by Paul Bishop
First four words about editors and mentors...They are not God...
a few more words...Working with editors and mentors (E/Ms) can be
confusing and on occasion filled with frustration. I've worked with good
and bad E/Ms, and - thankfully - one great E/M.
Good E/Ms are
the most common of the genus éditorus rex. These, generally kind
examples of the species, understand what you are trying to accomplish
with your novel/story, but only work with you if your manuscript is -
short of a copy edit - publication ready. They are pleasant enough, but
harried and easily distracted by their own problems or workload. They
are like parents who raise free-range children, allowing them to run
wild, hoping they will eventually turn out okay.
Bad E/Ms are
like weeds in the flower beds of your prose. They are noxious,
prevalent, and can choke the life out of your manuscript. Sometimes, you
can feel as if this species of E/M is reveling in picking your
manuscript apart, insisting on changes from left field, and they can
leave you having no idea what they are talking about (I did mention
frustration above). In general, these sour individuals are simply not a
good match for your particular manuscript.
Bad E/Ms may actually
be good editors when working in their favorite genre or with important
authors - as opposed to working writers. However, when faced with being
assigned to edit a manuscript from a genre with which they are not
familiar - or simply don't like - they can become as difficult as a
four-year-old having a meltdown in the middle of the cereal aisle.
may even view your manuscript as beneath their own literary
aspirations. They believe they should be editing Thomas Wolfe or F.
Scott Fitzgerald - you know, authors worthy of their attention - instead
of wasting their time with you.
Yikes. If this happens to you escape while you still can.
problem is, beginning writers often confuse the above editorial
species. You have to be objective when working with an E/M. Are they
helping you make the manuscript better, or are they undermining the
power of your words?
Some beginning writers have a hard time
overcoming the blinkers of their own writer's narcissism. They are like
mothers who believe their fat, spotty, rude child - otherwise known as
their manuscript - is perfect, and woe be to anyone who doesn't lavish
praise or who dares to change a word. Writer's like this can't recognize
when the suggestions and changes offered by a good E/M are pertinent
and needed. Unable to distinguish between the bright plumage of a good
E/M and the black belly feathers of a Bad E/M, they rant and rave and
become their own worst enemy. Unless they really are the equivalent of
Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald, they will not find the welcome mat
out next time they want to submit a manuscript.
There is another
breed of beginning writer at the other end of the spectrum. They can't
imagine ever disagreeing with an editor. They often end up butchering
their fragile bonsai tree of a manuscript trying to please an E/M who
may (good E/Ms) or may not (bad E/Ms) have the best interest of their
manuscript at heart.
Great E/Ms are rare and magical beasts. They
are actually able to see what works and doesn't work in your novel. They
make considered and constructive suggestions, help you find solutions
to manuscript problems, encourage you through the hard process of making
changes, and become a true partner in the publishing process. If you
ever come across a great E/M, protect them with your life.
make you a better writer and a better person. They might not turn your
manuscript into a bestseller, but they will ensure it will sell better
than it would without their input.
But let's get back to the point of this diatribe - E/Ms are not God.
a writer, I've long believed the myth that most E/Ms are trolls living
under their desks snatching at any winsome manuscript trying to pass
across their desk. I am loath to give up that unreasonable impression,
even though I now find myself turning into a troll as my role of E/M
Remember, an E/M's comments on your manuscript are
opinions. We may be wrong (but probably not). Comments on your
manuscript are not judgements of you as a person or even as a writer. I
wrote a lot of bad crap before the scent of my pros began to become more
Speaking for myself I am completely capable
of getting things wrong. If you send me a historical romance to edit,
my tendency would be to strip down your flowing prose, excise all of the
yucky moony-eyed stuff, and editing you by the standards of another
genre with which I am more familiar.
Hopefully, I have evolved as
an E/M to the point where I don't do this. I have grown to understand
the tropes of many other genres beyond my own. I could be a good editor
for a historical romance or sweet romance or even an erotic romance -
but I will never be a great editor in those genres because I have
nothing to add to make a manuscript better other than the generic
literary conventions. I could make such a manuscript better, but I most
likely couldn't help make it sing.
So, what does all of this mean
when you submit a manuscript or work with an E/M? First, when your
chosen E/M makes comments and suggestions don't take them personally.
Try to be objective about them. Do they make sense? Do they make your
manuscript stronger? Don't be obnoxious, but neither be afraid to
disagree. I personally am open to a back and forth literary
relationship. I may not get what you are trying to do until you explain
it to me. Once I understand, I can tailor my advice and encouragement.
I am certainly not the final word on the worth of a manuscript or even
the changes I think should be made. No E/M is. This is about your
writing, not a troll's editing. Still, as a writer, you need to be open
and prepared to learn from an E/M's experience, while not allowing an
E/M to derail your vision.
ONE FINAL NOTE:
can be a dangerous path. After offering advice, no E/M likes to be told
be told, "But that's the complete opposite of what E/M so-and-so said."
E/M shopping will only lead you to a cornucopia of conflicting advice,
causing utter confusion and frustration for a beginning writer.
E/M offers advice and opinions. Throwing up your arms and telling an
E/M another E/M gave the total opposite advice is the quickest way to
make the current E/M abandon you in midstream. If an E/M's advice is
conflicting with what you've been told, keep your own counsel, consider
the advice, and make a decision about which E/M is right. Then - most
importantly - stop shopping around and stick with the E/M who serves you
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Novelist,
screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years
with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as
Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as an expert in
deception and interrogation. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD
Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, LIE CATCHERS, begins a new series featuring LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.