Monday, August 4, 2014

The Difference Between Being Critiqued and Being Edited

So, one author asked me "But isn't having an editor just like having a critique partner who can force you to do stuff to your book?"
Um. No. At least, not in my experience (and I want to be clear in all these posts that my observations are very subjective and based solely on my experience - so other authors may say differently).
Here's the thing, I've talked before about how critical I think it is for authors to critique for each other. My opinion on that hasn't changed. I will still (when time allows), make great use of CP's, and hopefully they'll continue to make use of me.
But there is a WORLD of difference between a critique partner's role, and an editor's. Here's my short list:
CP Editor
Makes suggestions for story either in-line, as an overarching letter or notes list, or chapter by chapter. Re-reads entire novel several times with new focus each time - substantive editing (over-arching plot/character development), close-editing (writing/technical direction), and line-editing (instruction offered line-by-line with specific location and detailed analysis of changes and redirection). Book is also copy-edited at the end by another editor to check punctuation, grammat, continuity, etc.
Reads from point of view of writer, offers subjective advice based on personal experience/expertise (which in some cases is advanced, others not). Reads from the point of view of an editor - professional knowledge and understanding of story structure, character development, reader engagement, etc, etc, etc. Brings years of study and experience to the table and is able to identify, qualify, and instruct at each stage.
Usually one of a chorus of voices. Author looks for consistent advice and/or suggestions that fit the author's view of the story. Offers a single, professional voice to guide the development of the book. Yes, you are putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, but the basket really knows what it's doing. (And in my case was incredibly personal and considerate in offering advice for new directions and/or significant cuts).
Focuses on helping the author identify flaws and/or offers encouragement where book is shining to aid future drafts. Focuses on making the book the absolute best it can possibly be. No more room for "next time", this is knock-down-drag-out-get-this-baby-in-shape time.
Provides author a sounding board and ally - and, if you're lucky, a friend in the trenches. Provides author an industry advocate, professional guidance, a touch of therapy and (hopefully) future-proofing.
 This might make it sound like I'm knocking CP's. I promise, I'm not at all. I think that process is critical for any and every writer.
What I've observed, though, at least for myself, is a difference in the roles. CP's offer advice and suggestions that an author then agonizes over - which advice to take? Which suggestions will work best?
To my mind, there's a lot of ambiguity involved in the CP process (which is as it should be - after all, the book is really still in development). But with an editor there's a lot more clarity. We have a goal, we have a focus, and we're working toward it together. Sometimes we'll have to discuss an issue to find a solution that works for both of us. But we're also collaborating to work out those suggestions that seem great, but feel too hard.
I guess what I'm getting at is that with a CP you're still aiming for a book that will tempt an editor into a deal, or tempt readers to press the buy-now button. You're still flying blind, a little. When you're working with an editor, you've found the person who's going to partner you in finally attaining that goal.
At least, that was my experience!
Your Turn: Did your experience differ to mine? Or, I'm happy to offer more info on the editing process if you have questions. Ask away!

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