Editor and Ethics

  1. Lafayette

    Lafayette Well-Known Member

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    I ask an old acquaintance if he would help me edit my novel. He said yes and was I overjoyed. This is what I told him what I wanted in a message I sent him via FaceBook:

    I need someone to say this is too long, this chapter is too long, this has nothing to do with the story, you're confusing the reader, you need a better ending.

    Well he has given me some good suggestions, corrections, and needed edits which I appreciate. However he has also re-written some of my sentences and that is causing me some discomfort. Is an editor suppose to re-write sentences and paragraphs? If not what is required of an editor? And if I let him continue this course of action will this make him my co-author?

    I don't want to discourage him for I know I need an editor, but I'm not ready for a co-author. I want this to be my book even though I know that I'm not God's gift to the literary world.

    Are my guide lines unclear?

    Your thoughts and suggestions please.
     
  2. TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Inspired. Or possibly insane. Could go either way. Staff Member

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    I generally don't change more than a word or two at a time in the actual text. If something is off enough to need rewriting, I leave a comment that something ought to be considered, with suggestions if I have any.

    There are occasions when I'll do more, but that's generally after talking with the author about a particular thing that they do repeatedly.

    However, I'm a copy editor, not a developmental editor, and your request was for developmental editing, there. Teresa or someone can weigh in on that. :)
     
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  3. Venusian Broon

    Venusian Broon Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity

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    The contract I signed with Teresa stated that 'The Client retains full rights and ownership of the Work, including any additions or changes based on suggestions by the Editor'. Also she made it very clear that I did not have to follow her suggestions or strategies - I could pick and choose. Even ignore everything she did, if I wanted.

    In your case there's nothing stopping you just ignoring the sentences he changed and reverting them back to the originals, right?

    I'm guessing however that you haven't signed a contract that spells out all the issues! Also I'm guessing that it would be implicit that he is not co-authoring, but just for your peace of mind, you could explicitly tell him the above.

    I would thank him for the effort, but just make your position clearer and ask him not to re-write the text. Highlight bad sentences/paragraphs, yes, as TDZ states.

    I suppose, thinking about this in general, if you and the editor agree to your work being re-written by them then that's up to the two of you. Just agree upon that first and what that means about ownership of the work.
     
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  4. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    My experience is that if they start mucking around in the work that means that my writing isn't clear and they usually mess things up badly.
    What you do at that point is try to figure out how to say what you meant the first time; because nine out of ten of those changes will have probably changed your entire thought.

    As mentioned there is no reason to accept their changes unless they appear to understand what you meant to say and they make it clearer.
    That is their job: making things clearer.

    This is the reason I always meticulously go back through after an editor edits and make sure that the sentences still convey what I was trying to say. What you don't want to do is just accept the changes without carefully going over the whole piece.

    Editors do what editors do and what they are paid to do so at least take that into consideration before you think they have gone too far. If you have more than one round of edits to go through then just politely point out the things you will keep the way they are and the things that you will accept as changes.

    Now, that much said; if they are rewriting lengthy portions then that might indicate that you have not polished the work well enough for that type of edit and you might want to look closely at that.

    This was the case with my first novel. The editor I handed it to was much like the offering you had and it turned out that they were trying to rewrite multiple sentences and paragraphs in the beginning(which was slowing them down)and I yanked the work from them and began extensive rewrites with alpha and beta readers before returning to that editing phase.
     
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  5. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    My take is slightly different. I'm a wannabee fiction writer but a professional business writer and now content editor for a business research firm. I don't do formal copy editing - we have a production team that does the detail (grammar, stylesheets etc) but I do know the style rules and my grammar and attention to detail seems to be better than most of my team so I inevitably end up doing some of that.

    My process evolves as I build a relationship with a writer (or Analyst in my case). I begin by switching on Track Changes then doing a structure review. Read the thing once - does the flow work? We are writing 5-30 page reports so its quicker than editing a novel, but in essence - does your story flow? If it doesn't, it gets kicked back with marked up comments in Word and generally we have a meeting to discuss. Next I "hard edit" where I read the thing in meticulous detail and check for logic (do I believe them?), rigour (is it well researched and evidence-able?) and style (we have a style guide - maximum paragraph length, active voice, etc). With people I'm new to working with, I stick to using comment boxes. I make suggestions of changes. I call out things where it doesn't make sense. As I develop a relationship with the Analyst I find a comfortable place where we are happy. Out of my team at least three people are totally comfortable with me rewriting significant chunks of what they've delivered. Others, less so and prefer a discussion. Generally, the more senior guys I just make changes, while the more junior ones in apprentice mode I do more commenting, coaching and explaining.

