On the Author-Editor Relationship
I edited a number of Ed’s early novels, including Crown of Fire, Elminster: Making of a Mage, and The Temptation of Elminster (once entitled Elminster in Hell), as well as a trimmed-down edition of his first novel, Spellfire. But he’s also worked with many other editors over time. I asked him what makes for a good author-editor working relationship:
I have indeed worked with many editors, after 180-plus projects with scores of publishers. A good author-editor relationship is built on mutual respect and trust, so the author end of it has confidence in the judgment of the editor, and the way in which the editor will treat the story. Some authors start their own publishing houses just to get rid of editors standing between their story and the way they want it presented, and many more authors gripe about editors and build up a collection of horror stories (yes, I have mine, and no, you don’t feature in any of them except the trimming of the second version of Spellfire, which I think you did very well and which I hold you blameless for).
I think the root cause of such a relationship going sour is always a failure to communicate properly or fully. Sometimes that in turn is caused by a greater deceit (the author presenting someone else’s work as their own, or the publisher deliberately not informing the author that their story is going to be changed, leaving the editor as scapegoat or hatchet-wielder), and sometimes it’s a malice-free black comedy of errors and misunderstandings (example: the Electric Light Orchestra rock album entitled No Answer, which got its title when the record label secretary phoned the band to find out what they wanted the record to be called, couldn’t reach anyone, and wrote down “No Answer” on her steno pad).
Good editors steer authors, and discuss issues to draw out the best possible story. They do not rewrite the author’s prose, or force endless rewrites on the author’s part, to try to bring about the story they (the editor) would have written if they’d been given the book slot or writing assignment, instead of the author who did get it. Good writers can make good editors, but not by trying to get other writers to write “their way.” Except in situations (government manuals, perhaps) where a “house voice” is desired, the author’s voice should shine through the published book. (You managed the trick of preserving my voice in the Spellfire edit, which is why I think the result is a success, though it still doesn’t match the “and expanded” claim on the book cover. :} )
In many cases (editing any independent story anthology, for example), the editor has a perfect right to accept only an end result that fits their needs; if the writer doesn’t deliver a mystery story about left-handed telephone repairmen for a mystery anthology featuring left-handed telephone repairmen, or refuses to revise a draft that uses only right-handed characters, the failure belongs at the author’s door.
In less clear-cut cases, the best relationship always develops when the editor makes it clear to the writer at the outset what the needs and expectations are (“we only have a room for a 3,000 story, so please don’t hand in one of your usual 14,000-word-with-no-ending-in-sight masterpieces!”), and the two stay in communication often enough during the process that the writer isn’t hampered by having to make many partial turnovers or progress reports, but does feel as if the editor cares, and that they’re not creating alone, in an uncaring vacuum. If I as a writer like and respect my editor, then I’ll react far more favorably to last-minute pleas to lengthen or shorten a story, or to add in a princess with an elephant snout and angel wings to the narrative because the cover art just came in, and darn it if there isn’t such a sweetie front and center on the thing, cuddling the hero.
Editors and writers don’t have to be friends, but it sure helps. They do have to feel that they’re on the same team, rather than being antagonists.February 7th, 2010
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