The merry month of May
Warning: flashing gif at very end of email.
This week, I’m tackling a question from a reader! Jason asks:
So, I've heard some agents and editors - maybe even I read it in your email at one time - say that they prefer authors not work with freelance editors before submitting their manuscript on query. Some feel that revision can take away from the author's authentic voice. And so, to be sure they know it's them they're working with, and not really a freelance editor, they want it, obviously, as polished as possible but also raw in a way that it's the author's story and not something that's gone through someone else.
Obviously this isn't a blanket thing. Everyone has different preferences and desires for level of polish and how a writer goes about it. But what's your opinion on why an author should or shouldn't work with a freelance editor before submitting their work to an agent? It can, of course, be a great way to learn and refine the story, but can it also take away from it?
P.S. you really need to give some love to my Minnesota Wild, and Kirill the Thrill.
Good question! I am fairly sure I have said something like this at one point, that a freelance editor can “take away from the author’s authentic voice.” I don’t think that anymore, obviously. This sentiment came from two things: a misunderstanding of what it is that freelance editors do, and the idea that it’s not as “authentic” if someone pays for help to improve their writing.
Now, obviously I don’t think these things anymore, which bears repeating. I think it’s very easy for people like Past Me, people who are plugged into the writing world, to take for granted the resources and information available to querying writers. It’s easy for us to say “oh, find a beta reader!” as though that’s a thing you can just find at Wegman’s. Many people that I’ve worked with or who have approached me to work on their books don’t have other writers in their orbit. Some do, but don’t get helpful feedback from them. And others are just working on something alone and need guidance.
There’s a kind of blinkered elitism in the idea that all you have to do is reach out to someone - anyone - and get feedback that is gonna take your book from one level to the next. I’ve been guilty of it, certainly, saying “oh just go to the internet” when it’s not that easy. There is also an actual elitism factor in the fact that hiring an independent editor can be expensive, and not everyone has the money to do so.
Regardless, working with an editor before querying can help authors identify issues in their books that might keep them from getting picked up: plot holes, inconsistent characterization, pacing issues. Can these issues be identified by a good beta reader or critique partner? Absolutely! And it’s also absolutely OK to hire someone if you don’t have a good beta reader or critique partner to hand.
In terms of making it less the author’s own, I can only speak to my own experience in this area. Whenever I give feedback, the object is always to make a book more like itself. All books are trying to do something, and it’s my job to help the book do that thing the best it can. Often this means asking a lot of questions. (The most common one is “What is the protagonist feeling at this moment?”). In the post-edit conversation I have with the author it’s a chance to dig deeper and check to see if my instincts on what the story was trying to do were right. (They have been so far.)
As with any feedback, if you’re receiving edits - from a beta reader, critique partner, an editor you’ve hired, an agent, the editor you have sold your book to - the important thing to take into consideration is: do these changes serve the narrative? Do they help my book do the thing it wants to do better? If not - if, say, an editor wants to turn your quiet coming-of-age story into a thriller about motorcycles, when the motorcycle was meant to be a metaphor - you don’t have to take them.
And as for the Minnesota Wild, I know nothing about them, but I’m always prepared to adopt a new set of idiot sons with the right incentive.
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
Last week, for the first time in league history, three Black forwards took the ice on one line. It’s wild that this is a first in the Year Of Our Lord 2021, but hey! What can you expect from a league that is 95% white. Birth is a curse and existence is a prison! The playoffs are starting four days before the regular season ends, and the Capitals are somehow going up against the Bruins in the first round. This means means that Zdeno Chara, the Capitals’ New Dad, will be fighting his former children for dominance. Awkward!
Living Under Israel’s Missiles by Dan Cohen & Rebecca Pierce (The Nation - Video)
In perhaps the most infamous event of the war, the Israeli military launched a mid-day attack on one of the most popular beaches in the Gaza Strip. Though the military later released a statement claiming that, under real-time visual surveillance, it had detected Hamas naval commandos in the area and that a civilian presence had been ruled out—which was contradicted by journalists who witnessed the attack—missiles hit eight boys from the Bakr family as they played soccer on the beach, instantly killing four.
Muhammads in Gaza by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha (Porterhouse Review)
On September 30, 2000, a boy from Gaza named Mohammad Al-Durra was killed while sheltering against his father’s body. His father was not bulletproof. It is easy to imagine Mohammad before that day: a mess of dark hair shuffling off to school with his friends. The streets of Gaza are like thickets of bougainvillea, knotted branches brimming impossibly, relentlessly with bright young life. He was the first Muhammad to be killed in my children’s era. I watched the footage with my two-week-old daughter nestled in my arms.
Sheikh Jarrah and the Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Violence by Raja Shehadeh (The New Yorker)
Up the hill from the Old City, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, four Palestinian households have been waging a long battle against attempts by Jewish settlers to evict them. The struggle of the families has sparked numerous protest rallies and other demonstrations of solidarity. Jerusalem is divided, both in physical terms and in the allocation of rights that are granted to its principal residents, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The population is almost a million, with Palestinian Arabs making up about forty per cent of the total. The Israeli government, after occupying the eastern part of the city, classified the Palestinians living there as permanent residents, but they did not automatically make them citizens of Israel. To this day, most Palestinians in Jerusalem have little voice in the governance of the city, and a majority boycott local elections.
The NHL says “Hockey is for Everyone.” Black Players Aren’t So Sure. Fifteen years, 3 Stanley Cups and a brotherhood: Inside Evgeni Malkin & Sidney Crosby’s powerful, quiet friendship. Celebrity Pets You Might Not Know That Will Calm Your Anxiety. New York Yankees Somehow Have 8 Covid Cases In Vaccinated Staff.
READING: The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi, Why Read the Classics by Italo Calvino
WATCHING: Word of Honor
WEARING: Men’s Dallas Stars Tyler Seguin Fanatics Branded Alternate Jersey (a girl can dream)
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.
I still do a bit of freelance developmental editing, and while I can mentally grasp this idea that editors distort the writer’s authentic voice, it runs counter to the way I actually approach things, which is to help the best version of the author’s voice come forward. Like you say, making the book more itself—helping writers think through the stories they want to tell, to recognize where they’ve gotten in the way of that story, and clearing the path.