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Dear writer, this editor can only spoil your work

ARTS & CULTURE
By Lucas Wafula | January 30th 2016

Editors are not easy to work with. They always have an opinion and will state it clearly. That is not to say they are opinionated. In most cases, they mean well. However, without trying to be ‘holier than thou,’ I would like to talk about an editor you should avoid.

To start with, you should avoid that editor who changes your story without your knowledge. A story is always told in publishing houses about an author who was given the final product of months of work and to the astonishment of the editor, she dropped the book on the table and demanded her manuscript. The bottom line is, the editor had changed the story and the characters completely. Certainly, this is wrong. In the editor-author relationship, the editor is simply a midwife. He or she should not make the baby.

Further, editors have been accused of rejecting manuscripts even before reading them. As an author, you should avoid any editor who does not see your potential. Any editor, who without reason criticises you negatively is not worth his or her salt. Even if one does not see potential in you, he or she should find a way of helping you grow by advising you on what to do. On a number of occasions, I have had to ask some young writers to read more so that they can write better – I strongly believe that writing and reading cannot be divorced. Sometimes, I suggest structural changes and other times a whole re-write all together. Even though, I must hasten to say schedules will not always allow editors to work with you throughout your book. You must be quick in soaking in what is required and then move on, on your own.

Editing is not proofreading. Therefore, you should avoid the editor who cannot help you tweak your story. In most cases, editors will quickly see what you would like to bring out and after running through the manuscript, they will make suggestions.

A good editor will help you improve your story. He or she will help you develop your characters and enhance your plot. An editor should help tighten your plot and make it behave like a spider’s web – when you touch one part, the whole web reacts.

I have heard writers, including Ayi Kwei Arma, whose complain has been the errors an editor introduces in their work. Certainly, you should avoid this kind of editor.

However, you should only do this if there are glaring errors – editors too, are human. It might be wise for you to ask whether you are not being fussy. If it is clear that the editor has mutilated your work then it will be time to say your goodbyes.

Avoid editors who do not know their strengths. The editing process has several stages and all of them should be respected. A manuscript should not be proofread unless content and copy editing has been done. Most errors that slip through one level will be captured at another level. This is the only way your work will be error free. It is important that the editor keeps you in the loop, so that you can know at what stage your manuscript is at. In fact, you should be worried if your editor is not communicating.

Communication is two-way and you too should give feedback to your editor. He or she should not be the one who strains while you sit around and complain. In fact, the two of you should own the writing project. The editors of the National Book Development Council who at a certain stage end up working with the author and the project editor on a shortlisted novella best bring this out. They discuss the books with the two and ask them to work on the changes. They then demand to see the changes until the work is refined. This is only possible when there is communication.

Finally, poor editing is worse than no editing at all. However, editors are not just made in a class. Having an eye for detail is a technique one develops over time. Teachers and lecturers play a big part in this. Therefore, the onus is on all stakeholders to come up with structures that will help develop and sustain those who will occupy this seat. Sadly, you won’t know whether an editor is good or not until you have encountered them.

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