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Polishing Gemstones: The Author-Editor Relationship

Every author has been in this situation: You’ve written what you consider to be your magnum opus. You wrote it, tore it down, put it back together, rewrote it, rewrote it again, then edited it three times. You know it’s perfect. There can’t possibly be anything wrong with it, can there? So, you send it away, knowing full well it’s ready to go out into the world.

Then it comes back a few weeks or months later, and—whether it’s literal or figurative—there’s red ink all over it. Every page has at least something marked in red, and some pages look so much like a murder scene there should be police tape wrapped around it. Your perfect baby that you spent months, or even years on, has been mutilated by this evildoer known as the editor.

As an author who has had eight books go through this process, I know too well how this feels. You’re probably heartbroken. You get a case of “imposter syndrome,” and wonder if you should even be doing this. Or, you rage at the audacity of this moron for daring to question your artistic integrity.

Whatever your gut reaction is: Don’t. Just…don’t.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be on both sides of the desk, being both an author and an editor. Michael can tell you that I’m not afraid to put that red ink on a manuscript. When I edited The Darkness Returns for him, we worked together to make it the best possible version of what he wrote.

I like to say that authors are miners, and it’s their job to dig gemstones from the ground. They create something from nothing. Where someone may see nothing but dirt and rock, the author sees a fine gemstone just waiting to be revealed.

Editors are the jeweler. We take that amazing gemstone the author painstakingly extracted, clean it off, carefully cut it, and polish it until it’s absolutely radiant.

That’s all that red ink is. It’s not a judgement of your ability or character. It’s not criticism of your ability. It’s simply the process of finely tuning your manuscript so that when it does become a book, it’s the best book it can be.

It’s amazing what a fresh perspective can mean for a manuscript. When I finished writing What Once Was Home, I too thought that it was perfect. I had spent longer on it, by far, than any of my other books. I edited it and re-edited it, and I’m an editor, so surely there was nothing left to be done. I sent it away, just like we all do; and it came back from my editor with plenty of red ink, just like they always do.

And you know what? I’m glad it did. I want my books to all be the best possible versions they can be of themselves. Your editor is the person who you should be able to rely upon to make that happen. So, when you get your next manuscript back and it’s covered in red ink, get excited! Know that you’re not the only person who’s fallen in love with your baby. And know they have poured through every line to make sure that when your book finally does go out into the world, it’s the carefully polished gemstone it deserves to be.

Want to learn more about the books mentioned in this article? Follow these links for The Darkness Returns by Michael D. Nadeau and What Once Was Home by B.K. Bass.

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