One of the biggest fears almost all writers have (they tell me so, every day) is in keeping their unique voices when engaging with an editor. Many things go into how to find a book editor in general, and also help to address this visceral fear.
Because your voice, more than any other single subject, is what makes your work yours. So much goes into voice; it’s not just grammar and syntax and everything related to that, but also the cadence underlying a writer’s words.
And that cadence is precious indeed.
So let’s talk about what a book editor is not supposed to do, related to that voice, and what her job actually is.
֎ Fundamentally change your words
Now, that may sound funny. Because often, words need to be changed. Sometimes, writers use the wrong ones. Sometimes, words clang on the page. An editor should suggest better, fuller, more precise words.
But said editor needs to be cognizant of your intent, and stay true to your meaning.
֎ Lose the flavor of your prose
Especially when a writer is starting out, he’s finding his sea legs as to how to convey what he wants to say. That’s normal. And often, painful! But that’s part of the process for honing one’s voice
But even in the roughest prose, a good editor won’t replace her prose with yours.
The best book editors can zero in on helping you to bring out those flavors more, rather than wholescale change them.
֎ Substitute his voice for yours
You’d be shocked at how often I hear and see this. The entire subject of how to find a book editor is fraught with perils!
Writers tell me all the time how they worked with such and such editor, and the book ended up sounding as if written by someone other than themselves. Because, in fact, it was.
Which is of course why this fear is so universal in the first place.
I’ve seen this in my own work as well, so I know the frustration. Recently, I’d asked a beautiful writer to copyedit a file that was going to press. Imagine my surprise when little copyediting was done, but lots of words were changed from mine to hers!
I laughed over this, thanked her, and reverted the file back.
But of course, I have the benefit of having been in these trenches for nearly 30 years, and don’t have the fear of losing my voice.
When you’re starting out, you’re on shaky legs indeed. And often, sorting the wheat from the chaff is difficult.
What this all comes down to is an editor’s true job is to maintain the integrity of the writer’s voice. Period.
Which indeed takes a skilled book editor.
In light of all of this, what can a writer do to make sure she’s choosing the right editor?
֎ Make sure the person has edited traditional published works
Why is this important? Because it shows said editor has been vetted by the publishing industry itself, and not just by whomever has written a self-published book.
֎ Peruse the books the editor has worked on
Amazon has that wonderful feature where you can click open any book and read the first few pages. And in fact, you can get the feel for the writer’s voice with just a few paragraphs.
Look at many of the books the person has edited. Do the voices sound the same? If so, how? Is there a common link underlying the prose?
Or are these distinct, unique voices, shining on the page?
֎ Ask other writers about their editors. Especially traditionally published ones
Again, I’m not discounting self-published works. Many of these are marvelous. But being published by a real house is still our gold standard.
Ask these authors how they felt about their book editors. Did they feel their voices were compromised, or enhanced?
Early in my own writing career, I had the opportunity to work with incredibly adept editors. I learned, from them, what great editing really is. Where to focus. How to heighten and polish and make the words shine, without changing the writer’s voice.
I am eternally grateful.
And funny how life circles around. One of those editors publishes one of my authors, Randy Denmon. When his Lords of an Empty Land won the prestigious Spur Award, the editor called on a Sunday to tell me.
“Your hand is all through this,” he said. “But all it’s done is enhance this work—never changing Randy’s voice.”
High praise, indeed.
So, don’t fear the whole question of how to find a book editor who will maintain your voice. Tried-and-true ways exist.
Because your voice is precious. Keep it so!