Editing is a Negotiation

Editing is a negotiation. That means as an editor, I’m going to propose a lot of stuff: copy edits, structural changes, removal of content, addition of content, language tweaks, etc. My job means identifying problems and proposing solutions, either in comments or by doing the work (depending on the editing arrangement). Here’s the kicker: some of my solutions may be totally crap. As a writer, you need to call us on that in ways that are constructive, because this isn’t about you or me–it’s about the work.

And that’s where negotiating comes in. This was something that happened a few times on A Penny For My Thoughts. Paul would write something. I would flag and revise it, explaining briefly why I did. Then Paul would ask to talk with me about it, because while I identified a problem, my solution was very much not what he wanted. (I’m sorely wishing I had some examples in memory to bring up, but I guess it’s fitting that I don’t, given that Penny is a game about amnesiacs.)

Editing isn’t about coming down from the mount and proclaiming what a text should look like, even when it looks like that in the redlines. It’s about taking two views–what’s in the creator’s mind and what an outside observer sees–and making them sync. (Sometimes, this even involves the creator changing his or her mind about something, but as an editor I don’t try to assume that.)

When your editor hands you back changes that go a very different direction that you intended, and in a way that you feel misrepresents the work, here’s what happened:

Your idea was probably good. Your text ended up also misrepresenting it.

As both authors and editors, we talk about what the text is suppose to do, and how neither of our approaches is doing the job. In doing that, we end up with a third approach that is far stronger than the other two. Because I expect this of authors I work with, I push hard where I see problems. I expect push back when I’m wrong about my solutions. But when I’ve flagged something, that means it’s a problem we should talk about.

And if you end up reverting my changes, you’d better tell me why you are, so that we can sync up better. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the style you’re using, or there’s something missing in my edit that’s actually sorely needed. When you talk with me about it, you’re making it easier for me to work with you.

There’s also the chance that your idea wasn’t “good”–it didn’t fit the parameters of the game or book or project outlines. This is more likely to happen in either haphazardly designed games or in supplements where new writers have vastly different agendas that writers on the core book or previous supplements. That’s a different problem, but uses the same approach–conversation and coming to a single vision.

All editing is negotiation. To expect less is to under-utilize your editor.

– Ryan