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What is being an editor like?

Guest post by Nicole R Murphy

I love being an editor. I love working with stories. I love identifying an author’s strengths and using those to work on the weaknesses. I love the ‘aha’ moment when an author really GETS their story and then it flies.

If you’ve never been an editor, have just seen the process solely from the point of view of being the writer, then here’s a few things you should know about editing.

Editing is an emotional thing – the stories we choose are stories we love and they need to be, in order for to work on them. There’s a visceral reaction to a story that you must work with – sometimes you can’t identify exactly what the emotion is, or why you’re feeling that way, but you learn to go with it. Stories that leave you with no emotional connection whatsoever are the stories you leave behind.

Editing is an objective thing – as much as we feel for the story, the actual process of pulling the story apart, identifying what’s working, what’s not and what should be done about it, is an objective process. So even though we probably love your story, we are going to return it to you with a score of things you need to fix because we want the story to be better. It’s not a judgement on you as the writer – it’s about the story.

Editing is a partnership – the editor wants to work with you. My best editing experiences have involved a lot of to and fro; debating plot, characterisation, word choice, grammar. I hate it when an author just blatantly agrees with every editorial decision I make and won’t come back to me to discuss something, and if need be to fight for their story. It’s not supposed to be a peaceful partnership, but it is a fruitful one.

Editors reject for multiple reasons – some of the reasons will seem really stupid. For example, I rejected a story from In Fabula-divino because it was TOO good. In Fabula-divino was in part about taking the authors through a rigorous editing process, so a story that didn’t require that level of polishing just wouldn’t work. I also rejected stories because I’d just accepted one like it, or because there had been so many dark stories I didn’t want to publish another one, or because I had two stories that dealt with the same themes and one of them had an easier route into the editing process than another. Not once did I reject something because I didn’t like the person involved (although I did reject for not following the submission guidelines).

Editors don’t see every problem with a story the first time – often times fixing one problem reveals yet another one, particularly if you’re doing a big re-write of a story. If an editor comes back after one round of edits with more edits, more things to change – that doesn’t mean they’re a bad editor. It means you’ve got a great chance to absolutely NAIL this story.

Editors put a lot of thought and time into editing your story – they’ve probably followed a process that has seen them read the story multiple times, make notes about the story, spend time musing about those notes and then reading the story again. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction but a considered, thoughtful approach to the story and how it can be improved. It can take as many hours to edit a story as it did to write it, particularly with short stories.

Editors learn with every story they edit – every time you edit it sharpens your eye. You’re more inclined to notice the character that’s not existing fully on the page and the reasons why. You’ll suddenly see that you’re reading a lot of stories that have similar opening patterns and question why. You’ll Google a certain fact to make sure it’s right. So don’t be surprised if a certain sentence structure makes it through the first time you work with an editor, but the next time it won’t.

Editors are human – they make mistakes, they have bad days. The one thing that never dies regardless is the love of story and their commitment to making your story shine, so give them a second chance.

I get the same amount of enjoyment from helping another writer achieve publication as I do from my own sales. Maybe that says something strange about me, but what can I say – I love editing.

Nicole Murphy is a writer and editor whose latest editing project was the mentoring/publishing scheme In Fabula-divino. The anthology has been released and is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

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