Finding Your Middle Editor

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 03 2011

I learn so much from my interns—when I’m teaching them I often find I’m also teaching myself. Recently I asked one of my interns to write up a revision letter on a proposal for a client of mine. Part of the job was an exercise in revision letters and part of the job was to have yet another eye on the material so I could incorporate some of her thoughts in my letter.

After looking at her letter I realized that she made a common mistake for young editors (something I’m positive I was victim of)—she over-edited. I strongly believe it’s something all editors do at one point or another. It’s not hard and it usually happens when you forget to read the book and let things jump out at you, and instead you read the book with the intent to find things, picky little things.

I think we can all agree that editing and reading are two different things, two different “heads,” let’s say. And I think there’s a place in the middle, a place I call the Middle Editor. It’s in between the editor who is looking hard for errors and the reader who avoids seeing the errors so she can just enjoy the story. A good editor finds that central spot (and remembers to go back there when she accidentally leaves) where the enjoyment of the book hasn’t left, but the editor brain is still on. Instead of searching for things to tell the author to fix, she waits for them to jump out at her. There might be many, there might be a few, and, yes, some of them might be picky, but she also learns to enjoy the story as she goes so she can ignore some of those things that are probably personal issues and not real editorial issues.


18 responses to “Finding Your Middle Editor”

  1. Avatar wry wryter says:

    I once had an agent lecture me, on paper of course, about commas. Okay, I get it, I am comma deficient. If there were a disability for the lack of, or overuse of, commas I would be their poster child. Problem was that when he went off on commas, he missed the wonderful opening of the story, and I know it’s wonderful because other mindful eyes got it.
    Editing is scary as hell, reading is fun.

  2. Avatar PC says:

    I try to be a "Middle Editor" when I read my critique partner's work. I only take notice of things that jump out and make me look twice. If something makes me stop reading, pushes me out of the story or makes me re-read then I will mention it, other than that I try to leave the nitty-gritty stuff for a second read through.
    I also find it really hard to write when I am in editing mode.

  3. Avatar Standback says:

    Certainly very true. I figured this out critiquing manuscripts over at Critters – it's crucial not to let your "critique mode" overwhelm you're "enjoying an awesome book" mode.

    What I found extremely useful was to jot down my reactions to the story as I go – but not editorial comments, and not suggestions of how to fix anything. By recording my own initial reactions to the text, I can go back later and figure out how I might "fix" the initial reading experience – and I'm not much distracted from the reading experience itself.

    I've written about this in more detail in an answer at Writers.SE. For myself, at least, this method works very well 🙂

  4. Thank you for this post. I found it very enlightening. It struck a chord with me because I realize I too find myself forgetting to read the actual story, and just focus on "cleaning it up."

    Having this information will help me be a better editor.

  5. Great way to look at editing.

  6. Avatar R.S. Bohn says:

    It is difficult. Usually, I read once and let things jump out at me, and I incorporate general thoughts on the piece along with specifics on sentence structure, etc when I send it back for revision. I ask that they re-send, and on the second read-through, I'm far more critical, far heavier with the Red Pen of Death. So far, this has worked to produce nicely polished pieces. And no one (I think) hates me for it, LOL!

  7. Good advice! I especially liked the part about coming back to the middle ground when we stray. Thanks.

  8. As an agent and editor, I find it difficult to separate the two when I receive an email from a potential agency client, with attached story. I tend to want to evaluate the author by the grammar/spelling, etc. of the email. Then I tend to edit instead of read the attached manuscript. Two wrongs don't make a good write!

    Russell D. James
    James Literary Services

  9. Avatar Laura Drake says:

    This is so true, and I've never heard it discussed before. Critiquing is what jumped to my mind immediately. I've had crits like this, and I've critted like this – my own work, and others'!

    No more. Thanks for the post.

  10. I completely agree.

    I'm not a published author, nor am I a professional editor; but a self-published friend of mine recently hired me to read through her manuscript to edit. I had already read through it once, just ignoring the typos and weird phrasings, etc.

    (I think it was the fact that I mentioned them to her that made her ask me…)

    So I read through it again, enjoying it just as much as i had the first time through, just making notes of things that felt weird, or typos that needed to be fixed. It was great fun, and she said I did exactly what she'd hoped for. I'm looking forward to doing it again for her sequel 🙂

  11. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    My crit partner and I edit closely on our chapter submissions. When the story is complete we do a straight through read. I'm guessing at that point we are middle editors.

    We'll mark a missing comma, apostrophe, or a spelling error, but our main objective is to let the story settle in our minds for a couple of days. Then we comment on tone, plot, character arc, etc. and how we felt as the reader.

    I've also started to use beta readers. They're good at catching something that jumps off the page as an error, but mostly they tell me if the story works.

  12. I think this ability is something that comes with experience. I can't speak for professionals, but I notice within circles of amateur writers editing each others' work that the newer editors seem to want to prove their worth by finding the tiniest errors. It comes across as nitpicky and leaves the writer wondering if anything in the story was good. It also seems more inefficient for the amount of time it takes.

    I try to edit in two passes with two different mindsets, one looking for the more general things that jump out when doing a casual read-through and one looking for the little things. With more experience editing, though, it gets easier to combine these two goals in one read.

  13. Avatar ryan field says:

    I've been extremely lucky with editors and I'm always thankful for this. I've heard more than a few frustrating stories.

  14. Avatar Tess Grant says:

    I've had to teach myself to back off, to put myself into the middle ground. It took a while to cultivate the habit but, like PC, it's the place I now use for critiquing.

  15. Avatar M. Dunham says:

    Overediting is one of the reasons I am so careful with beta readers. I've had people burn me in the past where they're so busy looking at technical sentence structure that the voice of my story and the characters gets lose. Sometimes, those incomplete sentences and so on are there for a reason.

    It doesn't excuse all of the grammatical liberties, and some of those problems I have should and do get edited away, but editing isn't about being the best grammar police. It's about being able to straddle the English language and find uses to help draw out the story rather than take away from it.

  16. Avatar M. Dunham says:

    Bah, typo. -.-

  17. Thank you! I see the contradictions and punctuation errors in my own writing, but missing words or incorrect usage….oh, its tough. That's why I need the editor.

  18. Avatar Amanda K says:

    Really, really appreciated this post. I sometimes have an issue with over-editing (I'm a senior copywriter and editor of everything that gets sent out of a large corporate marketing department.) I find I'm also influenced by who's work I am editing – if they've had poor copy before, I'm harder on everything they do. Middle Editor. Got it!