A carpenter was asked to make a threshold for my newly renovated bathroom. He proceeded to tell me the whole bathroom was poorly done and needed to be ripped out and redone. I was fuming as he tried to convince me. I showed him my long list of urgent repairs and said that redoing something that was just done was not only outside my budget but outside the limits of my patience. He could either do what I asked, or get out.
As editors, we sometimes act like that carpenter: we are asked for a certain level of edit and insist that a much more in-depth edit is critical.
Sometimes, the writer or client appreciates the professional insight. But sometimes, such insight is unwelcome, and pushing the editor’s ideal is ill advised.
Reasons a Deeper Edit Might Be Rejected
There are legitimate reasons that a deeper edit might not be wanted:
- They are out of money or time or will.
- A deeper edit was already attempted and rejected by the writer.
- The vision for the product does not fall in line with that editor’s ideals.
“For all you know, previous editors already brought the issues to the author’s attention and failed to persuade them,” advises Susan Wenger, an editor and a book designer operating as Cover to Cover.
Picture Yourself as the Exhausted Writer
Imagine that after years of tweaking a book, you finally talk yourself into letting go of it and pushing it through the publication process. At the proofreading stage, you get back an edit that is more like a heavy copyedit, with some substantive changes thrown in. There goes the production schedule! There goes your hope of ever being done with this project! Even just vetting these suggestions will take longer than you’ve set aside.
You didn’t get the job you asked for, and your choice is now to either put in the time sorting out the requested changes from the “bonus” ones, making all the changes, or rejecting the edit outright and reassigning it. Frustration reaches new heights.
Negotiating the Level of Editing
Because there is a huge range of understandings of the term “proofreading,” I ask a few questions before committing to the level of edit. In my new-client questionnaire, I ask how much more work they’re interested in putting into the product. If they’re burnt out, they may just want a proofread and be done with it. If they’re interested in doing whatever’s necessary, then I see that as an opening to talk about the kinds of changes that could make a big difference. In fact, the question of willingness can help an editor determine the level of edit that a client/writer is really asking for.
Having clear parameters is essential to happy editor–writer relations. In the editing agreement or contract (which could just be an email), outline the specific tasks that will or won’t be done and how long those will take. A couple of editing associations offer detailed lists of the tasks at each stage (Editors Canada makes theirs available free online) or editors can enumerate tasks themselves.
Remember, there’s a time to make the case for imposing the editor’s ideal, and there’s a time to stick to the job that was assigned. Unless you’re a bird, eventually, you’ve got to stop preening and hit publish.