It’s a Craft

December 7, 2015 § 34 Comments

See that pencil? That is exactly how I would do it.

See that pencil? That is exactly how I would do it.

In my email today, from an author for whom I did a sample edit:

…I will read through your comments and have an answer for you by next week. I was told today by another editor to stop writing and trash the book. I don’t have the talent! Sigh. Thanks goodness for chocolate.

First, did you know you get to shop around if you’re hiring an editor for your manuscript? Because you do. You can get a short “sample edit” of anywhere from 2-10 pages–some editors charge for that, some don’t–and compare what you get to see who feels like a good fit.

Second, I am so mad I want to cry, spit blood, and slash someone’s tires.

How dare she. (Most editors are women.) How dare she.

How dare she establish herself as the arbiter of not just quality, but whether or not someone is allowed to make art.

How dare she tell a beginner, a first-time novelist on her second draft, of whose book the editor has seen a single chapter, to stop. Not even to finish and then write another draft or ten more drafts or a hundred more drafts.

Just stop.

And yes, we as writers must develop thick skins because our world will be full of no, but this is not the time and “freelance editor” is not the position to dish that out.

Maybe the editor hated the book. Maybe it reminded her of her alcoholic ex-boyfriend or her emotionally distant mother or the book she was forced to read in middle school that turned her off reading forever or her own failed work. She’s allowed to feel that way. And then write a short, pleasant email along the lines of, I’m sorry, I’m not a good fit for this project, thank you for considering me.

But “stop writing”?

Thank goodness I was online when the email came, because no writer should have to go to sleep with that.

…that editor is wrong wrong wrong. I’d like to slash her damn tires, because that’s just mean and hurtful. It’s not a strong testimony to her editing skills that she doesn’t think she can help you show off what you’re good at and improve where you can grow.

Sure, you have some technical elements that will get better and better as you write, but writing a book is not some special secret talent that only magic ordained-by-writer-gods people get to have. Writing a book is a craft, and craft gets better with practice.

You’re a beginner. You’re ready to make big mistakes and big discoveries and god bless the delete button and the ability to save multiple files. We fall off when we learn to ride bicycles, we make sketches in weird proportions when we first make visual art, we burn soup when we first start cooking, and we’re not perfect writers the first time out.

Go eat more chocolate and think how satisfying it will be when your book comes out and that editor sees it.

Don’t let anyone tell you no. Don’t let your mother or your boyfriend or your best writer friend or your memories of your sixth-grade English teacher frowning at your paper and giving you a check-minus tell you no. And when they do (and they will) smile sweetly, mentally slash their tires, and tell yourself yes.


Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and helps authors develop manuscripts as The Unkind Editor. Apparently she’s not.

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§ 34 Responses to It’s a Craft

  • Timothy Kenny says:

    Great response.

  • Debby Mayer says:

    Thank you, Alison!

  • excellent response and clearly the person (who should be watching the car more closely) who would be (an) editor is in the wrong line of work. There is no need or justification for that kind of non-constructive/productive/instructive criticism, clearly a small person.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Girl, you nailed this one. Thank you. We all receive bad cries as creative people. I have had very harsh critique. One agent told me that she didn’t like my characters, story line, voice, dialogue or anything about my work, and neither she nor her assistant could bear to finish reading, but even she didn’t tell me to give up writing. I moved on. Such comments are part of any artist’s life, but no one has the right to tell an artist to stop and this is particularly cruel for a young writer who has not developed any sort of skin—the writing *is* the self, written on flayed flesh with no armor to protect the self. It feels like the person is being attacked, not the piece. Thank you.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Agree 100%! There are plenty of people to tear us down–it’s not an editor’s job to be one of them.

  • utahrob says:

    I read somewhere that editors were the people who come to the battlefield after the battle to kill the wounded. The worst editors are the ones who want to co-author instead of edit.

  • Mary says:

    I am 100% in agreement with you. That “editor” should just have said she didn’t think the book was a good fit for her and left it at that. Life advice? Not on the menu.

  • Akire Bubar says:

    THIS! And also – don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There’s always room for growth – that’s not a reason not to make art or write at the level you’re at now. Find a different editor.

  • No one has told me to stop (mainly because no one has read it), except for me, so thanks to you, I will smile sweetly, mentally slash my own tires, and keep on writing. I really needed this today. Thank you.

  • Art in any form, whether it be words on a page or paint on a canvas, I have found, goes through a process I like to call “the uglies.” It’s the destruction of the caterpillar before becoming the butterfly in the chrysalis. Even on emergence, the wings must dry and the body must warm before it can take flight. If your work is seen by the wrong person, say a less-than-matured editor, it can be devastating, even lethal to the creator. We all need to believe in our passion and trust that the impossible can indeed come to fruition. In other words, “Hang in there, Baby.” (Don’t you just love the posters of that cat hanging from it’s claws. There are times we need those claws, if not for injury, at least as defense. A good hiss can also help when something or someone threatens to knock us off our true path.)