    So... I'd expect an editor to make grammar edits and change typos. If they do change sentence structure and words for style, just have a conversation with them. They may have some valid points. You may disagree. The beauty of doing it with track changes on is you get to accept/reject what they change.

    I've edited one fictional piece a friend wrote, and it was at the kind of stage @tinkerdan suggests. There were a lot of technical errors, but there were also stylistic things that jarred, like flipping POV in scene. There I corrected technical errors in line in the doc, marked up comments where there were stylistic things I felt didn't work, and made broader comments in an attached email where I though there were fundamental structural issues ( the plot took too long to start, too much world building a the start, etc). I think that process worked.

    Again - I'd have a conversation and set expectations. But, even if an editor has changed sentence structure, changed wording and more, I'd still consider them an editor, not a co-author. They are polishing an existing work, not developing net-new IP.
     
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  6. Lafayette

    Lafayette Well-Known Member

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    The way you work is more of what I have in mind when it comes to editing.

    However if an editor changes sentence structure, changes wording and more, can't he/her claim co-authorship? If they took you to court would the judge agree with them? Can you as the author morally claim sole authorship if someone else is changing sentence structures, changing wording and more? I don't believe you can. Where is the line between polishing and co-authorship?
     
  7. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    An editor is contracted to edit, in return for consideration. Whatever s/he does will fall within that remit (and not co-authoring) unless the original author accepts it as co-authoring, presumably because it forms part of the consideration. Anything else would be laughed out of court -- even if the editor rewrote every single word.

    Where there is no contract, and no other consideration, then I guess the editor might have a case (which is why you should have a contract), but even so I think they would have to prove some kind of understanding, e.g. in an email, that the editing be taken as co-authorship and not just editing.
     
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  8. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    Yes, this sort of tinkering is to be avoided at all costs.
     
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  9. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    I have no idea about the legal construct as everything I do is covered under my contract with my employer, who owns any IP I or my team generatse in work time, but I think @HareBrain's summary sounds legit. IMO you aren't co-authoring unless you've entered into an explicit co-authoring agreement and you are generating net new ideas. An editor polishes existing work, a co-author helps create.
     
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  10. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    If they rewrite too much then that might be construed as ghost-writing which goes unacknowledged as an author(anyway)and in this instance doesn't even require that you pay them for the ghost-writing.

    Seriously though: if I were the editor and I found I was rewriting that much I'd contact the author and suggest that either they need to tighten the writing a bit more before editing or that I'm not the editor they want.
     
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  11. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    You do not have to let any editor change anything. You do not have to use the edited version. You can accept limited changes and be the author of the work. It's up to you.

    If it were me and an editor rewrote everything I'd refuse to make the changes. But most editors give suggestions, push me to do better (not write the scene themselves). If your editor is not capable of the distance needed then they're not editing.

    But to your question - all of this is only a problem if you let it become one and accept their version as the final one ;) if you do, then you have a different question around confidence in your own voice :)
     
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  12. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    Well that's the key isn't it. Someone who simply rewrites large chunks of your work is a charlatan who doesn't understand how to construct a proper critique, and nor do they understand what the editing process is about, which is to help the writer find their own voice, as opposed to saying, "well this is how I would have done it."

    Amateurs.
     
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  13. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    I think it's okay to give an example eg this is your scene when you show don't tell. But only for practical things and only omce for illustration
     
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  14. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto WARG!

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    I would politely but firmly tell him exactly how you feel. Openness and honesty, I think, is a requirement for this situation. But, that's just who I am as a person. I will tell you what I think - not to be rude, but because I value openness, honesty, and integrity. I'm not going to expect others to do something they're not comfortable with, and I absolutely expect the same consideration in return.
     
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  15. Steve Harrison

    Steve Harrison Well-Known Member

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    My (small) publisher assigned me an editor and made it very clear that any and all changes had to be approved by me. And this worked very well, as the editor gave detailed notes as to why he considered each suggested change necessary. He sent me a draft with suggested amendments and I said, yes, no or reworked them myself.

