Monday, August 19, 2013

When your Editor Crushes your Soul

This blog is aimed at those of you who enjoy writing.

OK, so you've written your masterpiece. You've spent months, maybe years, tweaking it so there is no way anyone could find fault in even a single word. You've let your friends and proofreaders have the manuscript and go to town on it. It is now perfect.

Or so you think.

Then you send it to an editor. Maybe it's your publisher's editor, or maybe it's an editor you've hired to get your manuscript into tip top shape before starting that long, hard journey to publication. Whatever it is, you're ready for the praise to come flowing into your inbox. All that's left is to sit back and wait for the editor to write you back and say, "This is the best manuscript ever. I didn't even have to get out my figurative red pen." After all, you've looked at the story 100 times and from every possible angle and it's flawless.

As you have experienced if you've been through the process, or will soon experience, it doesn't take long for the inevitable punch in the face to come back from that editor. The red on each page is like blood from your own artery. As you scroll page after page, you are shocked by the amount of mistakes or story-telling flaws that the editor has found. I'm not going to lie, your first reaction might be anger. It is for me. It's like someone telling me that my kid is ugly.

If you're like me, you close the file and give your spouse or best friend quite the earful. You dwell on it for a day, maybe two. The editor just doesn't get it.

But then, after you cool down and decide to take another look, you start to see that just maybe she has a point. As you look at her new take on how your super cool ending might not fit with your character's arc, you start to swallow a bit of that anger and open your mind a bit.

For me, the biggest heartbreak with the edits in my current book (The Light of Epertase, Book 3: The Rise of Cridon) was in a chapter called The Bluefields of Sorrow. Now understand, I had planned this scene for a couple of years before I actually got to write it. I set the scene up in book 2 and couldn't wait to finally put it on paper (computer screen). In my story, the Bluefields of Sorrow is a field that my protagonist needs to cross as he is being pursued by the creatures on the cover of the book. The Bluefields initially emitted a chemical that caused extreme despair to the extent that no one could pass through. Some creatures would commit suicide, while others would simply lie down and wait for death. The reader follows Rasi as he battles his every sad memory, every negative feeling, and every self-defeating thought to try and push through the field. I won't tell you if he makes it or not, because I kept some version of the Bluefields. I couldn't have been prouder of that section.

Until the red pen struck.

One sentence by my editor was enough to rip out my heart. "Doug," she said. "You have basically recreated the scene from The Never-Ending Story about the Swamp of Sadness."


Are you freaking kidding me? That can't be. Immediately, I You-Tubed “The Swamp of Sadness” and I'll be damned. Though the scene is a total of about two minutes, that two minutes was all it took to kill a little of me inside.

She. Was. Right.

We needed to fix this and we needed to fix it fast. I didn't want to lose the entire section, especially since I already eluded to it in book two, but I never want to use another person's idea, even if it is a total coincidence . With my editor's help, we put in the hard work to salvage the scene by changing how the Bluefields actually kill. I won't tell you how we fixed it, you'll just have to read and see, but I think we did my original idea justice.

In the end, I didn't accept every recommended change that my editor requested, but I tried to be open and engaging as to why I disagreed. We worked through a lot of issues, both of us giving a little. Though editors can be very blunt (like when she told me "I'm going to be blunt here" and then proceeded to do just that), I had to understand that she was only working to make Epertase better. I can now say unequivocally that she did.
The moral here is that I'm not perfect. Wait a second, that's not it. No, the moral here is to take criticism and use it to help your work. Even when it crushes your soul. That's true in all lessons of life, a good lesson. Editors can seem like meanies.


  1. I do freelance editing, and I'm incredibly sensitive toward not crushing the author's soul. I try to provide humorous comments, praise for parts I like, and be matter-of-fact about things that need to change. I recently worked with a new author and he told me he was terrified about setting me on his manuscript, and incredibly gratified by how I handled it. Just so you know we all don't try to destroy you... *laugh*

    Oh, and I LOVED "The Rise of Cridon". I thought it was brilliant, and hardly found anything to nitpick, so your editor did well.

  2. Ha Ha, Doug - I know that feeling all too well! Having had 3 of my "flawless masterpieces" picked to bits so far, instead of expecting the praise to come back I have learned to look forward to the suggestions as to how my "brilliant" book can be made even more brilliant. And as a freelance editor myself, I know the scene from both sides, so I make sure I never crush another author's soul. Creativity is too fragile to risk!
    Cas Peace