57. Should I Follow My Editor’s Advice?

Author: Nola Published: 4 months ago.
Tags: editing, revision, editor, feedback, critique, corrections, conventions, preferences, house style, standards Category: Writing tips

As an editor, I provide feedback on people’s manuscripts to help them improve their work. I’m also a writer and have received critique from editors, publishers, writing instructors, colleagues and Mum. The feedback’s usually invaluable, but sometimes I’m left scratching my head. Huh? They want me to write it in subjective omniscient point-of-view with sentence fragments and spoonerisms? I don’t think so!

When weighing up suggestions, I find it helpful to think of them in terms of the following categories.

Corrections

These are straightforward comments relating to errors. As such, it should be possible to refer to some authoritative source to corroborate the answer, such as a dictionary, grammar guide, research article or the manuscript itself. It’s always wrong to say, ‘Hugh Jackman are gorgeous’, even if he is. If an editor makes corrections, it’s in your best interests to follow that advice. However, editors aren’t perfect. If you’re not sure about one of the suggestions, check it out for yourself. Also remember that there can be alternate answers on some points (e.g. differences between American and Australian/British spelling), so it’s important to know your market.

Conventions

This category refers to the standard way of doing things in your genre. When using dialogue in contemporary fiction, for example, it’s typical to put the speaker before the verb in speech tags (e.g. ‘Fred said’ rather than ‘said Fred’). There's also a trend towards using strong verbs rather than too many adverbs (e.g. ‘Boris sprinted’ rather than ‘Boris ran swiftly’). Is it wrong to use ‘said Fred jokingly’? No, of course not. You can break the conventions if you have a good reason, but be aware that some editors and publishers will file your manuscript in the bin if you have too many deviations. You should also check if the publisher has a house style you must use.

Choices

Some of the editor’s suggestions come under the banner of opinions, habit or preferences based on their knowledge and experience. You’d be wise to consider their recommendations, but it’s not possible to please all readers. One editor might want you to beef up the romance between the whimsical beekeeper and the uncoordinated unicyclist; another might want more blood and gore in the scene with the kipper. However, it’s your baby. Will that person’s suggestion lift your story out of the ordinary or will it send you on a tangent that has little to do with your overarching theme? If a publisher has already accepted your manuscript, they’ll have more say regarding revisions, however there should still be room for you to make a case for the things you feel strongly about.

In a nutshell, correct all errors, check the conventions of your genre, and weigh up other advice in terms of whether it will enhance your manuscript.

Have you ever received advice that either made your manuscript stronger or sent you on a wild goose chase? I’d love to hear your comments.

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