On a recent business trip to New York I was compared to a dominatrix. Yes, me—word nerd at large.
While sitting in a café, a fellow struck up a conversation with me and the inevitable, “So, what do you do?” question came up.
“I’m a book editor,” I replied.
“You’re a dominatrix,” he said easily. “Well, an editrix,” he added after only a moment’s hesitation. My mango smoothie almost shot out my nose.
The reason for the comparison, he said, is because people willingly give me their writing—arguably, a piece of themselves—and want me, no, pay me, to inflict pain on them through my edits. My red pen, the preferred instrument of the desired torture. Me, garbed in my leather-bound Chicago Manual of Style, threatening to shame you until you agree to, “Cut! I said ‘cut’ that paragraph!”
I explained it doesn’t really work that way. He was adamant. Sigh . . . I love it when people know more about my work than I do.
But the conversation got me thinking. (Uh, how could it not?) There are lots of misconceptions about what I do as an editor (and the various types of editing). I get comments ranging from, “You just read all day?” (Yes. Sort of.) to “So you look for places where, like, someone is wearing a green shirt, then suddenly they’re wearing a red one?” (Yes. Sort of.) Double sigh.
Many writers (and apparently random men in cafes) think an editor’s job is to slice and dice; whip manuscripts (and writers) into shape by changing, well, everything; and then leave you, exhausted, to deal with your newly beaten-into-submission project with the pen marks leaving deep scratches on the page.
This is simply not the case.
A good editor will work with you, not torture you until you agree to make a change you’re not comfortable with. We query. We suggest. We coax and encourage. We help you maintain (and sometimes find) YOUR voice, not by being harsh and domineering, but by listening to your words as they speak to us from the page.
A good editor’s goal is to ensure that your voice and tone are reflected throughout your piece, be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever. We polish. We support.
You may have disagreements with your editor and that’s OK. But it’s about collaboration, not one person dominating the other.
So, no, I’m not an editrix. People don’t choose to work with me because of the pain I inflict (I don’t think). Conversely, they work with me to help ease some of the pain that comes with being a writer (I hope). After all, having an editor on your side can be a salve to the wound you created when you opened up your own veins and bled on the page.