they're ignored/rejected. There is sometimes a fine line between knowing if the author made a conscious stylistic choice or if they didn't know the grammar 'rule' for a particular situation. In those cases, I'll usually write the alternative wording/punctuation in a comment instead of in the body of the work. Again, the final decision is the author's."
"Re: sentence fragments: I don't know of any fiction writer who doesn't use fragments to great effect. There are times they are perfect. There are times when they're not. Fragments work like a d*mn, except when they don't. For me they don't work when they are overused. I had an editor tell me once, 'It's okay to like fragments. It's not okay to love them to death.'"
"Usually I go through this when getting ms. back from editor:
Anger ... Denial ... Bargaining ... Acceptance ...
Okay, the above are not original but they seem to fit. Depending on the editor, I end up making 70% to 90% of the changes they suggest. Sometimes their changes morph into other changes by me that ... At some point I have to save it and publish it. Otherwise, it would become the never ending story. I know, I know, that's not original either. Where's my editor to clean this up?"
"Waterloo? Stalingrad? Yorktown? Antietam? pfffffffff. They all pale in comparison to the battles waged between this author and his editor. We don't call her Lou Grant in a skirt for nothing. It's your name on the title. It's you that will take the highs and lows of reviews. It's your income that is impacted by sales. For better or worse."
"What I do is go through the suggestions, and skip the ones I'm not sure about. I'll think about them, go back and have another look. See if there are ways to make it better. Sometimes I'll make the changes, sometimes I'll figure out a better way to change it. If I still don't want to change it, I'll skip it again. If I go through it a third time, and still think it's fine the way it is, then I'm happy to ignore the editor's suggestion. You just want to make sure you are not resisting the change due to an emotional attachment to your words. Don't engage in me versus the editor. Think it as a collaboration. Consider some of the prose with less fragments, let the idea settle, reread the prose. Are you still sure it's better with fragments? If so, then don't make the change. All that said, the editor is just one opinion on a matter. Especially for bigger issues, I don't make changes I don't agree with based on feedback from one betareader, and the same applies for the editor. Just consider the issues with an open mind."
"For what it's worth, if I couldn't openly discuss my misgivings about my editor's corrections, I wouldn't be working with my editor. If my editor says, 'Hon, that line of dialogue is the lamest piece of drivel I've ever seen- try again', and she can't explain to me why, she'd be outta the job. Sometimes the need for correction is obvious once she points it out. But if I think something is perfectly acceptable as a stylistic choice, I confront her about it. She who defends her stance best, wins. Even if it's just her using one of her 'free pass' cards (i.e. 'Just trust me on this one, you'll thank me later').What I'm trying to say, is...
1) If your editor doesn't respect you enough to want what's best for you and your book, you've got the wrong editor.
2) If you don't trust that your editor wants what's best for you and your book, you've got the wrong editor.
3) If one or neither of you know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, maybe neither are ready for this particular gig, for whatever reason.
Of course, one of the perks of indie publishing is that you have the freedom of choosing your editor. I chose someone who tears me to shreds, and my work has never been better. Not to say that I make every correction she suggests, just that it's the scary editors that make you question every single choice you've made. If you're gonna confront them about something, you better be damned sure it's part of your voice, and not just a baby you're holding onto for way too long."
"If you work with an editor over time, they'll begin to learn your style, and they'll only have to tell you for the first book or two to stop using so many hyphens, and you get to respond back that they are focusing on the entire wrong thing when they complain about fragments or whether or not a character likes blue shirts or red shirts. I write more in a Stephen King style (though I don't do much horror), which drives editors crazy for some reason. Probably because they got their degree at Columbia or Harvard and I write like real human beings that didn't go to Columbia or Harvard talk. Or I'm terrible and refuse to admit that all of those highlights/marks are necessary changes that need to be made, so I ignore it, rest a boot on the keyboard for another twelve minutes, compile, then hit publish. Typically I just send the MS back after going through editor's changes and I don't send many if any notes attached. They'll go over it a second time to make sure, and the things they mark a second time are the things I send the note back with explaining why I wrote it that way (or sometimes I have to school them on the rules of English/Grammar/spelling which annoys them even more). After a couple of books and me never changing certain edits, they learn. Or I find a new editor. Now that I've got one that is becoming intimately familiar with my writing, I'm very happy/confident. Also, for what it's worth, I usually do change 90%+ of what an editor suggests, because they are usually (not always, but usually) right, and it's easier for them to see because they aren't emotionally attached to the words/story like I am."
"I guess the real question is how much of your editors changes are you eventually forced to accept? If you can just refuse the edits then it doesn't matter as much, other than being a pain in the *ss of course. I don't have a publisher so my wife is my editor. She's writes and edits for a living (nothing to do with fiction or books though). I always listen to my editor!"
