Dear Nathan – Editors

BookEditingDear Nathan,

I was thinking about who you should get to edit my manifesto. I mean manuscript. My eleventh grade English teacher came to mind, but after she was accused of gross vandalism, criminal harassment, stalking, and destruction of property she kind of disappeared off the face of the planet. I heard she was living for a while with her sister in a big three-storey house in my home town, which, if you ask me, is a perfect beginning for pretty much any horror story ever written. She was a pretty good editor, I guess. She used a lot of red pen marks on my papers. Come to think of it, they rarely had anything to do with my spelling and grammar. They were more like addresses and dates and times and shit. But I learned a lot from her in class, like the difference between nouns and verbs and corporate and subjective clauses. I don’t actually remember most of it, so you’re going to need a good editor.

I tried to look up on Google who was the editor for Clive Barker’s books, because whoever did that was probably pretty good. I mean, he uses a LOT of words in his books, and his editor would have had to have corrected a lot of them, so probably it’s somebody who can read really fast. My roommate in second year University claimed to be a speed reader and she could get through an entire novel in an afternoon, but I’m pretty sure she was just flipping the pages to hear the sound they made because she couldn’t even pass first year psychology. It’s not like that’s a particularly challenging course, either. If you can read the textbook, you’ll get an A. If all you do is look at the pictures in the textbook, you’ll get a B. I only went to four classes for the entire term and still got a B+ (I only read about 3/4 of the textbook, and my professor was Quite Alarmed at my answers to the Rorschach test he administered to the entire class, which, if you ask me, was totally not my fault. If you don’t want someone to blurt out “a couple of dragons with huge tits juggling the head of an infidel between them on their tongues’, you shouldn’t show a picture of it on the overhead).

On the other hand, it’s probably prudent to go with quality over quantity, so you could get Alice Munro’s editor for me. I’d be okay with that. As long as she doesn’t make me change all the characters to pioneers or small town mothers or whatever, because the only experience with pioneers and small town mothers I have is with my own family and trust me, you don’t want to know about that. Besides, that doesn’t belong in a proper manifesto. Also, my mother told me that if I ever use her in a book she’s going to sue me. I told her that you can’t sue someone just because they put you in a book and she said you sure as shit can; haven’t you ever heard of Pring v. Penthouse? Which just goes to show you that my mother is a fairly well-read woman, and that baton twirlers are really good at fellatio. Or they might be. I don’t remember how that case was settled.

My point is that I don’t want to write about my mother, so the editor that you get has to be someone who’s going to let me use my own characters. Also, the editor you get should be pretty good at spelling. I use a spell checker a lot, but sometimes it spells ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’, because they’re both, you know, actual words, but that’s the kind of thing a good editor show know the difference of and be able to choose which word you actually probably meant. You could probably give my editor my phone number in case she has questions like that. I don’t want her to just go changing things all willy-nilly, like if scene is set in space, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for my editor to say that the severed fingertips would fall upward if in fact they’d just kind of spread out in whatever direction they were initially set in motion. You’re going to need to find an editor with a pretty solid grasp of actual physics, I think. And someone who’s good at spelling.

I have another question, too. Do you worry about the page numbering or do I? I thought all I had to do was to send you my manifesto on DropBox and then you’d do all the other stuff. I don’t know how to add page numbers automatically, but I can just leave a few carriage returns at the end of every page and put a number at the bottom. It’s nothing to worry about, I took typing in both junior high school and in high school (because, seriously. That’s an easy credit if I ever saw one. The typewriters we had in junior high school for “business ed.” were all those old klunky grey ones without any white-out features. You had to actually roll the paper up on the carriage return and use your school supply white-out to correct your mistakes. And then the ribbons got all gummed up with white-out because that shit sticks to everything. Of course, if you make enough mistakes, you can get pretty high from using all that white-out, which was another bonus for taking business ed., until the headache set in right around the time English class started, so I don’t remember a lot from The Twelfth Knight or A Night to Remember. What was it with books about nights in grade nine? Do you think they were trying to tell us something? I didn’t become a goth for another four years after that, but probably that’s where it started. Typing class in high school was way easier because my best friend and I sat at the back of the room and learned that if we wanted to correct a mistake we just had to backspace and type Xs through the errors. This is why you do a proof copy and a good copy. Are you going to need me to do a proof copy and a good copy? But seriously, it was an easy credit, and in high school our teacher was a total dweeb who was terrified that some teenage girl would charge him with sexual harassment (nobody would ever let him get close enough to touch them though because he was SUCH A TOOL) so we pretty much got away with murder. Not, like, actual murder. I mean, my hometown was pretty rough, but I was actually talking about metaphorical murder. Anyway, it was an easy credit) so I know all about how to type a proper business letter and envelope and how to put page numbers on the bottoms of pages. But if that’s something my editor is going to do, then I’ll just let them do it.

