Authors who won't be edited


I have spent time on both sides of the editorial desk.

On the writer's side

As a writer, I have received a wide range of responses from editors.

Many times my work has been published almost without alteration. That has made my life easy, but I have felt like I was missing out on a chance to grow as a writer.

Occasionally changes are made and published without my approval. Sometimes I don't particularly like the changes, but they are nonsubstantial, so I don't sweat it. At other times, the changes are grammatically incorrect, and I have to decide whether to ask for a correction in the online version. At least once a change made the core point of the article factually incorrect and contrary to the position I was taking. In that case I insisted that it be corrected or taken off the publisher's website.

Sometimes the editor makes substantive changes and runs them by me, and I gratefully approve most changes and offer clarification and a rewording where the editor has missed my meaning.

A few times I've been asked to radically revise a piece. This can be very frustrating when I've moved on to other projects and don't have time for a big revision. But guess what? When I made those revisions, I learned a lot from my editor, and the finished product was well worth the effort. I recognized that the editor cared enough about the piece to invest the time in guiding me through revisions, and those publications later assigned me more work.

The bottom line is that the publisher gets to decide what will be published, and as a writer my job is to work with the editor to produce something that the publisher is happy to publish.

On the editor's side

I have edited hundreds of writers, and all but a handful have been happy with my editing. Some of them have negotiated changes to the edits, which is great because my job is to preserve their meaning and voice while making their ideas more accessible to readers.

But every now and then I've encountered a writer who takes umbrage at my editing. Usually these authors have thumbed their nose at editing in general: they have disregarded editorial guidelines or copyright law, or they have announced that they have never been edited and don't intend to start accepting editing now.

What is my responsibility to such authors when they stet most of my editing and have no interest in discussing the changes? Not much, frankly.

So far this has only happened to me a few times, and in each case my business relationship has been with the publisher. In these cases, I've reviewed my work to see where I may have gone wrong, then I have communicated with my client about the situation, supplying the edited version with change tracking showing. The publisher has taken it from there, thank goodness. Afterward my client and I have sometimes discussed work processes and have made adjustments to reduce the chance that something similar will happen again.

If my client is the author and I am not the publisher, the author can choose to reject my edits, and it becomes an issue for the author and publisher.

If I am the publisher (which I haven't been yet), I will be in the position to decide whether to publish the work as-is, or whether to reject it while satisfying my contractual obligation to the author. It's not going to be a comfortable situation, and I don't look forward to it. But it's bound to happen sometime.

Let's talk

I would love to hear about your experiences with and advice for working with authors who resist editing. Let's talk in the comments.