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The Mad Scribbler






“Being a free-lancer means that you accept the feact that the editor is an absolute despot as far as acceptance/rejection is concerned, and that from his decision, there is no appeal.”
— Isaac Asimov

Every time I deliver work to a new editor, someone I’m not used to working with, I endure bouts of anxiety until I finally get their feedback and know what I’m dealing with. The anxiety is much greater if it’s a book—something that’s worth a year’s work and income to me—than if it’s a short story or article (or column), but the anxiety is always there. Precisely because I’m experienced enough to know that although the editorial process is often productive and valuable, or reassuring and undramatic...there are nonetheless editors with whom it’s disappointing, tedious, demeaning, damaging, unprofessional, adversarial, and/or nightmarish.

And, actually, even when delivering to editors with whom I’ve worked well before, I often experience anxiety. Because neither of us is infallible, and it’s always possible we won’t have harmony of vision on all projects. Ergo, the redactophobia (fear of editing) I feel whenever I deliver my work.

But experience counts for something, and so I’ve developed a few reliable guidelines for myself during the twenty-five years that I’ve been dealing with editors.

For example, I never act, react, or respond immediately to editorial revisions or requests. This is because my instinctive first reaction is usually to reject any suggestions or changes. So I need time to work through my initial, “Noooo! The manuscript is exactly the way it should be!” reaction. Because that unprofessional behavior needs to be kept private and out of the process.

Then, once I’ve worked through that twitch and am ready, I assess the edit. I sort all editorial comments into three categories: Good, Harmless, Bad. Even an outstanding editor always gives me some lame suggestions or bad notes. Even a disastrously incompetent editor occasionally gives me a good note. So I always need to think over and make decisions about each item.

A good edit is one where the notes are mostly good or harmless, and there are only a few bad notes. A bad edit is the opposite.

A good note is one that makes me wonder why I didn’t see that problem before delivery. My reaction to a good note is usually some version of, “Oh, of course I should make that change.”

Harmless edits are the suggestions and changes that I don’t think are bad—they don’t hurt the book—but I also don’t consider them improvements. Doing them leaves the book at par. I usually do them, because they don’t make a difference in the book’s quality or my vision for it, and doing them shows respect for the editor and a cooperative spirit on my part.

Moreover, there’s an additional reason to do them. I sometimes mistake a good note for a harmless note, and I only later realize–perhaps months after the book is published, that it was indeed a good note and improved    

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