    With your friend, I would suggest you simply apologise for any misunderstanding and state exactly what feedback you are looking for.
     
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  16. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    I was thinking some more about this last night. Going back to my work process, we do co-author reports, which then still have an editor. This works best when the co-authors meet before hand to formally agree how they will work. I've seen two models work. One where they share the idea generation and research, then when on is a demonstrably better writer, they take the lead on writing the finished piece. The other is shared authorship - either carving out chunks and each taking a chapter or section (and relying on the editor to normalise the style) or in a round robin style where one person writes a draft, passes it over the other person adds, changes, etc until they agree.

    Again, it's all agreed up front. I think the repeated advice here is to have a level setting conversation. And I have to agree with @Dan Jones, what you have is the mark of someone who may be able to write, but doesn't know how to edit and give feedback.
     
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  17. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    I think we're traveling a bit askew of what you have asked::
    ::The answer to this is no they can't claim authorship.

    They can't ask for anything beyond what might have been agreed upon with cost of editing; however if the finished work is really good they might ask if you could mention them as editor, because they might want some credit for that. I think the final decision on that would be up to you. If I remember correctly in traditionally published books the editor might be mentioned by the author in the acknowledgement section(if there is one).

    Possibly sometimes they are mentioned on the cover if they have some sort of presence(such as a famous author)that will help market the book.

    It's really difficult to tell from your description just how severe the changes they are making are and since you have asked for a more substantive edit(development edit), » What is the difference between developmental & substantive editing? | Victoria's Advice Column
    I think that it could easily devolve to some sentence structure suggestions. These should be offered in a negotiable manner and my editors have usually done this by marking the passage and including a tagline with the suggestion; allowing me to accept or reject and or even to rewrite the passage myself.

    I wouldn't go so far as to besmirch the reputation of your editor without absolute proof that they are being egregious(which would require looking at both the original and the reworked version).

    It's very likely that this person has done what you asked and perhaps gone some extra to suggest changes.
     
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  18. Phyrebrat

    Phyrebrat ba-Ba-ba-brat

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    Hi Lafayette,

    You may want to head over to the What did you blog about, today? thread and check out Toby Frost's latest blog. The last paragraph might interest you.

    His blog is not about editors and ethics, but more to do with 'can I do this?' mentality. I get the impression from your posts that you might not know what you want - perhaps your concept is half-realised, perhaps it's your turn of phrase, your voice, or your characterisations - as you are not sure how to disagree with your editor.

    We can all give you our opinions and the definitions of various types of editor; it's very helpful, but at some point you're going to have to remember you are creating something of your own and must make a decision. Or decisions. I think that is where knowing yourself, your work, and your practice, is invaluable.

    It's like when receiving a crit, the critiquer rewrites or makes a story suggestion - it affects the DNA of your story. Some of the ideas given may be great (though, as Dan says above, rewriting anything for someone is awful and embarrasing unless asked for. It's poor practice and, worse, poor facilitation as far as I am concerned) and some may be dumb. Thing is, only you can decide that, so my advice in addition to that above would be to allow yourself some sovereignty here. ;)

    pH
     
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  19. Lafayette

    Lafayette Well-Known Member

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    I do have a voice and I want to keep it and improve it. However I know that I need someone to say this is too long, this chapter is too long, this has nothing to do with the story, you're confusing the reader, you need a better ending.

    Thank you all for your insights and encouragement.

    I wrote back to my friend:

    I appreciate your comments, suggestions, and the time you’ve spent on the first chapter.

    I want you to continue to say: this is confusing, this is out of character for this person, this is the wrong word, this is slowing the plot down, this has nothing to do with the story, and/or why is this here? However I don’t want you to re-write the sentences or the paragraphs.

    I want you to know also that I will give you credit or acknowledgement for your editorial efforts in the book. I’m not sure if I told I do not have the funds to pay you right now that will have to come later.

    If you have any comments or questions please let me know.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

    I also offered him co-authorship for my next book or an idea of his. He has replied that he and I would make better use of his skills as a co-author. He hasn't informed me yet in which directions he wants to go.

    Thanks for the links too.

     
  20. TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Inspired. Or possibly insane. Could go either way. Staff Member

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    Given that there is talk of co-authoring on another project, I think I would explicitly say, in exactly those words, that this will not be a co-authoring situation. Just to cover yourself there.
     
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