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A Primer on Working With Me

It occurred to me recently to write this somewhere public, where I can just point to it (and update when necessary). This primer is mainly for people new to working this sort of creative process, and prone to having emotional reactions to edits.

A Primer on Hiring Me as your Editor

Hi! I’m Ryan, and I sometimes edit roleplaying game books. If you’re looking for an editor, and you’re new to the process, there are a few things you should know.

There is a difference between developmental editing and copyediting. You hire me primarily for the former, and I do the latter as well. Dev editing is about your book’s structure, flow, information dissemination, context channels, all the “how your book is communicating your idea” stuff, along with times where I’ll honestly question your game’s mechanics (not to redesign them, but that’s happened on some projects as well — always with the designer, not against).

Know that the process can get brutal. If you’re handing me your baby, I’m going to say a lot of things about it that you won’t want to hear if you’ve got a thin skin. I won’t mince words to spare your feelings, because I don’t want any unclear communication between us.

What I say may get you really angry or feel incompetent! This isn’t my intent, but it happens — usually because you’re predisposed to said emotion (see You Don’t Own Your Message). If you’re finding yourself angry or depressed at reading my comments and redlines, walk away! Then, if you’re still feeling that way later, ping me and talk with me about it.

I’m like a personal trainer for your book. You might get angry at what your trainer asks you to do, but he’s not asking you out of a sadistic streak — he knows what you’re trying to do and the work you need to put it in to get you there. Often, that work is rough. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t need someone like us! So the job is to get you to do the work, not make you feel good about yourself. We assume you’ll get that feeling once you’re done with the work.

When it comes to my comments and redlines, everything is, on the surface, negotiable. You’re the client, and I’m working for you — not the other way around. But for every moment where you push back against a comment or edit, you seriously need to talk with me about it. You need to explain why, both because that will help me better understand what you’re trying to do (and thus suggest another edit) or cause a dialogue about whether what you’re trying to do works. Related, read about how I see the job of editing.

I’m no absolute authority and I know that; still, many of my books get nominated and win awards, so understand that when I tell you something, there’s reasoning behind it. It might be flawed reasoning, thus we should be having a conversation in order to correct said flaws, but don’t dismiss anything out of hand.

Again, I will be frank…by necessity. Dancing around stuff in order to be nice will result in errors, miscommunication, and slower revision. I will not be a dick, I will not deliberately insult you or shit on your ability to write or otherwise craft a book. (And, honestly, it takes more effort to be an asshole than it does to just be frank.)

When possible, I will make time to talk in-person or over webcam chat. It turns out that if you learn to read my seemingly harsh notes in my calm, “let’s have a beer voice,” you’re less likely to emotionally overreact by reading it in a different voice. And since my goal is actually impeded when you feel shitty about yourself, the work, or our relationship, it helps me as well!

Finally, I have been there. Before I became an editor, I used to tell my editors “Man, all that red? You’re making me sound so much better than I could have. I suck at this writing thing!” I was all emo about it. Then I learned more about the whole process of creating a polished work, and learned to stop beating myself up. But I still understand that headspace.

Related reading (in addition to the links in-line):

– Ryan

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One Response to A Primer on Working With Me

  1. JDCorley says:

    Percentage of people I have edited for who have pushed back, procrastinated, or said “are you sure?” when I said I wanted to talk on skype or on the phone about the edits: 100%

    Percentage of people who were anything except completely blown away after: 0%

    It makes a BIG DIFFERENCE.