B&N Week 34: Working With An Editor, Pt 2

| August 16, 2011 | 4 Comments


It’s Tuesday once again. Isn’t it funny how inevitable it seems? I mean, wasn’t it Tuesday just a few days ago? That’s how it seems. But I’ve been waiting for it, and now it’s finally here! Guess that means it’s time for some Bolts & Nuts, huh? Let’s get to it!

Last time, I spoke about working with an editor. I urge you ALL to get one. Honestly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: an editor will save your life.

So, how do you work with one in the indies? You build a relationship. You build trust.

Trust is something that is hard to come by, especially when you’re on the internet, paying someone whom you probably only speak to either through e-mail or a chat session. You’ll talk to them on the phone if you’re lucky. But you have to build it somehow, because that trust is going to be key.

Remember when I said that you are hiring an editor for their informed opinion? That opinion may be contrary to yours, but in most cases, that won’t matter. What will matter is whether or not that opinion makes the story better.

Again, the job of the editor is to make the story better. If that involves heavy editing, then so be it. If it involves the editor getting out of the way and letting you create, then so be it. No matter what, though, their job is to help you make the best story possible. Make sure that is kept in mind.

Now, there WILL come a time when you will come to loggerheads with your editor.   If you’re working for Marvel/DC, then you can do one of two things [well, one of three]: you can do the work, you can quit, or you can get fired.

Here is something I want you to notice. When you are working for Marvel/DC, you cannot win. You can state your case, you can hope to change a mind, but as long as you do not own the characters, you cannot win. You will either Do The Work, where the editor wins; you can Quit, where the editor wins; or you can Get Fired, where the editor wins. Do you notice the writer winning in any of that?

Why can’t you win with Marvel/DC? (Because I don’t own the characters.) Exactly. You tell the story to the best of your ability, up to your editor’s standards, or they will find someone else who can.

(But what about creator-owned material?)

When you are self-publishing a book and you bring an editor onboard, I sincerely hope you trust them. Like I said above, there WILL come a time when you will have a huge disagreement about something. This is where trust is imperative.

I’ve told the story before of how I was working with a client on a story that was already plotted, and that plot approved. When we got to the actual script, it followed the plot, but there was a huge break in the story from a reader standpoint. I brought that up to the writer, telling them that they had to go back to the plotting stage, and they were VERY upset. Of course, I explained myself. I said why, and I gave pointers for the plot I thought they should work with.

The writer came back with something they felt was superior, and that helped to cement the trust that had been building between us.

What did I do?

As the editor, I looked out for the story and the reader. The editor is the first and last person that is looking out for the audience. The creator just wants to tell the story. The editor is there to make sure the story is the best it can be. In looking out for the story and the reader, and in explaining myself to my client, I was able to show that I wasn’t asking for a wholesale change for no reason; and by giving pointers for the plot, I was able to show the direction I thought would best serve the story. I didn’t sit down and write it, I wasn’t abrupt or imperious. I gave my informed opinion and stuck to my guns. The story then spoke for itself.

Now, it is VERY easy to abuse the trust given. You ask for unnecessary things, you make silly changes, you do things that are just for your own personal amusement. Don’t do that. This is a relationship, and just like any relationship, once the trust is broken, it is extremely hard to fix, if it even can be.

To continue with the story and trust, we were going over a cover design. The artist had about six different cover designs. The writer gravitated to one, and the artist liked that particular one as well. I happened to like the design, but felt that one of the other ones was stronger. I told the writer to go with that one. As a cover, it was very iconic. The writer felt okay about my choice, but wanted their way. However, because of the trust built, they went with my decision. The outcome? Every review I’ve read on the issue has mentioned the cover in a positive light. Again, it wasn’t about me and my choices, it is about what is best for the story being told.

I honestly believe that you can get a feel for an editor if you’ve read enough books that they’ve edited. Even though certain writers have certain things they go to again and again, they have a different feel if a different editor is working with them. Part of that is the trust that has been built over the course of a relationship.

Remember that when you’re working with an editor, you are going to be learning them just as they are going to be learning you. A good editor should come to know your strengths and weaknesses. They should play to one while helping you strengthen the other. They should teach you as you go along, and by the end of the story or that term of the relationship, you both should have a good grasp of what the other is about.

A good editor is as much of a people manager as they are a project manager. [Believe me, this is something I had to learn.] Before you start down a path with an editor, you should go through something of an interview process. This is as much for you and your project as it is for them.

(An interview, Steven? Really?) Really. You want the best thing for your book, don’t you? You’ve decided to take on the extra [but needed] burden of an editor, right? Don’t you want to make sure they are the right one for you and your book?

Interview them. Get their thoughts on the industry and on storytelling. See if their view jibes with yours. Have a conversation. Talk comics. [Really, how often are you going to hear that when talking about a job interview?] See if they say something to make you think. See if they are capable and willing to bring the best out of you and your story.

