One of the most difficult things an author will ever do is share their work with another person, whether it is a friend, beta-reader, or professional editor, agent, publisher, etc. We put everything we have into our writing, our hopes, dreams, beliefs, attitudes … everything. As an author, I am proud of my work and I fully understand, and accept, that some people will despise every word I ever write. There’s an old saying that “everyone is a critic” and as a writer I struggle with this on a daily basis. As the harshest critic of my work, I know it is NEVER perfect. Now, I’m sure you are wondering why I am sharing all of this with you. I am doing this because a friend, one who is an author, sent two manuscripts in a series to an editor to gain insight about where they needed to improve their work. I met this author when I agreed to beta read for her, I have read both of the works this professional “editor” evaluated and found them to be lighthearted, campy, kitschy fun. I saw what the author’s motivations were and realized from the first page that they were supposed to be a parody of the detective novels of old. Were they perfect? Absolutely not! Is anyone’s work ever perfect? No.
What she got back was at the very least, heartbreaking. At the worst it was an offensive, politically-charged discourse on why this editor’s style and beliefs are the only ones that should ever be touted in a literary endeavor. I will not share the actual comments that my friend received. What I will say is that this “editor” berated not only the mechanics of her style, character development, pacing, and world building, but also her treatment of the female gender as a whole, the archetypes she used, and the juvenile antics of her protagonist (the novel in question is a YA novel and the protagonist is male). Editing should look like this:
As writers we have to trust the judgement of others to help us improve our craft so that readers will enjoy the stories we have to tell. We have to trust that those we give our precious manuscript to will be honest, and helpful. Sometimes we pay people to evaluate our work, like professional editors, so that when we are done our work will be the best we can create. We do this not for fame or wealth, as many believe, but because we are filled with stories. Stories that we want to share with the world to entertain our fellow citizens on this marble flying through space. What is worse, we pay for the privilege of sharing these stories. Between alpha and beta readers, editors, writing coaches, cover designers, and marketing, those of us who self-publish will end up in the hole the minute we put a novel up for sale through Createspace, Amazon, Smashwords, and others.
What most authors won’t tell you is we don’t write for the money. We write because we love stories and we think we have good ones to share. Don’t get me wrong, money is nice, but when you calculate what the average author spends before they ever get a novel published it’s a losing game. My friend hired an editor to help her polish her books for publication and she received the harshest criticism imaginable (trust me I read the report and saw the comments in the manuscript … harsh is being generous), and she paid for the privilege. Now my friend is doubting her ability to tell her stories, she’s been gutted by this so-called professional and I have no way of helping her deal with the emotional fallout. It’s heartbreaking to me.
So I am forced to wonder, why do those of us who suffer from the disease of writing put ourselves through this? Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t blame all editors for this incident. In fact, the editors I’ve met and worked with have all been amazing. Yes, they gutted me and my manuscript, but they helped me take it from a lump of coal to the still flawed diamond that it is now. They said some things that were difficult to hear, but they also told me the things that shined. The editor used by my friend did nothing but criticize in the harshest way imaginable. There was nothing kind in any of her comments. She criticized my friend for spelling, structure, and punctuation errors, yet her comments were filled with the same. I’ve always believed that you should try to temper brutal constructive criticism with saying something nice, am I wrong? Share your thoughts, I would love to hear your take on it.