Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Watch out for the Subaru

A few years ago I told a friend that I felt like my author’s wife, always nagging him about his writing habits. If I didn’t’ tell him to pick up his dirty socks off his manuscript’s floor, who would? I’m sure I drove him crazy as his editor.  His manuscript was wonderful to begin with and together we tidied his literary living room so he could have company over.

The definition of editing from the Online Dictionary is to collect, prepare and arrange for publication. I’m sure many of you have heard of the Red Pen. This refers to the red marks of an editor’s red pencil in a manuscript that tells the author what works and what doesn’t.

Why is it traumatic somtimes?

I liken editing to surgery. The editor, ahem, surgeon, cuts open the body, manuscript, and takes out what isn’t necessary or what causes problems. The trouble is, we love our words so much, after agonizing over each one, it’s hard to let go of our darlings. Besides that, the word, “offentrumount”, carried just the right nuance we were aiming for, right?

And there’s one other thing…

An editor has the task of looking at our work and finding out what makes it tick, by intuition many times, and what will make it tick louder, by technique, and sometimes by intuition, as well. It’s taken years for my husband to let me edit his posts. The reason is not because he wants to keep his perfect words, although he does that sometimes. He doesn’t like that he has a blind spot. No one likes this. All of a sudden some little Subaru comes out of nowhere and you swore you checked the rearview and the side mirrors. Guess what? You did. And you did nothing wrong. We all have those blind spots because of the seat we’re in. If we were in the back seat we’d see something totally different.

An editor is kind of like the back seat driver. The person in the driver’s seat cannot see the little car sneaking up on the side but the passenger can quite easily. Does that mean the passenger should drive? Perish the thought, especially if the driver is my husband and the back seat driver is me. He likes to be in control, we all do. But I can give a pretty good view of what’s going on from my position and help keep him out of a jam.

An editor is one who rearranges your masterpiece so it communicates well to the targeted audience. An editor helps you give a more complete picture of what you’re presenting. Is this unnerving? At times, yes, because none of us like to be out of the driver’s seat. We want to be in control and the fact that we all have blind spots, no matter how logical and normal that is, emotionally upsets us and says we’re mortal. Why we think we aren’t mortal is another matter!

I just got back first edits for Primordial Sun, the Heart of the Amazon from my editor, and she found my blind spots. I’m so grateful and a little freaked out that I had some uncovered bases. I meant what I said but I didn’t communicate it like I thought I had. This is why authors have editors. My editor is in the back seat warning me about the killer Subaru coming up on the left side out of my rear view. I am mortal after all.

The last back seat driver I had while driving the family van prevented me from getting in an accident, thank God I listened to them. Your editor will do the same for you in publishing. The Red Pen is your friend and as much as your editor may seem like a nag, they are pointing out the blind spots so you don’t end up as toast in reviews. You might end up as toast in reviews anyway, and if you do, keep in mind that a good controversy can drive sales. But let’s not go there because of plot holes or spelling errors!  We want all toasting to be the celebratory kind when your spouse, family, editors and publisher raise their champagne glasses to congratulate you on your great literary success.

If you have anything you want me to post about editing, please leave a comment or shoot me an email. karenmcgrathauthor(at)gmail(dot)com

photo credits:


  1. Well Karen, as my future editor, I entrust my infant to your capable surgeon hands. Let's hope my emotional attachment to the story does the same.

    Great post. Now I understand what the editing process will be like. I don't need that appendix anyway. lol

  2. Thank you for your vote of confidence! I promise I won't make any changes without your authorization, Rebecca! Now if only my editor would check my blog posts before they go out...sigh! ;)

  3. I'd love to hear anything you learn from going through the editing process with your editor!

  4. Karen, great post! I like the analogies of the blind spot and back seat driver. My editor is just now working on my story. And I'm a wee bit nervous, but your post reaffirms that you guys 'have our back', and thank you for it!


  5. I will post it, Clara. I had butterflies opening her email, lol!

    Sara, what a good way to put it, your editor has your back. That is so true!