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editor

Should Writers Review Other Writers? A View From An Editor

Oh wow! Could I stir up a bigger hornet’s nest if I grabbed a baseball bat and started whacking? Probably not. But I’ve seen a lot of stuff out and about the ‘net lately, and this seems to be quite a hot button topic.

Hot button
Woohoo! I’m pushing the button, baby!

As an avid reader of so many years, a professional editor, and a self-published writer myself, this question is as tangled as the ball of yarn Athena loves to torture. And it seems no matter what opinion you hold, there is always someone ready to jump all up in your grill and scream how you’re wrong and just who do you think you are, some kind of special little snowflake?

This is my thought process. Reviewing a book, editing a book, and critiquing a book are three very different things. From what I see, a lot of people can’t tell the difference.

1. Readers review books, and that includes expressing what does or does not work for them in the story. It’s more about how the book made them feel, as opposed to picking out general technical details unless they affect the story.

2. Editing and critiquing a book is more about picking out those technical details, right or wrong, to improve the basic theme or message of the story. To me, this is not a review and should rather be handled privately between the writer and the editor/critique partner (such as beta readers). And there’s no reason to be a cast-iron bitch about it, either.

Now on to the sticky-wicket part of this.

Sticky wicket
This is a croquet wicket. I have no idea if it’s sticky. Honestly, I don’t want to know.

As part of the price I pay to do what I love for a living, I do not review books. Caveat: sometimes I do review old favorites I love, in order to introduce them to people I think will enjoy the book. However, as a pro editor I think it’s a conflict of interest for me to formally review a book I’ve edited. Really, think about it. What am I going to say other than it’s amazing? My word is on the line, and I take that very seriously. I will give a shout-out to my authors, because I am really lucky to work with some hugely talented people. But you will not find a formal review from me because I just don’t think that’s fair or professional. As an editor, if I’ve done my job, I’m as close to the book as the writer and I wouldn’t be able to be impartial. So while I may be in love with the story and am excited when one of my people releases, I won’t review the book.

If you are an indie writer hopefully that means you are an avid reader. You may think it’s your duty to review books and if they fall beneath the threshold of what you consider good, you may also think it’s your duty to point this out to other readers. Some people take great glee in tearing down other indie writers to the point it’s painful. The thing is, if you are an indie writer, you are a PROFESSIONAL. And I believe you should act like one.

Look at other professions. Do you see indie bands bashing other indie bands? Sometimes. Not very often. How about indie film makers? Don’t see that happening either. Do you see Very Successful Writers writing reviews on their contemporaries? (Stephen King is an exception. He can pretty much do what he wants because he’s a King. When you sell as many books as he does, I think then you have the right to express a negative opinion now and again.) Why is it okay for an indie writer to tear apart the work of another indie writer? What’s the point? The fans, the readers who aren’t involved in the process, are the ones who decide whether a book is “good” enough, THEY ARE THE GATEKEEPERS and indies who tear into each other are not portraying the profession in a very good light. Frankly, it looks like sour grapes.

The adage from your mother applies here. If you don’t have something nice to say, then keep your yap shut. Because when you say something hurtful or nasty about someone’s work, to me, that’s more a reflection upon you than it is the writer you’re bashing. It’s divisive in the indie community. We’re not in competition with each other – there’s more than enough readers to go around for everyone. Why then this vitriol?

“But!” you say, “I’m just trying to warn others about how bad this book is! I’m just doing the author and other readers a favor! I’m saving other readers from drowning in bad writing, from spending their hard-earned cash on bullshit!”

Knight in shining armor
Yeah, okay. I get it. You’re the literary knight in shining armor.

Really? As much as I would love to believe all indie writers who review are totally altruistic in their intentions, I didn’t fall down with yesterday’s rain. Not when I see some really hateful things being said in a review most people wouldn’t dream of saying in person. There is such a thing as professional courtesy, and anyone who can at least finish writing a book, no matter how “bad” it might be, deserves a modicum of respect. Because it is not easy. If a book is that bad, it will sink all on its own, with no help needed from you.

You can be honest and respectful at the same time. If you, the indie writer, read a book which in your opinion is not of professional caliber, you have a choice. You can walk away and do not review at all and forget you ever saw it; review as a READER and point out politely what didn’t work for you about the STORY without descending into condescending bitchiness because you know so much more and are so much better, or contact the author privately and offer your opinion. But to post a review that attacks the author, telling them (and the public at large) they have no right to be allowed near any writing implements (including crayons or eyeliner pencil) is just mean and hateful, bordering on bullying.

I’m wondering, too, just how effective reviews are anymore, especially since it’s come to light certain writers have actually paid for reviews. Now all reviews are suspect, and that’s a damned shame. However, there is one fix for all of this. Most books available on Amazon have a preview option. Read the first couple of chapters, and THEN you can decide to buy or not. Easy-peasy.

What you say in private is your own business and you are certainly entitled to that. I’m sure you have your own little circle of people where you discuss the merits of various authors, and I’m all for it. Vent. Scream. Pull out your hair and have yourself a party. But to take vitriolic opinions to the public, in my opinion, is unprofessional if you consider yourself a professional writer.

