You’ve just gotten your edits back from your editor, and as you flip through the manuscript, you see red marks and questions all over. What do you do?
First, breathe. Always remember that your editor is trying to help you tell the best story possible. Questions and criticisms aren’t personal and they’re not an attack on you. I know it can feel that way at first and it can be hard not to react emotionally to someone tearing into your baby, but take some big breaths or even sleep on it before digging in.
Second, realize that your editor is there to play the part of your average reader. If your editor questions something in your manuscript, a reader might question it too. You know your characters inside out and sometimes their actions and words make perfect sense to you because of how well you know these people, but that doesn’t mean it’s always equally clear to your readers. If your editor questions something in the margin, she doesn’t want you to answer her in the margin–she wants you to address the question in the text so your reader will be able to find the answer there.
Third, remember that editors are neither idiots nor geniuses. They’re average people who make mistakes and miss things from time to time. It’s possible your editor will ask you something incredibly stupid, but don’t discount all their questions because of one stupid comment. Also, take another deep breath and try to step back and look at the bigger picture when you get that stupid question in the margins. Maybe you’ll see a question on page 205 that asks who a character is and you think “duh, it’s the heroine’s childhood friend that I already told you about!” But…when did you tell the reader about that character? Was there one mention on page 5 and then nothing for 200 pages? Here, we’re back to the average reader point I made earlier–the average reader won’t remember who that character was 200 pages later. Maybe you need to refresh the reader’s memory. Granted, sometimes your editor will have a brain freeze and ask a question with an obvious answer–in those cases, a kindly worded note in the margins will suffice as an answer.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask your editor to explain what she meant. Or ask your agent if she can help. I have clients who need me to act as their editor’s translator from time to time. After sixteen years of editing and looking at other people’s edits, I can often figure out what an editor is trying to get at when the author can’t. And sometimes all you need is an objective point of view–if not your agent, maybe someone else can help you see what you’re missing. But, like I said, don’t be afraid to ask your editor for clarification. She’s the one who knows best what she was trying to say.
But, most importantly, keep in mind that the author/editor relationship is a partnership. The editor is only trying to help you have the strongest book possible. At the end of the day, it’s your name on the cover, not the editor’s name, so you can decline to make some changes–just make sure you’re doing it for reasons that are true to the story and not because you reacted emotionally to what was asked of you.