Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

How to Argue with Your Editor

There may come a time—there will come a time. You and your editor have locked horns over some point of grammar or word choice or plot development. She insists that what you are doing is wrong, awkward, unprofessional, or not beneficial. You insist that this is how you want it. Where do you go from here?

This is a challenge you need to meet. The ideal outcome is win/win: the best solution for your book. Before you enter the arena, here are some rules of engagement.

What to wear

  • respect
  • curiosity
  • humility
  • kindness
  • self-respect
  • spirit of learning and growth
  • your best professional attitude

These will go a long way toward softening any confrontational tensions, protecting the professional relationship that will hopefully survive this and other challenges, and keeping you open to hear what your editor has to say while protecting your vision.

Go in prepared

  • Know what you want, and why. Be ready to defend it reasonably and rationally.
  • Take evidence to support your position. A copy of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). A copy of a recent bestseller. Margie’s lecture packets. Whatever you need.
  • Ask questions. Find out your editor’s reasons for her position. It might change your mind, or lead to a solution you both can live with.

Before you have this conversation, assemble your defense. The Chicago Manual of Style always errs on the side of clarity, even if it has to bend the rules to do so. Use well-known books that have the points you are contending as proven examples. Come to this (hopefully friendly) confrontation informed and prepared with credible support for your position.

Say your editor is complaining about word repetition, but you were intentionally and correctly using anaphora or anadiplosis. Calmly point out that these are classical rhetorical devices that add cadence, impact, and power.

Or maybe she is contesting your use of sentence fragments. You are using them for effect because it fits the voice of your narrative or because your character would naturally talk that way. Defend your choices intelligently, and back them up with research and sources whenever possible.

If you are clashing over commas, know your stuff. There are approximately a gazillion rules and exceptions for commas, and opinion about their use is changing with the times. CMOS can be a welcome source, but keep in mind that, after the rules have been duly considered, the use—or lack of use—of commas can be very subjective. Educate yourself, tread carefully, and remember that my only non-negotiable rule is this: Thou shalt use the Oxford comma. End of discussion.

Hat in hand, communicate calmly

  • Explain your position as clearly and uncritically as possible. (Your editor should do the same.)
  • Listen to each other’s reasoning. Half of effective communication is listening.
  • Keep things civil.
  • Maintain mutual respect.

You’ve arrived. Or Zoomed. Or maybe this is an email standoff. You are clothed in virtuous garments. You have girded your loins with preparedness. You enter the arena, hat in hand.

Merriam-Webster defines the adverbial idiom hat in hand as in an attitude of respectful humility.” You are dressed appropriately to evoke effective communication. Do that.

Negotiate wisely

  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t lose sight of your vision.
  • Find the balance between keeping an open mind about your editor’s suggestions and knowing what you want.

Don’t ignore your own intuition, but be open to her suggestions. Try it her way. You can always change it back. You went to a lot of trouble to find an editor who was compatible with you and competent to do the job; now trust her to do it.

Without giving away your power.

Endgame

Ideally, you will be able to come to an agreement that benefits your book. But sometimes one of you has to decide to compromise, to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it will be you. Sometimes it will be your editor.

As an editor, my philosophy is that ultimately this is your book. If I can’t convince you of the benefit of the change I want you to make, it’s your book. Who else has the right to make a decision about it? Nobody. This is your baby. You get to decide. If an author feels strongly about something, I will back down.

However, if there are decisions made that I feel are significantly detrimental to the book, I may insist that they not use my name (some authors do mention their editors in the acknowledgments). While a book reflects most obviously on the author’s reputation, I have a reputation to protect, too—and so does your editor.

Hopefully, if you and your editor are well matched and you trust her, there will be few of these confrontations—and you will be able to resolve all of them peacefully, professionally, and with respect, to the benefit of the book you have worked so diligently to bring into the world.

Godspeed.

Teacher:

Lori Brown

Lori Brown has made her living as a professional editor since 2001.

Lori has good literary instincts and an excellent ear, a solid grounding in grammar and punctuation, a strong sense of syntax, and a deep feeling for the rhythm of writing. She's one of those hopeless nerds who likes reading the dictionary. She is a passionate believer in the serial comma. She knows the rules and when she doesn’t, she looks them up. Sometimes she uses sentence fragments or begins sentences with And–or both. She has even been known to end a sentence with a preposition because sometimes, a preposition is the best thing to end a sentence with. But the most important thing for clients to understand is her bone-deep conviction that your book is your creation, not hers. She is absolutely adamant about preserving the author’s voice and intent.

Writing is important. Lori believes that good writing can change a life—or change the world. She also believes that every writer needs a good editor—even great writers. Even editors need editors. Because good editing makes good writing better. One red-penciled word at a time.

What people say about working with Lori:

"… getting a misspelled word past her is like trying to throw a pork chop past a wolf." — Dale Cramer, Author

"Lori is like a warm, snuggly blanket of safety on a cold winter’s night." — Lisa Norman, Heart Ally Books

"… her command of her profession, attention to detail, and admirable work ethic combine to create the best kind of collaborator. " — Elizabeth Perry Spalding, 21 Skye Design

"…a godsend in building my new business, giving me confidence in a no-nonsense, reliable, and honest copyediting resource for my book projects." — John H. Clark IV, Old Stone Press

"…best of all, she’s lots of FUN!"— Nancy Heinonen, Crescent Hill Books

Courses:

Editing Magic, work with a professional editor, Lori Brown - background is sparkly cute witch with a cauldron

Editing Magic

Sample edit, feedback, and coaching from a professional editor. Lessons cover preparing, responding to, finding, and choosing an editor. Interactive feedback gives you technical fine …
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