Let me hear your opinion, since you were kind enough to entertain mine.

*All images courtesy of Morguefile.com.

I Am An Editor And Batshit Crazy

That’s the first thing you should probably know.

I’m a lot of other things, including a writer, but the question I’m asked the most is, “What’s it like being an editor? I mean, what exactly is it you do?”

The thing is, when people think of the term “editor”, they may think of a hunched over old lady, gnarled and grey, with crazy hair and long dirty fingernails, just looking for your grammar and punctuation mistakes. When she finds one, she’ll cackle with glee, wielding a red pen with unbridled joy, slashing the words, sentences, paragraphs with all the happiness of a zombie eating fresh (or not-so-fresh) entrails.

I don’t do that.

Or, the picture may be of a prim and proper virginal school teacher, with a mighty ruler at the ready to smack your knuckles into shreds of bleeding flesh should you end your sentence with a preposition; using “their” instead of “there”; abusing semi-colons on a regular basis.

I don’t even own a ruler.

Some people think of editors as nasty, overweight men who smoke cigars, play poker, and simply look at the first word of your story before dousing it with gasoline and lighting a match before sending a rejection letter which makes you cry for your mother and vow to never go near another writing implement ever again.

I don’t do that, either.

The term “editor” is somewhat misleading, because there are many different types of editors. The technical term for what I do is a content or developmental editor, also affectionately known in some circles as a “story doctor”.

In essence, I evaluate a story for proper structure, plot holes, character development, and story arc. I look at narrative flow, dialog, and voice. I’ll determine if the story holds together, and provide suggestions on how to tighten tension, balance narrative with action and dialog, and whether or not you really need the monkey in the corner with the cymbals.

Monkey
Yes, it’s a monkey. Yes, it’s cute. Yes, I’ll cut him from your story because I’m mean like that.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In order to perform my job properly as a content editor, I have to know the story better than the writer. I need to know the characters intimately; understand the writer’s vision; connect with the overall message or theme the writer is attempting to get across. As a writer myself, I can say being a content editor is more difficult than writing your own book, because I actually have to crawl inside the writer’s head. This is not always easy to do, and it doesn’t always work with every writer because everyone is unique. While I’m used to the insanity inside my own head, it might take time to adjust to the insanity of someone else. Because as we all know, writers are basically batshit crazy, too. I mean that with all due respect and love.

Bats in the belfry
Don’t play. You know they’re flying in your belfry too.

Story editing is very much a team effort, and it takes a great deal of trust. The writer has to trust I know my shiz-niz, and I have to trust the writer to be open-minded and willing to do the work. To stand up for what he or she feels is necessary to the story, but to also understand my passion is the story and I have the story’s best interest at heart.

In order to do this, I have to dive deep. When I perform a first read, there is no other world for me than the one the author has created. I liken it to lucid dreaming; my background is unique in that I have been reading almost every genre known to mankind since I was three years old. That’s over fifty years worth of reading. Uncountable books have saved my life and my sanity more times than I can count in very difficult and personal life circumstances, but as a result, I understand on almost an instinctual level what a story needs in order to connect with the reader. I take my job very, very seriously because fiction means so much to me.

There is no greater joy for me than when a client I have worked with releases a book on which we have both worked to great reviews and readers who find a new author with whom they’ve connected. I know how much a good book can make a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s momentary entertainment or a story which makes a reader think of a situation in a different light. There are books which can actually change the way a reader views the world or gives them a perspective they’ve never considered before. Other books can take you away to a different place, introduce you to people you’d never meet in real life, or whisk you away into a marvelous world making the stresses of everyday life disappear if only for a few hours. Books which refresh the soul, make you cry, laugh, and relate to similar experiences. It’s amazing.

I absolutely love what I do. It’s not always easy and it can be very draining emotionally. It takes a lot of work; sometimes I’m dreaming of the narrative, working out problems in my dreams, and sometimes I wander around in a daze forgetting to feed my cat or even myself. And you should see my laundry pile. Sometimes I have to take a break and put some distance between myself and the manuscript, give myself some time to re-charge and re-assess, because the book and the writer are depending on me. I am acutely aware of my responsibility as a content editor and the fact I hold the writer’s beating heart in my hands.

The shadowed heart
Trust me. I know exactly what I’m holding in my hands, and I’d rather break my own than yours. But the story comes FIRST.

And when I see a raw manuscript transformed into something wondrous, I am the happiest I have ever been. When I see a writer “get it”, and find their voice, see their vision come to light, it’s like being a midwife to a joyful birth.

I love my job. It’s taken a lot of work to get here, and I know there are many people who hate what they do; I spent many years (too many!) in the same position. I feel extremely fortunate that even at this late stage of my life, I have found my passion, what I love to do, and am able to make it happen. I thank the Universe at every turn for the most amazing people with whom I’ve had the honor to work; for the support of loved ones even when they think I’m batshit crazy, and the opportunity to have a small part in helping a fabulous book or story be the best it can be.

For me, story is everything. It is the reflection of the human experience, the heart and soul of what makes us all human and connected.

Yes. I am an editor. It’s likely I’m batshit crazy. But I’m also one of the luckiest women alive.