"I have been battling on how to present characters as real human beings that act, think, and sound realistic enough for readers to like them and keep on reading. Any editors that can show authors how to do that are worth their weight in gold."
"I grew up a nice Southern boy so I'll be neck-deep in edits and feel so rude for rejecting so many of them. It's an impulse I have to constantly fight, but I was raised not to be disagreeable so it goes against my instincts to 'reject' suggestions. What works for me is to read the edit letter or look over the changes, and let it sit for a day or two before accepting or rejecting anything, if I can. That usually gives me time to calm down. The one thing that does bug me is that I read everything I write out loud and my current publisher doesn't, so a lot of their changes wind up taking the rhythm of what I wrote out and combing its hair, tucking in its shirt, and knotting its tie, while cutting out the fun."
"I intend to hire an editor and ignore everything he/she says."
"I'm not sure about the 'rules' on how much say you have in editorial changes when you are with a publisher, which is one of the reasons I don't go through publishers. However, I don't always listen to my editors. I generally use a few different people because I'm still trying to find my 'team,' you know? So, with one of my editors, I found that I agree with almost every change she made. There was maybe a small handful that I didn't change because they were not what I had intended. There is another editor I work with though, who I listen to about three quarters of the changes, maybe. On the surface, I know that sounds bad, but I don't use commas in front of incomplete sentences that follow a coordinating conjunction, and no matter how much she wants me to, I will not ever."
"For the editors I hire and pay, I feel like I get the final say. I am open to anything they suggest, but I don't always listen. If it's the brass-tacks of grammar, punctuation, etc, I'm pretty much clicking 'accept change.' And most of the time, when I don't listen, it is when it comes down to something that could go either way and our differing of opinion on how a character should feel/react. Ultimately, I feel like I 'need' to have final say when it comes to that -- it's not a lack of respect for my editor -- but when it comes to my characters, I think I know them better/have lived with them longer. For example: I had a line in a book about a character who has stayed in an abusive relationship. Her parents were divorced and, right or wrong, she chose to stay in her marriage because the divorce of her parents was hard on her and she didn't want to put her daughter through that. My editor felt like that was misnomer because lots of children come from divorced households and are totally fine, well adjusted, very much loved human beings. Of course they are. And my saying otherwise in my book wasn't painting an entire subset of people with a broad brush, nor was I saying I believe that ... it was about one character feeling one way about her life. That's all. No more, no less. Ultimately it came down to staying true to my character in that one instance ... and later on down the MS, I did make a change she suggested. Like with any relationship, working with an editor is a collaborative effort. She sees things I don't, I understand things she doesn't. In a great relationship, you balance each other out and the end result is a fantastic book. Now, with my agent. Totally different ballgame. I can't necessarily overrule her with ease and grace."
"In a perfect world, the author should 'always' have the final say. It's not the editor's manuscript. I will say, however, that stylistic choices like that are best stated up front so that the editor doesn't waste their time (and yours) with marking them all up if you want to keep them that way. I'm assuming in trad publishing an editor who doesn't mark something like that up would get beat about the head by their boss. This is why I love being my own boss, so I can be more flexible with my editing comments, and so I can avoid getting beat about the head when I don't force arbitrary rules."
"A great editor listens to the author and tries to understand what the author is trying to convey. The use of fragmented sentences is an art. A book filled with them is annoying, at best. Using them at the right moment in the story takes experience. But the use of fragmented sentences is commonplace. Most editors, even in traditional publishing, know this. I don't expect any independent author to accept all of my suggestions. And I now provide links so that the author can see where I'm coming from in my comments. There are many levels of editors in traditional publishing and there are "guidelines" that most companies provide for their editors. And yes, they have to stick with those guidelines, even if they don't agree with them. Which is why, in this day and age of self-published authors, that many editors that work for traditional publishers are leaving."
"Oh, yes, I listen to my editor! HazeLady (Martha) has a knack for putting her finger on exactly what's wrong, and has helped me immeasurably, even going so far as to review what I thought was the final PDF and finding errors I introduced while fixing other errors, and didn't think to have her go through it once again before sending it to the layout artist. She always had a good suggestion when she spotted something wrong. A lot of the time, I used her ideas but my own words, and sometimes her suggested rephrasing was spot on. I couldn't be more pleased with her. And when I've recovered from Heart of Rock, she's getting my next fairy tale to work on when she's not working on other people's novels."
"This is the same editor I worked with on my first novel. She has some good suggestions. She, however, doesn't like my usage of fragmented sentences. In the end, according to my contract, I get final say. So , I keep what I like and throw out what I don't. The editor has helped in many ways, I just don't take everything she suggests as if it's the gospel."
