Editing the Authentic Voice: The Manuscript Editor’s Ethos

Meticulous, but respectful:

When you entrust your work to an editor, you should have some idea of her philosophy and editing style. Here’s mine:

I am a lifelong bookworm. I love words, and I treat them with respect.

Honoring the voice:

There is no cookie cutter pattern for writing. We all have our own preferences. Oxford commas, semicolons versus new sentences, dashes or parentheses, it all goes under the category of style, or what I like to call voice. Even if the language is affected by a non-English speaking background, that gives the writing a flavor that is unique to the author and makes it stand out from other literature.

Some editors believe that they need to make major changes in order to earn their fee, but that is a disservice to the work the author has put in and the choices he or she has made. Hours have been spent staring at that adjective, pondering the title, honing the sentences. While I tend to smooth out sentences, removing little words that clutter them, I respect every word as a decision on the author’s part.

On the rules:

Of course, correct grammar, spelling, clarity, consistency of tense and agreement, and strong sentence structure are priorities, but sometimes the author has made an artistic choice, and the breaking of a “rule” is an enhancement to meaning.

  • Sentence fragments. We all use them, and when they’re used well they can add urgency and pacing, giving insight into a character’s frame of mind.
  • There are rules for commas, but there’s also a lot of room for personal preference there, too.
  • When it comes to dialogue, if there is an error in there it is sometimes done on purpose to reflect the way a character speaks, and punctuation can give a reader an idea of the character’s cadence. I err on the side of leaving it alone unless it’s something very glaring.

Most importantly:

If I’m going to “correct” something, I am perfectly fine with explaining my reasoning. I think it’s disrespectful and arrogant to erase or change a person’s work, even if they’ve hired me to do so, without engaging with the content and showing that I put thought into the process.

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