Getting negative feedback on your writing can be heart-wrenching. My first reaction is to get defensive and dispute every single thing that is said. But I realize it’s important to put any defensiveness aside and try to take a more open-minded approach. Sometimes, however, I continue to wonder how much of the feedback I receive is the editor’s opinion and/or his or her personal preference. Case in point…
I have been consulting with a content editor over the past few years. The first time I submitted the story to her, I got it back with a lot of tips and advice for how to make it better. Many of the tips were spot-on, but some suggested fixes seemed to be a matter of opinion and preference rather than hard-fast rules. Some of those ones that seemed to be opinions were the ones that suggested specific story changes. These story changes were not ones I wanted to make. I preferred to find a way to keep my story the way I wanted it but still take her suggestion at heart by changing the essence of her suggestion. For example, when she said my story had no core antagonist and there was no all-is-lost moment, I understood and agreed. She went on to give a rush of advice on which characters to change, how to change them, which story parts to change, and how to change them. These ideas were great and all, but they weren’t my ideas and some of the changes were so drastic that they’d change my story entirely. So what I ended up doing instead was to try to create a core antagonist and an all-is-lost moment while still keeping the story true to the story I wanted to tell.
Several months of rewriting went by. I believed I had fixed the core problems and have intensified the plot. I rehired her to edit again, but what I got back was not an edit. What editing she did was only for the first few chapters and what she did was to sorely marked up my work with so-called errors and to make style changes that were more in her voice than in mine. I didn’t understand why there were all these new “errors” when they were not notated the first time she read it. Then after only editing the first few chapters, she took it upon herself to completely rewrite my first chapter. By doing this, she also completely changed one of my characters. Then she had the audacity to complain about how much time it took her to write it, probably in attempt to make me feel guilty so that I would think the time she spent rewriting would make up for all the money I spent for her to edit my story.
She claimed the rewrite was because she thought it was better to show me how my story and my characters were lacking by writing a much better character and story herself. Once again, I was on the defensive and once again I decided to sit on it a while and digest the information with an open mind. But months later, I still think this service was over the top and highly inappropriate. As I go back and read her feedback and recall her suggestions, I get the feeling that she’s not really doing content editing so much as she is trying to make the story go the way she wants it to go. I think she’s forgotten just whose story she’s reading to begin with.
By telling me the first few chapters are still weak is one thing. Rewriting the entire first chapter to show me how much better she can write it is quite another. And to be quite frank, I did not find her rewrite any better. I found it boring and hard to read because of all the military jargon. She kept insisting that my characters should have more military jargon and behave more militaristic because that is just how star ships such as this should be run. Really? Star Trek is a space ship and it doesn’t run like a hard-core military team. Sure, it has some militaristic aspects to it, but that’s all. Besides, it’s my damned story. If I don’t want my ship to be run by a bunch of stereotypical jarheads, then I don’t have to.
I ended up submitting my story to another content editor who also happened to have a military background. He did not think the story needed to be more militaristic. Yes, that particular character (J.D.) was rather wishy-washy, he said, but he had just nearly gone through a near-career-ending experience (Kimpke) and it made sense that he would constantly doubt himself. So who was right? I think it’s strictly a matter of opinion.
I think that although the first editor had some great advice, she needs to learn to remember whose story it is that is being edited. She needs to just give the core problem with the story and not go off and tell the writers how their stories should be written. Making style changes is not okay because it takes away the writer’s own voice. Rewriting characters is not okay because this is the writer’s characters. Insisting that the story has to go this way or that way is not okay because this is the writer’s story. All the content editor is supposed to do is point out the problems and errors to the story and explain why from a literary standpoint. That’s it.
Have you had a bad experience with an editor?