Respecting the Author’s Voice in Editing

Respecting the Author's VoiceMy recent posts about choosing a freelance editor (Testing, Testing: How to Choose a Freelance Editor and Can You Hear Me Now? Finding a Freelance Editor Who Listens) discuss important points to consider when you hire a freelance editor. Fellow blogger and editor Eric John Baker left a thoughtful comment on each of those posts, and I invited him to write a guest post about maintaining authorial voice in editing.

 

As a professional editor in a corporate office, my primary mission is not to fix grammar and punctuation mistakes or to improve order and flow. It’s to stamp out individuality.

Maintaining authorial voice in editing. #editors #fiction #amediting Click To Tweet

Indeed, my job is to obliterate the writer’s voice. Every document that leaves my building must sound like it was written by The Company, not an individual employee. The Supreme Court was right. Companies are people! It just so happens that this particular company does not make grammar or punctuation mistakes, thanks to me.

I take my job seriously and do what I am paid to do. A good editor, like a good copy writer, knows that the content he produces or shapes does not have his name on it, because it’s about the client, not him. In this case, my client is my employer, the entity that pays me to ensure all our corporate documents adhere to legal requirements and style guidelines.

Like Candace, our gracious host here at Change it Up Editing, I also take freelance editing projects in both fiction and non-fiction. You may be thinking, “You just said your mission is to stamp out a writer’s individuality! Why in the world would I let you look at my stuff?”

Because, like Candace, I’m a good editor.

A good editor has fluid intelligence, a musician’s grasp of nuance, and a duty to his client. If my client says, “Make sure everything that leaves this building sounds like it was written by the same disembodied expert,” it shall be so. If my client says, “This is a 1940s-style detective noir mystery. In addition to proofing for the usual junk, can you make sure my voice doesn’t slip or sound too contemporary?” that’s what I’ll do. If my client says, “My memoir is about surviving a horrible accident that left me disfigured. I tried to make it uplifting and funny, but those moments have to come in the right places. Can you help me find the balance?” I’ll use my sense of rhythm to nudge, nip, and tuck the text. In none of those instances do I impose Eric J Baker on the manuscript.

Pretend you are a folk singer-songwriter booking time in a recording studio to lay down your tunes. Would you hire a producer who has only recorded heavy metals bands? Probably not. Nor should you hire a producer who has only recorded folk singer-songwriters. If she says, “Don’t worry. I know Peter, Paul, and Mary personally. I know their tricks and can make you sound just like them,” you need to ship her back to the hippie commune.

The producer you want is one who listens to many forms of music, who understands the subtle power of phrasing, beats, and sonic space in any musical genre, and who says, “You’re already unique because you are the only you in the world. Think of me as a second pair of expert ears who can help identify your best, most individual qualities and draw them closer to the foreground. In the end, your listeners will never know I was here. They’ll simply be loving your songs.”

Candace dispenses great, practical advice about finding the right editor for your material, and nothing I say will improve upon her suggestions. I can only recommend that you enter that conversation knowing who you are, what you wrote, and what you want from the editor . . . and then chat for a while. You’ll feel it.”

Eric John Baker is a writer and editor both professionally and in a freelance capacity. His posts on writing, editing, and whatever-inspires-a-rant can be found at his blog, http://ericjohnbaker.wordpress.com/,which also includes links to his short stories and arts-and-entertainment articles. Eric is also the drummer and guitarist for the alt-pop rock duo Full Blown Cranium http://fullblowncranium.com/.

*****

What questions do YOU ask of a potential editor? If you’ve had a less-than-successful editing experience, what questions do you wish you’d asked to avoid the problems you had?

Your expertise is writing; let me show you how my editorial expertise can help you take your writing to the next level. Contact me at cyjohnson5580@gmail.com for a no-obligation quote and sample edit (and all the questions you can ask) today.

Happy Writing!

—Candace

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18 thoughts on “Respecting the Author’s Voice in Editing”

  1. this is great!!! It’s so true…. We writers want someone who knows the big picture of writing, so that they understand where our project and our style fit within the scheme of language

  2. Interesting insight on the different objectives an editor might work from. I found myself cringing at the phrase “stamp out originality”, but it makes sense the need to do so with corporate documents.

    In fiction editing, as you said, the objective is different (and will be different for every work of fiction), and that the best editors will keep their own voices out of it. Having once fallen victim myself to authorial intrusion, the editor who manages to maintain the author’s own voice will also maintain the author’s trust.

    Great post, Eric!

    1. An editor who can improve an author’s own work without leaving messy fingerprints is a gift from the writing gods, don’t you think? Thanks for stopping by, Janna, and hope you’ll visit often.

  3. Thanks for sharing a part of your professional life, Eric! “Don’t worry. I know Peter, Paul, and Mary personally. I know their tricks and can make you sound just like them,” you need to ship her back to the hippie commune. LOL!

    Your humor follows you wherever you go on WordPress!

  4. Amen! If the purpose of editing was to chop and change to make every writer abide by the same rules, every story would sound the same & there would never be anything interesting to read. I’ve had many frustrating critiques that basically said “this doesn’t sound like other stuff I’ve read, so I don’t like it.” In writing, as in life, we must accept and celebrate our differences.

    1. And at least when it comes to editing the written word, we must honor the unique way each writer structures a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter so he or she never feels marginalized by an editing (or critiquing) bully. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comment, JH.

  5. Eric told me to tell you that you’re “nuts to let him sully your reputation by writing such drivel on your fine site.”

    But he was just trying to impose his voice and opinion over mine.
    And I will NOT stand for that sort of bullying. :mrgreen:

    Instead, I’ll say, GREAT GUEST POST!

    1. Au contraire! I think Mr. Baker’s presence on my site just wowed a few newbie writers who can’t decide if they should swoon over his prose or his band! Thanks for stopping by and delivering his message, and feel free to visit anytime.

  6. Great post by Eric, there Candace. I do have one piece of advice though. If he takes to an editing job with a hammer, be worried. He tells me he only recently discovered hammers are for whacking nails into timber and not for destroying electronic gadgets that don’t work as expected. Old habits might be hard to break!
    Otherwise, if there is no hammer in sight, let him loose.
    Nice one, Eric! 🙂

  7. I’m so glad Eric alerted me to his guest post and your blog! I’ve worked as a technical editor, a job that on its best days was boring. And I’ve freelanced as a dissertation editor for non-native English speakers, a job that on its worst days was enriching. Now the only editing I want to do is for me and I know I will need a lot of help with that 😉

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Your editing experiences are very different from mine, but we really do learn from everything we do, don’t we? Wish we could grab a coffee and compare notes–I have a feeling you’ve got some great stories!

  8. Great post, by Eric, and I have to say a few others by you have piqued my interest. will snoop around. I’m relatively new around here and still earning my way.

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