Critiquing vs. Editing - They aren't the same.

I have joined an excellent online critique group led by the kidlitoshpere's very own Kelly Herold. The group's closed, so no one go bothering her to let you join. We've already hit the maximum number of 10. This morning I sat down to type up a coherent version of the scattered notes I'd written over the manuscripts. I confess that I felt a little pressure as I wrote them. Since over half these people are already familiar with this blog, they know that I'm an editor. Yet, I've never worked with any but one of these people before. What kind of expectations would they have? What kind of miracles was I expected to work? And then I came to my senses and decided to write a normal critique just like I would for any writing class I've ever been in. And as I wrote, I realized that there are some subtle differences between editing and critiquing.

In the ideal critique, you write a large number of margin comments and then a detailed critique in a note to the author. Now since we are limited by email and the difficulties of making coherent comments even with Word's note function, I decided to forego margin comments. I don't how old-fashioned it makes me sound, there just is no substituting actual handwritten comments on the side of a manuscript. Instead I wrote a detailed note critique. Now the equivalent in editing would be an editorial letter. These are letters that comment on very early drafts that are going to require extensive revision. There's not a lot of point in making line edits if the whole thing needs to be rewritten. The letter details the problems and gives an idea, sometimes general, sometimes specific, of the changes that need to be made. And the equivalent of margin comments in editing would be line-edits. However, these are much more specific, often so detailed as to change the wording of a sentence.

That's when I realized that the main difference between critiques and editing is the visibility of the editor. When you critique, you just make suggestions. You don't do anything that stamps your own style on the writing. You don't drastically change the actual words. But in editing you do. You leave you own individual impression on the work. Things that are suggestions in a critique are really demands in editing. Not that editors are despots that cancel contracts at the first sign of dissent. However, I need justification for why you're going to ignore my suggestions. When I do a critique I don't care if you take my advice or not. You don't have to reword a sentence my way. But with editing you kind of do. The result is that you can tell what books I've edited - like I left a fingerprint on it. If you read all the Blooming Tree books, I bet that in the end you could guess which ones were primarily edited by me as oppossed to Kay or Judy or Meghan.

So, which do I like better? It's hard to say. In some ways editing is easier since I don't have to worry about the results. I also don't tend to have to worry about insulting or crushing someone's dream when I edit. On the other hand, there's something very satisfying on being in on a story's very beginning, and that only happens with critiques.


Anonymous said...

Editing and critiquing are very different. I think I prefer editing because it's a whole lot more fun watching a book evolve into the best it can be and also fun to watch a writer grow.


Jen said...

I certainly don't disagree that editing and critiquing are different animals, but the only thing you should be able to tell from an editors finished books is their taste, not their style.

I'm also a children's book editor, and I'm a little shocked at this post. It's your job as an editor to be completely invisible. You should NEVER be able to see an editorial fingerprint on the finished work, NEVER. The highest complement an editor can recieve is for someone to assume that the book needed no work whatsoever and arrived on your desk perfect as is.

Maybe I'm mistaking the extent you're talking about, but what you're calling editing sounds to me like rewriting.

Tweaking wording of sentences should happen in drafts, and by the author, not the editor. The editor should point out an awkward line and explain the reasoning, perhaps suggesting something more clear, and leave it to the author to correct. Editors suggest alternatives, give explanation, and then let the author rework it in their own language. And if you do have to do a heavy line edit, you mimic the style of the author, so the change is seamless. Even then, once the author sees the line edits, it's still their place to change your rewording.

Goodness knows, I've worked on my fair share of books and series that needed thorough rewriting, so I'm certainly not saying there's no place for that skill. Just that rewriting is not the same as editing. It's also a useful skill to have in your editorial bag o trick, but a different one that ideally is only pulled out rarely and in desperate times.

It's the author's book. Not the editor's.

Anonymous said...

Jen: I agree. The book is the author's. The editors job is to help the author make it the best it can be.

But I don't think Buried Editor is talking about rewriting an author's book, changing voice, vision, or anything else. I think she's more talking about having the opportunity to help the writer bring the book into it's best incarnation.

And I do think you get a sense of an editor's style by WHAT they edit, although that can be fairly diverse. I think the books an editor works on show her taste in voice, story, etc.

The Buried Editor said...

I think I wasn't at all clear about what I meant. I have never rewritten a person's book in any shape or form. Grief, that would be way to much work, and I don't have the kind of time that would entail. I routinely make suggestions about where areas need improving even offering direction, but unless the author asks for clarification, I never provide actual words. Again, that would be to much work.

But I disagree that the editor doesn't tweak or reword sentences. It happens all the time, mostly when a sentence is so convoluted it doesn't make sense. But it is keeping within the style and voice of the work. I have never changed an author's voice or style. I said you could pick out the editor not the sentences. The whole thing has to work as a cohesive whole; it is after all the point of an editor is to make sure it comes out as one piece. A bunch of my authors have also turned out to have certain tics. One wrote in lists; another had every sentence being complex and compound and long. Although I pointed these out, I did not change every instance. I did break up a few of the sentences, but the author broke up most of the rest.

As to picking out the editor, I still think you can tell, but it is more from the list like anonymous said. There's a definite difference in what I choose over what the others choose. In the text of the final books themselves, each one just sounds like the author. I'm not abvious as the editor any more than you can tell it was copyedited.

Now when you're looking at the production schedule, you can tell which editor is working with which author. For some reason my authors don't tend to do more than 3 rewrites. And of course there are different ideas of when a book is done. There are a couple of books that I have personally thought needed more work, and others that I hear that it's being rewritten again, and I don't understand why. I'm sure the other editors think the same about my books. But of course, you would never have gotten this from my post. Rereading it makes me sound like I do way more than I actually do. I did an excellent job of not articulating myself at all. And Jen was right. The word I should have been using was taste, not style. How rather ironic. I constantly harp on word choice with my authors, but did a terrible job of it myself.

I've never actually sat down and tried to articulate editing before. I do writing all the time, but editing is a different thing to talk about. Clearly I need to spend more time deciding what exactly I'm trying to say (and picking accurate words) before I do it again.

Judy said...

I agree with buried editor in her second post...she is nowhere near as 'bad' as she sounded in the first post...she made suggestions to me, and I either changed my story or negotiated leaving it as it was, with reasons to justify what I had done. If she made changes to any of my sentences, they were so minor that I did not notice them...

Sometimes talking about a subject is harder than actually doing it...which was probably the case here.

jen said...

what's that phrase? Writing about music is like dancing about architecture? I think it's similar for editing, and thanks for the clarification!

I totally understand what you mean now, and while I do disagree somewhat about tweaking and reworking, I think that's more of a personal style thing than anything else--I mean, I tweak if it's unclear, but I have fairly light line editing hand, and everyone varies in this department.

I'm also not sure that I agree that you can pick out an editor from the end result, though again, this depends on the variety of the end result. For example, I've worked on a wide range of titles that don't neccessarily have much in common, other than I liked them. I don't think anyone could really pick out "my" titles out of a crowd of books. But there are a few folks who have very specific tastes, and certain genres and formats that they work in, where you probably can pick out their titles.

(be glad you've never had to rewrite a novel in someone elses voice. it's exhausting and frustrating!)

The Buried Editor said...

I actually detest rewriting - even my own work. I'm quite grateful that I've never had to rewrite someone else's book. I've had books that I loved the idea, but the author ended up not being able to quite pull it together in rewrites. Those were the books I ended up not buying. But were those moments where I just wanted to take the file and change it all myself. I have never done it, though. Too much work. And I agree, it would probably be incredibly difficult and frustrating.