Monday, August 15, 2016

EDITING PUTS THE READER FIRST

I am honored to have Angela Wiechmann as my guest blogger today. She has been my editor for all three of my books. Over the course of these past four years she has become a dear friend and one of the angels in my life.
This post has a very powerful message from which any writer would benefit. Please feel free to leave comments or questions. I know Angela would love to hear from you.                                           


                         Editing Puts the Reader First
                                          by Angela Wiechmann, Freelance Editor

   Let me take you back in time. It was 1999, and I was sitting in the Intro to Editing class at the University of Minnesota. My pen busily scratched across my notebook, capturing the words of editorial wisdom from our instructor, Jeanne Barker-Nunn.

    And then she said something that has shaped every edit I’ve made since then: “An editor’s job is to serve the reader and respect the author–in that order.”

    Those simple but powerful words are the key to great editing. I live by that rule. Authors should too. If you’re an author, I bet you’re dying to interrupt about now: Hold on—you serve the reader first? Last time I checked, the reader isn’t paying for my edit. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Serve the author and respect the reader—in that order?

   I understand your concern. The concept of putting the reader above the author sounds downright screwy at first. After all, it’s your manuscript and your edit and maybe even your money.
But please bear with me on this. You see, the best thing your editor could ever do for you and your manuscript is to serve the reader and respect you, in that order.

   By definition, the purpose of editing is to prepare your manuscript for publication. And publication—whether through a royalty-based publisher, an independent publisher, or a print-on-demand service—means sharing your manuscript with the public. Therefore, an edit ensures that the public understands your message and intentions.

   Let me put it another way: your editor’s job is to ensure that your amazing manuscript, with all its amazing words, is just as amazing to the reader as it is to you. Isn’t that why you’re publishing your manuscript? Don’t you want to share your words with the world?

   Your editor of course wants to uphold your message and polish your voice. But to do that, your editor must, first and foremost, advocate for the reader. That’s as true for a simple copyedit as for an in-depth developmental edit with heavy content work.

   And while “serve the reader” comes first, let’s not forget the “respect the author” part of the equation. That means your editor should recommend improvements and raise pertinent questions in a diplomatic, thoughtful, and encouraging way.

    Many authors shudder at the thought of editing. They picture nasty red marks ripping their manuscript to shreds. They also picture equally nasty editors chastising them, ripping their self-esteem to shreds.

    Sadly, editors like that do exist. But good editors are not like that. In fact, a great editor will possess the technical skills to serve the reader as well as the interpersonal skills to respect the author.

   I can attest: it’s a delicate balance. At the heart of it, though, is the idea that the best way to respect the author is to serve the reader first. If you and your editor both understand that, then you’ll be on the same page, literally and figuratively. A respectful, productive relationship should naturally follow.
Here’s where you may want to interrupt again: This sounds all fine and dandy—in theory. But how does this really work? How does “serve the reader and respect the author” work in, say, a copyedit? How does the editor put the reader first? And how am I supposed to do that too?

    Okay, then—let’s look at an example. Let’s say you use a metaphor in your manuscript. You simply love it, but your editor is a little on the fence. Everything is spelled correctly, and the punctuation and grammar are fine. But still, something is just off. Maybe it’s a great concept in your head, but your editor is concerned that the words on the page don’t quite do it justice. Maybe it’s a little clunky or missing a piece of logic. Again, this what editing is all about. It typically takes an editor to detect those places where the words don’t match your intentions.

    So with “serve the reader and respect the author” in mind, your editor might prompt you with a comment such as, “I like the general direction of this metaphor, but I’m not sure this is the best wording. Could you perhaps clarify it a bit?” It’s a respectful, positive nudge to keep working with that metaphor so the reader can enjoy it as much as you do. Or maybe your editor will rework the metaphor him- or herself to show you an example of improved wording.

   Yes, you love that metaphor to pieces. Your first reaction might be a defensive “No!” But here’s an opportunity to put the reader first. You don’t want the reader to struggle with something that makes sense in your head but not on the page. If you truly think that metaphor is great, then by all means, do whatever it takes to ensure the reader agrees. Otherwise, if you keep that problematic metaphor as is, it’ll only hurt your manuscript. In turn, that’ll only hurt you as the author.

    And right there—that’s the kicker: by serving the reader first, you ultimately serve yourself first. Every time you and your editor smooth something, massage something, rework something, tweak something, or even cut something in the spirit of serving the reader, you make your manuscript better. And that makes you, the author, better. A reader-first investment pays off with huge dividends for you.

   So when it comes time to edit your manuscript, do remember the “Serve the reader and respect the author—in that order” maxim. I promise you: putting the reader first is the best thing you could ever do for yourself.





Angela Wiechmann of A. M. W. Editing is a book editor with sixteen years’ experience, having worked with traditional publishers and independent publishers alike. She’s a rare find, exceptionally skilled at both developmental editing and line editing. She also leads workshops and classes for writers. In all areas, she’s insightful, comprehensive, and personable as she helps books—and authors—reach the next level.

Connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/angela-wiechmann.

2 comments:

  1. I wouldn't have thought about that viewpoint.
    Great post.

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    Replies
    1. It was a learning experience for me also. An eye opener. Thanks for sharing, Sandra.

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