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Audience Participation: How Have Editors Helped You?

Today, I’d like to ask writers who have worked with editors: How has working with an editor helped you?

In response to yesterday’s post, Graham Walmsley asked on Twitter for people to tell him how to make his released books better, to understand what we editors do[1]. I thought about doing that at first, but a good night’s sleep gave me another idea.

Writers: praise an editor you’ve worked with and talk about something in you work — a concrete thing, ideally — that was made better because you involved an editor. And please name your editor when you do, if they’re cool with that.

Thank you!

– Ryan

[1] Edited because I fucked up

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8 Responses to Audience Participation: How Have Editors Helped You?

  1. Chad Underkoffler says:

    I’ll step up.

    Amanda Valentine — specifically from the whole editing team — on the Dresden Files RPG. (As you well know.)

    While you and Lenny were wrapped up in system design, and I was all wrapped up in setting stuff, sometimes our words weren’t wording right. Plus, fat fingers and slcohol sometimes makes splelling difficult. (<– Examples #icmf)

    Those are the two most absolute, rock-bottom, copyediting/proofreading benefits of having an editor. But that's not all you need, and that's not all Amanda did for us.

    I'd say that while we were all invested in the end product, different members of the team had different levels of investment in different areas (i.e., the ones we were working on). Amanda didn't have a horse in the race, and had a much more bird's eye view of the entire product.

    Also, IIRC, she was less-familiar with the FATE system at the time than perhaps even me, and that's saying something. This really helped in figuring out the "elephants in the text" the rest of us (well, you guys) couldn't see, being more familiar with how FATE worked.

    With those perspectives (and, frankly, giving equal eye-time to all chapters), she was able to make numerous suggestions for moving sections around or restructuring for clarity. That meant grouping sections together that had a common theme, suggesting alterations in paragraph order within a section to improve word flow, cutting entire sentences or paragraphs that contributed nothing to the material, comparing X to Y and pointing out apparent discrepancies or parallels, and sometimes even basic fact-checking.

    Also (even taking into account that the tone of the source material is snarky, cutesy, and drowning in geek tropes, and most of the writing team are loud and mouthy types given to hyperbole), she was able to cut out the most egregious examples of "gosh, we're all so clever here" — improving the hell out of the text.

    Lastly, and I say this as someone who works as an editor in my day-job and freelance-job (both gaming and non-gaming), I will never, ever trust myself to edit myself again. (Proof in the pudding for anyone who doesn't believe me: write something and put it aside for 3 months, then read it again and wince. Better yet, go back and read something you wrote two years or more ago. You'll see.)

    But, as an opinionated sort of "artiste" (yeah, right), I need someone who I trust has the skill to make the text cleaning and better, will stand up to my attempts to defend crappy bits I've written, will tell me the truth flat out, and who is dedicated as much as I (if not more so) to getting the product as right as possible.

    Amanda fulfilled all that in spades.

    So, yeah. Editors rock. Don't leave home without one.

    • Cam Banks says:

      I’m proud to say I’ve worked with Amanda in her capacity as an editor for years, both on the Dragonlance product line from Sovereign Press and more recently as she headed up the editing duties for SMALLVILLE. Time and time again she corrects, challenges, and champions the content of our writing and design team for the better. Being an editor involves more than just proofreading or correcting grammar; it’s about making the designers and writers look good. Often, Amanda has been the very last person to look over something, and she refuses to let her name be put on a product unless she believes she’s done her best under whatever tight deadlines and crazy schedules we impose upon her. It’s a frankly under-appreciated role and I’m grateful that she rises to the occasion every time.

  2. B.Murray says:

    I’m mostly echoing Chad here, but the biggest contribution from our editor on Diaspora had to do with distance. Not having been mired in play or in creating words, she was able to see inconsistencies and omissions that were invisible to the authors proper. Also, as she was not an RPG player, her evaluation of what made sense and what didn’t revealed gross assumptions that were worth considering. Sometimes those assumptions were warranted and sometimes not, but calling them out was immensely valuable.

    Her eye for detail also found tons of terminology inconsistencies, capitalization inconsistencies, incorrect page references, and a host of other details that the authors weren’t seeing. We weren’t seeing them for a lot of reasons but they include the fact that your own words are often invisible to you because you already know what they say.

  3. Matt Wilson says:

    A lot of RPG reviews go crazy about the need for copy editing, and while I think it’s nice to have, it’s not as important as content editing. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I don’t care about typos if I can’t even find the rule, or if I don’t understand what the text is saying.

    Editors help to provide a logical organization to the game. What goes where? When do you say this? What do you recap? What’s not clear?

  4. I totally agree with everyone who says an editor is more than a proofreader and that developmental/organizational editing is just as, if not more, important as copyediting. But I just wanted to say this:

    I wrote “…exercise fowl demons.”

    An editor caught that. Do you know how embarassed I would feel if that slipped through to final published book? All the jokes they would make on rpg.net about satanic chickens doing jumping jacks? They would have taken away my degree in English. I read over that sentence dozens of times since I wrote it, and it would have never popped out to me because I knew what I meant.

  5. My editor is Annetta Ribken. She is proofreader, fan, cheerleader, nag, professor, consoler, confessor all in one. I would never have finished my first book without her. Never. I was lucky to find her. (She’s at http://wordwebbing.com if you need an independent editor. And if you’re an independent writer, trust me: you do.)

  6. Ivan Ewert says:

    Working with Jennifer Brozek as an editor has been a remarkable experience for me from beginning to end. The biggest benefit has been the comment “This just doesn’t make sense.”

    Sometimes you love a plot or a line so much that it’s hard to see when it’s no longer appropriate. You have characters behaving inconsistently or in a way that’s simply not in the least bit reasonable given their situation and their backing. Jennifer’s been wonderful in catching that for me more than once.

    The English background helps, of course, especially for those of us who have an ear for language but little to no formal training in how to use it. Being able to rely on someone to point out the fiddly bits that aren’t as much fun as writing dialogue is a huge help – and it then becomes part of my job to *learn* from those, not just blithely approve them. That makes her job easier next time, and that of any future editors.

    Finally, how very good it feels to have an editor who has seen so many drafts of your work finally say, “This is really good. Only minor changes.” That’s a payoff that’s hard to beat.

  7. I knew going into Strands of Fate that I was going to have to do pretty much everything myself. And this being my first major work, I was naive enough to believe that I’d be alright without an editor.

    Boy, was I wrong. My wife has a really good eye for grammar and spelling errors, so she was able to edit the first few chapters before my daughter was born. It wasn’t until then that I realized just how critical an editor is. I could read a line over and over again, and I just kept reading what the line was supposed to say instead of what was on the page.

    By the time my daughter was born, two things had become very clear.
    1. I desperately needed and editor.
    2. My editor was now a full time mom and no longer had the time or energy.

    Thank God for my playtesters. As Strands was going through development I put out several calls for playtesters. And with each call, I generally got one or maybe two really good ones. And a few of those turns out to be really good editors.

    I’m still impressed with the amount of time and effort my editors spent picking the text apart line by line, finding spelling and grammar errors and the occasional rule issue. That was a tremendous endeavor for something they essentially did for free, and Strands would never have made it to print without them.