When I first started editing fiction, it was a bit of trial and error to figure out how I would edit – what were the things I wanted to see, what twigged as off, how could I make sure everything was consistent. A lot of these things were fairly intuitive; I didn’t really know I was looking for them but just naturally fell into doing it. I slowly developed what became my golden rules for editing:
1) Let the writer’s voice speak
This one is huge for me, and it’s the thing I tell all my writers: it’s your story. I’m going to edit to the best of my abilities and make sure that things are consistent and conveying what I think they’re intending to convey, but I cannot alter the text so much that it no longer sounds like the author. The author’s voice should shine through.
2) Have a reason why
For anything that I change in the manuscript, I have to be able to back it up. The reason can’t be just “oh, it sounded better”; there has to be a real explanation that I can provide if the author asks why. Sometimes it’s an obscure grammar rule or it’s conforming to house style. Sometimes it’s that sentence structure isn’t parallel (e.g. “She needed a shower, a meal, and to cool off from their argument” doesn’t work because there’s an infinitive where there should be another noun; “She need a shower, a meal, and time to cool off” or even better, “She needed a shower, a meal, and a minute or two to calm down after their argument” to get it perfectly parallel). Sometimes it’s a switch from passive to active voice to help the reader relate better to the character instead of using a distancing effect. Whether it’s grammatical, stylistic, or emotional, I always have a concrete reason why I change things.
3) Be respectful
This is just basic decency: respond to email and questions or concerns promptly, deliver on time, do the job well, and take care of the story. In other words, be a professional.
4) Be ruthless
As an editor, it’s my job to make sure you’re getting the best and cleanest version of your story back to you. If it takes cutting out great swaths of text that aren’t doing enough work for the story or pointing out multiple head hops in a scene or excising tons of telling where there should be showing, I’ll get out my metaphorical red pen and start slashing. (I didn’t call this business Lopt and Cropt for nothing!) Is cutting or suggesting big rewrites going to make the story better? Then it’s gotta happen.
5) Be kind
For all my talk of ruthlessness, I think it’s also incredibly important to be kind. Criticism is hard to take, especially about your baby, the story you’ve labored over, and I’m very conscious of that. There’s a way to do criticism without being mean about it and to provide balance between the stuff that needs work and the stuff that’s done really well. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in their writing – I’m here to help enhance the strengths and improve on the weaknesses.
Wanna give it a try? Contact me today for a sample edit!