“Finding the Right Editor for You”

 Recently, I received the following question from a writer:
Your remarks on Twitter seem to say that you love editing as much, if not more, than writing. What is it about editing that you like? For me, the alarming part about working with an editor is that my judgement as to too much sex, too much violence, too much exposition is something I’m having difficulty with. When an editor told me that a character would not act “that way” in the real world it gave me great pause. In my mind the actions of characters are based on my real life experiences, and I find that some people do act “that way.” Feminism, religion and sexual orientation are all issues I’ve discussed in editing. But I seem to be on a railroad of editors until I find the conductor that fits me.—John Johnson

I do indeed love editing. I also love writing. And I love reading wonderful stories. Fiction and storytelling make up my entire professional and leisure worlds.

Your experience of being on “a railroad of editors” is not at all uncommon these days. I hear of this problem frequently from new clients. This is because far too many of those marketing themselves now as ‘editors’ are not editors. They are peer critiquers who have been on forums for years and see the decline of editing in publishing houses and corresponding rise of independent editing as a lucrative cash cow.

This is why I always caution aspiring writers to do their due diligence in selecting an editor. I do expect anybody who charges aspiring writers for editing to have the experience cited and to be able to prove it through their blog and books.

In addition to a broad and deep knowledge of storytelling through the written word, an editor must be able to represent to the aspiring writer the reader’s sensitivity to taboo material, such as sex and violence. This is one area in which the writer must fictionalize real life in order to communicate it to the reader properly, taking into account the reader’s preconceived sensitivity to taboo material.

Exposition is almost always summary of story better shown through scenes. Unless exposition is, in fact, essential ‘exposure’ or illumination of subtext, it should be cut or transformed into scenes. This is the basis of Henry James’ injunction: “Show, don’t tell.”

And an editor must also be able to represent to the aspiring writer the perspective of the average reader in their target market.

Feminism is definitely a part of modern Western society—sexism, like so many other prejudices, is a cultural dinosaur, and equality between the genders something that readers know to be perfectly normal. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Outside of Christian fiction, the average American reader is not looking for religious bias—they expect their religious beliefs to be treated as their own business. Likewise, the average American reader has a fairly balanced perception of homosexuality and heterosexuality in our modern society. The old hysterical bigotry against anything but stereotypical love between adults has thankfully vanished, along with widespread illiteracy and belief in ghosts.

Proper editing is never about the editor’s personal preferences. This is the underlying principle of our work. It is always about the editor’s ability to guide the aspiring writer in communicating a story to the reader effortlessly, through the myriad techniques of our art and craft.

 

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Victoria Mixon

About Victoria Mixon

A. Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and freelance independent editor who has worked in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for over thirty years. She can be reached through email, Twitter and Victoria’s Advice Column. Mixon has been quoted for her expertise in fiction in the Huffington Post. She has taught for Writer’s Digest and been invited to teach at the San Francisco Writers Conference 2016.