Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do I Have to Love a Genre to Edit It?

As a reader, I can choose whatever book strikes my fancy, and if I don't like it once I've gotten part way into it, I can simply stop reading it.

As an editor, the "put it down" option is nowhere to be found. If I take on a job, I finish it. That's what I'm hired to do. So there's the question: Do I have to love a genre to edit it?

The answer is a big fat NOPE.

I've edited a decent number of books from a decent number of authors, and it goes without saying that those authors don't all write at the same level of skill. If a book isn't ready for edits (major issues), then that's one thing, but if a book is ready and I take on the job, it's now a matter of accepting that the writing level is either good or waaay good. Genre really doesn't factor in.

[I should clarify: genre is only a factor if someone asks me to edit erotica. I'm no prude, but I don't think editing erotica is compatible with my job as assistant to the worship leader at a large church. Call me crazy if you must, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.]

Anyway, I've found that, regardless of my typical reading preferences, the genre of a book I'm editing doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed certain books I wouldn't think to pick up for pleasure reading. Now that my kids are no longer of the age where I sit down to read to them—and we did read aloud to them well into their teen years as a nighttime thing so we could all enjoy a good book at the same time—I rarely pick up juvenile fiction, or even young adult fiction, and yet I enjoy editing those books when they come my way. Part of it is, I think, that it reminds me of how much discovery is out there for kids who read, and part of it is that I've just worked with good writers who tell an entertaining story.

The one thing I have to be cautious about (and I don't think I actually do this, but it's always good to be alert) is to not change an author's voice while editing something I'm not really enjoying. A few years ago, I agreed to read/review a novel for someone who approached me through Goodreads. I was between edits at the time and thought it would be nice to do a new author a favor. The book was science fiction, which I love, so I thought it would be enjoyable.

Silly me. The book was not enjoyable. It was a confusing read, because it was full of time travel and the dialogue was written in the present and future tense at the same time . . . and it took me a long time to get into the flow of it enough to read without constantly rereading. It also pushed an agenda, which I do NOT like in works of fiction, even when it's a viewpoint I might agree with. It was super lengthy, too, and was only the first part in a ten-part series, from what I gathered.

The bottom line: even though I was beta/review-reading this and not really editing per se, I had to be careful to not let my (lack of) enjoyment cloud my judgment of whether the book was ready to publish. The book was written skillfully, and the author did a heck of a job self-editing (which I would never recommend to anyone as a general rule). Though there were many things I would have wanted to change, it was just fine the way it was. I felt like a huge success just by being able to give a neutral opinion when I did my report. I told the author of my struggles with it, but she actually loved my review and thanked me for separating my reading tastes from the quality of the writing.

It may be difficult, but editing should not be a matter of opinion. I try to think of it like a doctor thinks of his/her patients. Wouldn't you always want to deal with the pleasant people who are fit and attractive? Or be the dentist whose patients all have great teeth?

Editing is like that in many ways. The manuscript is the sum of its parts, and it's my job to make sure all the parts are in the condition they're supposed to be in so the whole is at its best. It's not my job to judge whether the parts are attractive to me personally, because those same parts, when put together as a whole, will be attractive to someone else.


  1. Don't blame you for not taking on erotica.
    It must be challenging to get through a book you're not really into but still must read. I've had to critique a book that I found really boring but I'm sure someone else would've enjoyed it.

    1. It really is hard to push through when the book holds no interest. But a commitment is a commitment, and I need to do my best if someone has hired me, no matter what.

  2. You have to have a professional detachment if you're going to charge money for editing, of course. Liking the material shouldn't factor into it. I've had commercial writing jobs where I didn't care for the subject, but I learned to ignore that and concentrate on improving the work while keeping the writer's voice.

    1. Exactly. If I'm reading for pleasure, there's no commitment if I don't love it. But if someone is paying me, it's literally my job to do my best, regardless of my personal opinion of the storyline or genre. "Professional detachment" is an excellent way to put it.

  3. I think that's exactly what a professional editor would say! Apart from that particular experience, luckily you're a book lover at heart so you can find the beauty in all stories. Your comparison to a dentist or a doctor is on point! Just like you're able to edit and make suggestions according to the author's voice, which I can attest to, is on point. It's a gift, whether you love our books or not lol

    S.K. Anthony <3

    1. And of course I love your books! What's not to love, really? Those are the books that make the job easier. And honestly, there's always something redeeming about each book, even if, overall, the story is a bust. Thankfully, I haven't run into too many duds along the way.

      And editing the truly epic books brings out the best features in my glasses, so there's that.

