How to sometimes say 'no' to your editor - An interview with Gale Winskill
Our 9th #freelancerfriday interview: “It does really worry me when authors take every suggestion that I make and implement it. I worry that they don’t believe enough in their own book. An author should always feel they can come back and say “I hate your suggestions but I accept that my original doesn’t work.” That’s healthy and that’s good. They can understand why you’ve made the criticism, but can then go away and find their own solution to a problem.”
Gale Winskill is a great editor. She offers the full set of editorial services, with a portfolio proving experience in an enormous variety of genres - including a strong background in editing children’s fiction. Below we talk plot-structure, polyediting, and a healthy way to work with an editor. Enjoy!
What services do you provide?
Mostly editing, proofreading and critiques, although I also do some training. I work with a variety of genres: a lot of fiction editing, both for adults and for children; a lot of academic editing for non-native speakers of English; non-fiction; children’s picture books; and manuscript critiques.
Are there differences between editing adult and children’s fiction?
Not very many. The basics of plot structure are essentially the same for both. The main difference is checking that the content is appropriate for the age group, that you’re talking about subjects that they can understand and follow, and that the language level is also suitable for the age category concerned.
What do editors do for authors?
The editor is the most critical reader you will ever encounter as an author. As an editor your role is partly to spot things that will be criticised, as well as what’s strong. An editor tries to make sure that the author doesn’t fall into those pitfalls. The author has an opportunity to address any weakness that might open their work up to criticism before the book goes to print. The editor is very much a reader, first and foremost.
Two editors will never think the same way, just as two readers will find different things in the same text. I may have to tell an author that I can see why they did something one way, but that it may be perceived in a different way by readers. But how the author decides to address that is up to them. Your professional duty as an editor extends to telling an author what strikes you about a text, but at the end of the day it’s the author’s prerogative to ignore everything an editor says, as ultimately it’s their book.
Is working with multiple editors a good practice for authors? Does having second opinions help?
I think it usually ends up a mess. An author should find an editor they like and - while they don’t have to agree with everything the editor says - one they can work with. If you have multiple editors it can be confusing. I might feel a particular character doesn’t work for a particular reason, whereas another editor might not see a problem. For authors, I don’t see how they can follow one person’s train of thought if they’re trying to compare that with another person’s train of thought.
However, there’s a different argument for having more than one critique of a book. It might be interesting to see what various people pick up from reading a book without having them pull it apart.
What kind of advice are you able to give an author?
Judging by the responses of my authors, I’m good at spotting the weaknesses in a text and offering suggestions on how to resolve it. It does really worry me when authors take every suggestion that I make and implement it. I worry that they don’t believe enough in their own book. An author should always feel they can come back and say “I hate your suggestions but I accept that my original doesn’t work.” That’s healthy and that’s good. They can understand why you’ve made the criticism, but can then go away and find their own solution to a problem. Authors have told me that they knew something wasn’t working but couldn’t work out why. Once they know the reason they can go away and redraft it. I think authors prefer to be told when a book isn’t publishable in it’s current state but that it could be made to work if they do this and that, as opposed to publishing online and being slated. Authors appreciate criticism so long as it’s constructive, justified, and given in a diplomatic fashion.
When should an author approach you with a work-in-progress? After the first draft is completed?
Unless I’ve worked with an author for a while and I’m familiar with their work, I don’t like working on a book in pieces. As I work through the book I may change my mind about what I said in the first few chapters. If people send the work piecemeal, I don’t get a sense of the whole. I suggest to new authors that until they’re at the end of the process and are ready to submit it for editing, my seeing it doesn’t benefit them. It’s more constructive when the editor’s opinion is formed in one go.
Thank you for your time Gale.