You should go into every interview knowing what your editorial goals are. What do you want your story to say when you’re finished? How do you want the book to look? Is the prospective editor going to be able to help you with that, or will they be able to bring something new to the table?

If they aren’t right for you, don’t be afraid to say so! It isn’t the end of the world for either of you. Just say no thanks, and move on to the next contestant.

If they are, come to terms that are good for both of you. It’s pretty simple.

Now, I want you to be wary. NO freelance editor can guarantee you publication anywhere. If they’re freelance and they say they can get you published at Image or Markosia or Archaia, then run the other way. They’re a damned dirty liar, and they’re just trying to take your money. Let me say it again, for those in the back row: NO freelance editor can guarantee you publication.

(So, why do I need them, if they can’t guarantee anything, Steven?) Remember when I said that most of the stories you want to tell are craptacular? That’s why. They can either help you decide which story you want to tell, or they can bring the story you want to tell to a publishable level, meaning that the script is ready to go to an artist, and the reader would know what is going on when they closed the book.

That is the goal when you’re in the indies and you hire a freelancer. You want to make sure the story you’re telling is at a publishable level. I can guarantee that 98% of you reading this right now don’t have a publishable script. (Harsh much?) Nope. No need to be harsh or denigrate. Just stating a fact.

A freelance editor should be doing a few things in order to make sure they’re doing the job you hired them for. One of the first things they should do is ask you what you plan on doing with the book. (I wanna pitch it to Image, of course! Since I only need five pages, I get to save some money! I can get the editing done relatively cheap!) Well, no. You can’t.

In order to do the best job possible, the editor will need to see the entire script. They’ll need to make sure that everything goes smoothly, because there are times when scripts can go off the rails midway through. So, no, you can’t go into this thinking of being cheap. If you do, you’ve already lost.

The next thing the editor should do is ask for a pitch, even if they don’t edit it. Why? Because this way, they can see if the story you’re wanting to tell in the pitch is the same story you’re telling in your script.

Next, they should ask what you’re asking of them. I’m talking about either plain scriptwork or project management.

Scriptwork is just that. They’re getting the script to a place where the story being told makes sense, has character development, nuance, and is something an artist can work from. Scriptwork is very simple. Project management is a lot more involved. It may include helping to put a creative team together, and then shepherding that team through the creation of a print-ready book. It is a longer process, and if you have an editor that doesn’t know how to manage people, then you’re going to have to either do it yourself or find someone who does.

Finally, a freelance editor should ask what you think of the job they did. That is one of the only ways they can grow. Feedback is important. If you’ve worked with someone for years, then the editor may not need that feedback, because you’re giving it to them by continuing to work with them. If it is a new relationship, then that is when the feedback will be most important.

You have duties, too. In the indies, a creator/editor relationship is very precarious. In the strictest sense of the word, the freelance editor is your employee. However, just like a martial arts instructor, you’re paying them to tell/teach you what to do. Your paramount duty is to learn [if you have an editor that teaches]. Your next duty is to ask questions, especially if you’re a new writer. Next, don’t be a pain in the ass. Not understanding something is one thing, but overestimation of your skills is another. Remember why you hired the editor in the first place.

Your biggest duty is to get the book into print. You spent all of this time and money, but you’re not doing anything with the project. I’ve been hired by a lot of writers, and can count the number of projects that have been drawn, or that have made it to print. Why go through the trouble and expense if you’re not going to go all the way? That duty isn’t just to the editor, but to the entire creative team. That duty is to yourself.

That’s it for this week. Homework? I want you to take a good, hard look at all of your projects and ideas. See which ones have the best chance of publication, and then think about what an editor can do for you and the project. Then go look for one!

See you next week, where we talk about Money & Contracts!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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  1. Lance Boone says:

    The Working With An Editor posts do an excellent job of explaining the benefits of…you know…working with an editor.

    I never have…never even considered it actually…but, if feasible, I would do it. Unfortunatley, for anyone just scraping to get a book put together, an editor is a luxury many will have to do without.

    I for one would welcome any advice that would make my stories stronger.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Lance. I appreciate them.

      Here’s some advice to make your stories stronger:

      Hire an editor.

      If you’re putting together a creative team in order to put a book together, you should also be hiring an editor, at least to help with the script and overall direction of the story. The expense will more than pay for itself, especially if you’re a new writer. The lessons learned are invaluable.

      If you’re putting a tram together that you’re paying for, and you don’t have an editor onboard, I believe you are wrong. You want your book to have the best shot at success, right? Why not also bring someone onboard to help you with that goal?

      Editors are about as much a luxury as a penciler, in my estimation. I just wish more creators saw it that way.

  2. Paula says:

    To the list of things to ask an editor, I would add what his tastes are in stories in general and comics in particular. A lighthearted romp story with a noir-favoring editor might not be the best match. And if religion and/or politics have the slightest chance of getting into your work, ask about those, too 🙂 The tone of the conversation from there out should be a pretty good indicator of compatibility! 🙂

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