  4. I don't think I could edit erotica, either. Not that anyone would ever ask my stupid ass. But if they did... that's a strong pass.

    I've often wondered, as an editor, have you ever walked away from a book that was more trouble than it was worth? Like, maybe it had more errors than it had actual coherent sentences, or maybe no amount of editing could save it from how bad it was, and so on? Or are you in for the long haul, so help you God?

    1. I have, in fact, walked away from a book—prior to any money being exchanged. The author had contacted me about a book she'd written, and kept stressing that she'd never taken a writing class in her life, had never even thought about writing a book, and that she couldn't believe she'd written one, but that she'd been "given" it and simply wrote what she was inspired to write.

      When I did the preliminary evaluation to determine the cost of editing . . . I can't even list how many foundational errors there were, not even counting the quality of the writing itself. Simple punctuation and things like new paragraphs for each time a new person was speaking—nonexistent. Complex sentences were nowhere to be found. That was only the beginning.

      Long story short, I wrote up my eval, marked up the sample portion (the first 2500 words or so) and sent it back with all kinds of notes. First major problem (by no means the only one) was that she had no clue how to use MS Word and couldn't figure out how to deal with the changes I'd tracked and the margin comments. She insisted on calling me (I HATE talking on the phone unless it's a very close friend) and I spent over 1/2 hour walking her through each function . . . and she still didn't get it.

      She spent three months doing rewrites based on what I'd told her were the main trouble spots, and it was still in terrible shape when I got it back. I thought I'd do the entire first chapter before sending it back to her so I could write up a decent summary of what, exactly, needed the most work. Well, around page 11, I realized the chapter was dragging and feeling long, so I skipped ahead to see how many pages remained. Imagine my surprise when I found that the first chapter was 65 pages long. No, that's not a typo. First chapter = 29k words. Most of the other chapters (the book was LONG) were about 40 pages apiece.

      Between all that, the head-hopping, incomplete sentences, misused words, incorrectly punctuated dialogue, etc. etc. etc., there was no way I could edit it. It would have taken me months of ghostwriting to even get it to first-draft status.

      I put about eight solid hours into a fraction of one chapter, between writing up a sample revision that showed how she could cut at least 20% of redundancies, writing up a four-page summary of the most basic, fundamental things that were wrong, and just pushed myself to read through that far so I could give a fair eval. I had to make it clear that I was not going to keep doing more free work every time she thought she had it right, and that it could be years of rewrites and coaching and beta before she should send it to anyone. She didn't know the craft and didn't know how to use the tools for it, and based on the questions she kept asking, basically expected me to do all the work for her, rather than taking the initiative to look up ANYTHING on her own. I've never run into anyone like her before or since.

      How's that for the Italian answer to a simple question? My reply might actually be longer than my blog post itself.

    2. Wow, I wouldn't even be mad if you just took this comment and reposted it as its own blog post. That's a hell of an answer and a hell of a story. I'm still laughing at the first chapter that's 65 pages long and her calling you (and failing) to understand basic MS Word, like some of nightmarish tech support gone wrong.

      Speaking of, with a 65 page long first chapter and other chapters that were around 40 pages, how long was this thing? 1,000 pages?

      At least, on the bright side, you weren't the person responsible for editing Lark Voorhies' (Lisa Turtle, Saved by the Bell, now a crazy person) debut novel?

    3. First of all, yes on the nightmarish tech support. I even created a sample doc with the tracked changes and a detailed explanation under each, including things like "on the upper middle of your screen, in the tab that says 'review,' etc. and it just could not be grasped no matter what I said. The phone call alone should have been worth a $50 bill. Nice lady but zero grasp of anything remotely related to the writing process.

      And the book was about five commas shy of 190k words.

      Speaking of commas: holy insanity, Batman. The book you linked! "Wow" doesn't really cut it. I think the book description says it all . . . it says something, anyway, and I'm not sure what. Where do you find these things??

    4. Should I assume this woman is of an advanced age? That whole thing sounds like trying to walk my mother through anything involving a computer. And holy length, Batman! I don't think I could bring myself to willingly edit a 190k length novel that wasn't horrible.

      And it's better not to ask, but my brain is a wealth of useless and stupid things pertaining to hilariously terrible books, or book covers, or both.

      No, but really

    5. Not much can render me speechless, but that book cover is beyond freaking hilarious and almost into another dimension. One of my favorite sites is Lousy Book Covers and I'm not sure if that book fits there, or if it simply needs its own website called "I Can't Believe Someone Published This for Real."


I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)