My very first experience working with an Editor was at the broadsheet newspaper Haaretz. I was an intern at the time and I can still remember going up to my editor with very first article and wondering if I’d make the cut for publication. I was nervous. Really nervous.
All writers have heard horror stories of editors who change the content so significantly that it looks nothing like what they’d written. The last thing I wanted to do was sell my soul to have my name printed in ink.
My hands were shaking as I handed her the article. I swallowed hard and waited patiently as she read through it. What if she hates it? What if I’m not a writer, but an imposter? Midway through reading, she giggled.
“You’re funny,” she said.
She was still smiling when she reached the end of my article. She promptly took out her pencil, rearranged a few paragraphs and gave me some ideas to take my article to the next level. With her suggestions, my article went from good to great.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I can’t say I had any aspirations to become an editor. For the past three months, I’ve been the Editor at Mith Books. I’ve had the opportunity to read A LOT of unpublished work. It’s a completely different experience to reading published work.
A lot of it is raw, uncut and unpolished. It can take anything between 30 minutes to three hours to edit a 1200 word article. The ideas are already there. The content is already there.
My job is to prepare those words for the reader.
If the author is the mother giving birth, I am the midwife making sure that the baby comes into this world safe and sound. Each work of creation is different, and comes into this world through a different passage. Having worked with lots of writers and writing styles, I know that it’s a different experience each time. No two births are ever the same.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about the author-editor relationship.
1. The editor’s job is to offer solutions, not to tell authors they have a problem.
A good doctor diagnoses the problem and then offers treatment options. If you diagnose the problem and don’t offer solutions, you’re not a doctor. Editors should keep this in mind.
2. There will be projects you don’t want to work with because it’s against your belief system and values.
Don’t take on those projects. It will drain you and deplete your energy. Focus on authors that you can connect with and vice versa.
3. You will smile, laugh, cry and be moved by some of the authors you work with.
This is the best part of being an editor. Seriously. I’ve had authors crack me up and move me to tears. It’s incredible. Truly.
4. The editor should never tell the author what to write.
An editor should understand the author’s vision and make it accessible to the reader.
5. Editors are not qualified therapists.
If you emotionally dump on me with what you’ve written, I will advise you to seek professional help.
6. The author decides on the North Star and the editor is the compass.
I’ve worked with authors who have no idea what their North Star is. Even the best compass cannot get you to your destination if you don’t know where you want to go.
7. Editors can and should brainstorm with the author to offer suggestions.
If you dismiss every single one of my suggestions, I am not the editor for you. I can accept that and you should, too.
8. The editor is not here to rewrite your work.
If your work needs a rewrite, you’ll have to do it. Writing is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of commitment.
9.. Readers are looking for genuine words they can connect with.
If what you write is PR — then be clear that it’s marketing copy, not original work.
10. Remain objective when giving feedback.
Remember what I said about emotionally dumping? Yes, editors do it, too. As an author, I have received feedback on my work where the editor asks me to include content that’s in their area of interest. Save that for an author interview or a conversation over the phone.
The baby belongs to the author, and the editor is the midwife. Let the editor guide you as you bring your baby into this world.
But remember that the baby is yours.
About the Author
Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. She delights in gazing out at the ocean and jumping in. She sees life as one great adventure and is an ardent student of the human experience. She is the author of The Little Light and the Founder of Mith Books. She works in a top secret day job.