by Jaclyn MacNeil
Published at 2022-09-28
If you’re at the stage where you’re working with an editor, congratulations, you’ve made it a long way! You are now one step closer to completing your manuscript.
Working with an editor, whether it be your first, tenth, or fiftieth time, will be a unique experience. All editors bring their own skills and experience, expertise, and personality to the process.
Now that you’re working with an editor, you have entered a professional relationship; one we like to call the author-editor relationship. Like all relationships, personal or professional, an author-editor one requires care and patience—there will be instances of agreement, disagreement, different opinions, and even camaraderie.
But what should you do when you disagree with your editor? Some people will tell you “not to rock the boat” while others might say that you “need to prove them right.” We wouldn’t suggest either of these strategies, but there also isn’t a “right answer” as each situation will be different.
In this blog, we highlight five tips that can help you navigate disagreement with your editor.
An editor is, first and foremost, there to support you. We are allies—not adversaries—we strive to help you make your prose the best that it can be.
Editors read a lot (both good writing and not-so-good writing), and we have been trained, mentored, or are seasoned in our craft. Many of us are also well-versed in standard English grammar, syntax, punctuation, and style (and editors working in other languages will be similarly experienced). We all have our own collections of reference and writing books, and, most of all, we’re passionate about helping writers improve their writing.
So, editors aren’t out to get you nor are we trying to make you feel like you’re a bad writer. Editorial feedback, suggestions, and corrections can be challenging to receive, but they are well-intentioned. You should never take an editor's feedback personally. If you do, you need to take a step back and sleep on it for a night or two. Have a clear mind and a calm mood when you reply.
Whenever you correspond with your editor—via your comments, emails, or conversations—remember these three rules of engagement: respect, empathy, and trust (RET).
Editors are human too. We make mistakes (sometimes we even make typos!) and can miscommunicate our perspectives. But all editors will approach working with you with RET, and you do the same. Relationships are reciprocal.
Sometimes communication via comments is similar to texts or direct messaging—the tone can be misinterpreted or the intent miscommunicated. If this happens, remember to stay calm and respectful. Explain your point of view as clearly as possible; throw in a smiley face if you feel like you can’t quite get it right. Better yet, if your disagreement continues beyond two rounds of comments, arrange a time to chat over the phone.
Depending on the type of editing you’re receiving (check out Lesley-Anne’s blog 4 Tips on Finding an Editor), the feedback you get may be more subjective or objective.
Subjective feedback includes broader edits and suggestions and occurs with manuscript assessments and substantive or developmental editing. Editors use their training as well as their professional expertise, experience, and judgement when making editorial decisions.
Objective feedback includes narrower edits and suggestions and occurs with copy editing and proofreading. These edits are more technical and reference based. Editors use their training, professional expertise and judgement, and authoritative style guides, dictionaries, and standard grammar and usage guides when making editorial decisions.
So, depending on which type of editing your manuscript is getting, the editorial feedback will differ. If you receive an edit that you disagree with (even after taking a step back to think about it), then tell your editor why. Does it change the meaning or the flow? Or do you feel that it alters your voice?
Explanations are a two-way street: if you don’t understand an editorial suggestion, and the editor hasn’t given an explanation, then ask them why they proposed it. Knowing the “why” can help you understand the suggestion from the editor’s perspective.
Despite an editor’s authority (or the publisher’s authority), you, the author, have your own authority too. Most of the time, if you can clearly back up your argument as to why you disagree with an edit, you can have the final say. (Mind you, this isn’t always the case; for example, on a copy edit, you may be vetoed for style decisions to adhere to the publisher’s style guide or governing dictionary.)
At the end of the day, it is your writing—they are your words, your characters, your story, your analysis, your perspective—without you, there is no manuscript to edit.
However, remember that an editor’s eyes are fresh and can see things you simply cannot because of your intimate familiarity with the manuscript. Trust your editor; they are not trying to lead you astray.
Disagreements are different than being disagreeable, and they are also distinct from conflicts. An editor’s suggestions come from wanting to help you. Are you disagreeing because you feel defensive or because you and your editor are misaligned?
Not all relationships are compatible; sometimes authors and editors are just mismatched.
If you are constantly disagreeing or butting heads with your editor, even on the smallest of things, it might be time to move on (check out Michael’s blog on Where to Find the Editor You Need). Sometimes this happens; recognizing an incompatible relationship is challenging but will bring relief to both parties.
But before you make this decision, make sure you consider it seriously. Ask for advice from publishing friends and colleagues. Read about other people’s experiences (check out this Writing Excuses Podcast where three writers discuss their experience) and self-reflect: How have you been engaged in this relationship? Could you improve your communication? Have you been following RET?
Keep in mind that author-editor relationships should always be professional, even if you and your editor decide to part ways.
So take heart and keep up the good work! Remember that the author-editor relationship is reciprocal, respectful, and meant to help you, the author/writer, make the best decisions for your manuscript.
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