In an article I posted on Editing and Authors, one reader commented that she was having trouble trusting editors and agents. Her question was, How do you trust an agent or editor when they make an obvious (not subjective opinion) mistake? How do you communicate with them professionally if you feel like you can’t say a word or else? How do you clean the coffee off your computer screen when they suggest you rewrite history? And it’s not an alternate history novel?
Well, first of all I don’t ever think you should have an editor you don’t feel you should be able to say a word to. You said you don’t feel you could say anything or else. Or else what? An author-editor relationship is a partnership. You’re both trying to make your book stronger. While the author is often primarily focused on the story, the editor has a secondary concern, and that’s your audience. If you really have concerns about suggestions your editor made, then you have to have a conversation addressing your concerns and, most important, really finding out from her what her concerns are. It’s all too easy for an author to misinterpret the suggestions an editor has made. Maybe she had no intention of rewriting history, but was using that as an example of what could be done in an attempt to make the book stronger in other ways.
Every editor is different and edits differently. My style is that I typically tell the author what isn’t working for me, and in my attempt to explain why something isn’t working I give suggestions for how it can be fixed. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if the author takes my suggestions or not. The reason I give suggestions isn’t because I think it’s the only way to fix something or because I want to put my stamp on the book; the reason I give suggestions is to better show the author what I’m thinking and hopefully help the author start thinking in a different direction herself. It’s brainstorming for me and the author. I use the suggestions as a way to explain myself and hopefully as a way to help the author start thinking of other possibilities and in other directions and to ultimately make her book stronger.
I think your question is a clear case of why agents can be so helpful. If you find you’re really in a battle with your editor, then it’s time to call in the big guns, your agent. Hopefully your agent can take a look at the book, if she hasn’t done so already, and mediate a solution that will make your book stronger and please both you and the editor. Another option is to get a second opinion from your agent. More often than not a client of mine will get edits from her editor and then ask me to take a look and give edits as well. It’s never that she’s hoping to pit us against each other, it’s that sometimes the problem the editor has can be easily solved by a suggestion from the agent.
As to how you trust an editor when she makes an obvious mistake, I guess you’d have to ask yourself how big the mistake is. I make mistakes daily and I’m thankful my clients don’t hold them against me, just as I don’t hold mistakes against them when I see errors in their manuscripts. None of us is perfect and editing is subjective. Communication, however, can make all the difference.