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That is such a beautiful metaphor! I also think of it as like cleaning my garage – it gets worse before it gets better.

      • That’s a great one…especially for the editing process. The next time I get stuck in my editing (probably tomorrow) I will think about cleaning out my junk drawer. It is a place I put valued items that don’t yet have their own place–where they belong. When I’m ready to work on it, I need to plan plenty of time and deal with each item, one at a time, envisioning where it belongs in my home (like words, sentences and scenes in my book). Thanks.

  • Goodness! Great response, though. I’m sure the author felt truly grateful to hear your words, so good on you!

  • Allison, what a warm and wonderful response to this woman in a time when she likely most needed a confidence boost! We become better writers with the help of (and openness to) tough-yet-thoughtful editors, and we also can become completely discouraged by ones like you’ve pointed to here. You’re spot on with how this other editor should have responded. There’s no need to bring anyone down. Thanks for writing this.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks for the moral support! I’ve discovered how powerful an editor’s words can be, over the past year, and I feel so strongly about nurturing people’s work, no matter how many challenges they are starting with.

  • Jan Joe says:

    Brilliant response to the budding author’s email. Fabulous attitude towards writers and their art as well. I’m so glad there are professionals like you in the editing industry. I hope that author clings to your sound advice.

  • lgood67334 says:

    YES! if I were already on chocolate therapy, I might have given up writing when I heard from the first editor, and if I did that, my voice, my little view of the world, would be gone forever. My dog-dog would be the only writer left in the family. He’s a columnist for a pet-finder newsletter. He tells his stories, I tell mine, and the people who care not only listen, but they also tell others.

    Has my craft improved? Absolutely. With every draft. (Yes, I know those are fragments.)

    Would the world be better off if I baked cookies? No way. My husband is diabetic.

    You keep writing and I will too. My latest book, TALENT, is available on Amazon. (teeny-tiny plug–if it offends you, don’t look for it or read the 19 reviews).

    B. Lynn Goodwin

    Writer Advice Managing Editor,
    Author of YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers & Author of TALENT

  • elora97 says:

    Reblogged this on FILMWERD and commented:
    Don’t give up on your writing, even if everyone tells you no! You tell yourself yes and you keep going.

  • Allison–I took a deep breath of fresh air when I read that. Thank you. I’m working on a story right now and I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to start shopping around for an editor. I’ve published a couple random chapters on my blog but I’m not really showing anyone yet. Would you recommend finishing the manuscript before showing a chapter or two to anyone? How much do editors charge to take a look at a few pages?

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Sharing work is a tricky one. Sometimes it’s really valuable to get feedback, other times it can shut us down. For me–and your mileage may vary–I have two trusted friends I show work to, both writers. One I know I can count on as a cheerleader–she may have some constructive feedback, but she likes most of what I do. The other is still very supportive, but pickier and more technical.

      It can be great to get that “this is working” confirmation, but choose your readers carefully, and don’t be shy about telling them specifically what you need feedback on. For example, “I’m just focusing on whether the story is logical right now,” or “Can you tell me if you know who the villain is yet? If so, what details gave you that?”

      Editors charge a huge range, from a simple read-and-respond for a couple hundred dollars to a major restructuring that can cost thousands. It depends on the editor and the time it takes. The Editorial Freelancers Association has guidelines on rough pricing, but they give hourly rates and different editors work at different speeds. I charge by the word, and I have a price for a sample edit on my website (linked in my bio, I’d rather not shill too hard here 🙂 ). Most editors will give you a set rate, a total, and a payment plan, after they see your sample pages so that they know what kind of work it’s going to be.

      Here’s another article I wrote, about what the process of working with an editor is like, and that may give you more of an idea.

      The most important part though, is to get a sample edit (which some editors do free and some charge for) to see if the editor is a good fit. Ideally, you’ll look at the sample and go “Ohhhhhh…I hate to hear that, but she’s right, and it’ll make the book better if I revise.”

  • TS says:

    The editor is anonymous? How about a company name or email address? I’d be happy to send a note saying that I’d not hire this person/company because of comments like that.

  • ryder ziebarth says:

    EVERY teacher, EVERY editor, should print this out and give it to each new student/client. It would save a lot of kleenex.Nicely said,Allison.

  • Mary says:

    Hear, hear! Kudos to you for sticking up for that author, the craft and art of writing, and human decency. And THANK YOU for responding to your writer friend so promptly and sharing that exchange with us.

  • Amen, sister! I am a freelance editor and would never dream of saying something so harsh. I just worked with an author whose first editor had the manuscript for a month, made no comments or changes, and replied with, “I’d rather gauge my eyes out than edit this manuscript.” Where do people get off?

  • of course you should STOP writing……

    … to her 😛

  • […] It’s A Craft by Allison K. Williams- I have to admit I have had an editor pretty much tell me the same thing. It is devastating. I love this post because it reminds me to keep writing and keep trying. It reminds me that craft is a practice and the more I practice the better I get. Thank you Allison. […]

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