"In fiction, a good writer knows when to break the grammar rules, such as using fragments for effect. A good editor will know when to break the rules as well. Use your own judgment about making changes. It's your book. But if the publisher has the last word.... That's a different scenario."
"I always listen to my editor. I don't accept 100% of her suggestions, but I always 'listen' to them. In this case she is saying that, in her opinion, the sentence fragments are overused to the point of being distracting. But you are the author. So if you disagree, then reject the change and move on. It's your voice, your product in the end. Personally, one of my manuscripts had so many semicolons it would have driven readers crazy. I had no idea I was using them 3-4 times per page. My editor went through and murdered them, which must have been a thankless task!"
"Sometimes a sentence can be missing a subject and the meaning is still clear. Kind of like this sentence. Other times it is simply confusing to the reader, and that's unacceptable. If your fragments make sense you should be allowed to keep them. I enjoy fiction that sounds like conversation, and we often speak in fragments, therefore it sounds normal and comfortable to the reader. The objective of good writing and good editing is to move effortlessly through a sentence. If you've accomplished that, your wishes need to be honored."
"There are times when I don't listen to my editor/beta readers. Sometimes I intentionally put a fragment for dramatic effect, etc. And sometimes their suggestion of word usage isn't exactly what I'm wanting (unless it is a definite typo that needs changing.) For the most part they always have good suggestions and I listen - let's face it, my rough draft is VERY rough!"
"I've had 27 books traditionally pubbed. Last count I'd had something like 26 line editors (sometimes more than 1 on a book) and 21 copy editors on the first 25 of those books, caused by turnover. Same line editor and copy editor for the past 2 -- a true luxury. I've been on the other side, too. I edited for newspapers, including 20+ years at the Washington Post. I greatly appreciate that an editor can give me what I can't give myself -- a cold read of the manuscript. That's invaluable. An editor should not let her/himself think, 'That's not how I would have written that.' An editor needs to be a chameleon, slipping inside the feel and rhythm of each writer, each work. Then s/he can make the work stronger, rather than merely making it different. I've been fortunate to have a few of those among the many. As a previous poster mentioned doing, I go through the edits in several passes -- knock off the easy ones where I goofed/I agree with the change (and thank you very much, editor!), 2nd pass to whittle down more, possibly another intermediate pass, until it's down to the ones that bug the heck out of me. I find I have to do these passes in shortish shifts, because my resistance builds up as I go along. Especially if I'm hitting a fair number of different-not-stronger changes."
"If an editor offers you feedback, its a good idea to sit back, take a breath, wait a day or two, and then look at the problem. Editors wear a different hat, and a good editor can be very instrumental in the polishing phase of writing. If an agent believes there is a lot of fragmented sentences, then take a look at it. When you say you use them to create a sense of suspense, then use the actions of the character to set up that scene. Showing, not telling is key to writing. Hands shaking, sweat dripping, fingers running through hair with nervous scratches, instead of: 'Oh, no! They're coming.' Make them hear the boots thumping when they come."
"Any fiction editor should know the difference between voice fragments and errors. If you have an editor that doesn't seem to understand that, then there is one big suggestion I would offer: Contact the editor. Ask. There are many reasons why something like that might happen. Some show the quality of the editor, some show the quality of the author, some show the quality of the publisher, but none reflect upon each other. It's possible s/he's a new-to-fiction editor. It's possible s/he is a new editor. It's possible you're choices may not be doing what you intend. It's possible the editor just shouldn't be editing fiction. It's possible the publisher has a style sheet that lists this as something to correct. Ask, discuss, and then determine if you can work together. The editor may not have any problems at all with you rejecting most of the changes. The editor may hate that you aren't listening. But honestly, I don't know of any editor that wouldn't say that at the end of the day, it's the author's choice. If an editor at a house tells you that something HAS to change, then it's probably not the editor's choice. Well, unless we're talking about the purchasing editor. If we're talking about a copyeditor, it's more likely to not be their choice. Also, don't ever feel bad for rejecting changes. Ask questions if you need to. At least try to hear where your editor is coming from though before you reject. I know I have clients that often think I'm changing something for one reason, but it's something entirely different, and we never would have found the miscommunication if we hadn't talked about it. And I have some clients that accept my changes that I've misunderstood myself, and I've had to go back and say that I was wrong; we need to change it back. And I've had clients that were just plain right to say they don't agree with me. It's always a collaboration, and the system works best when you have open and frank discussion. Any editor worth their salt really only wants to help the author put out the best work possible. It shouldn't take you long to figure out what kind of editor you have or if you can get along after the first round of questions on their work."