I was thinking about adding a chapter in my manifesto about a guy who’s in prison. But it’s not a regular prison. It’s this crazy new-age radical prison that a bunch of hippies on a commune develop. It’s basically a cage woven out of willow branches and suspended overtop of a tailings pond, and the thing that holds it up there is a bit of rawhide so crows and ravens and whatever come and peck at that rawhide rope until it breaks and drops the bad hippie into the tailings pond. Then if the bad hippie makes it out of the tailings pond, he’ll be all toxic and shit but he’ll have served his time and will no longer be a burden to their hippie society. But in my chapter, the bad hippie escapes by trapping a whole bunch of crows and tying their feet to his cage with his dreadlocks. Then eventually the crows fly away and take his cage with them and he ends up in, like, the arctic or whatever. I haven’t really gotten that far yet, but I think it’d be a really good chapter. And you could get Tom Cruise to play the bad hippie because if there’s anything that guy can’t play, I don’t know what it would be. Or maybe Kevin Costner. Either way, is that the kind of chapter that should go in the beginning or in the middle of the book?

Am I going to need to use my own pen for the book signings? I was at a book signing and the author had this really nice pen that was kind of a mix between a ball-point pen and a fineliner. Which sounds weird now that I describe it, but it wasn’t one of those rollerball pens (that ink gel just gets all over hell’s tarnation and it’s really difficult to get it out of white underpants) and it wasn’t a sharpie, but it was somewhere in between. I kind of borrowed it for a few minutes just to see how it wrote, which made the author pretty mad because I guess the only people who are supposed to sign a writer’s books are the actual writers themselves, although that seems a little bit restrictive, don’t you think? When you set up my book signings, I’d be happy to let other people sign my books for me because my hand is going to get pretty tired after a while. Did you read that Neil Gaiman signs ALL OF THE BOOKS at his book signings? Like, five hundred books. Man, if you ask me, that guy should focus on writing books instead of signing them. I did like the one about the witches, though.

Anyway, I definitely can’t start my book until Sunday, but Sunday night I have a rehearsal so I probably won’t get much done until Monday night, except there’s a tweetup I’d kind of like to go to on Monday, so hopefully you don’t need my manifesto before, say, the middle of February. I have to take a trip down to my uncle’s farm for a few days – he built a dome for his house. It looks like two huge tits. Which is probably better than it looking like one huge tit because who would like to live in a lopsided boob house? I can probably get a lot done on the road, though. I’ll just take a voice recorder. Should I invoice you for that or will the cost of supplies be included with my advance.

Speaking of my advance, I was rethinking how much it should be. I know I said $250,000 would be good, but I think maybe rounding it up to an even $300,000 would probably be better because then I can pay off my mortgage and the renovations to my house (don’t worry; we started those before you offered me a book deal, and they’re nearly done, so I don’t need to spend a whole lot of time painting. Although, I did do a really cool treatment on the bathroom walls. I’m not big on design stuff, but I did learn that when you do something special to your walls it’s called a “treatment”, which kind of belittles chemotherapy a lot, but I guess words can be used different ways for different things. Speaking of which, do you know the difference between a homonym and an allonym? I guess that’s something my editor will know if you don’t have the answer handy). I’m not entirely sure how the advance works in relation to the royalty payments, but I’m assuming it’s basically that if you’re going to sell $500,000 worth of my books, you can divvy that up however you want, so a little heavier on the front end would really help out. I might even be able to put in that writing studio I want in the attic.

I look forward to hearing from you! I called my mom and told her about the book deal, and she’s super excited. She wants me to ask if you’re going to book the talk shows or if they’re going to be calling us directly, because (and I think she has a really good point here) we might want to get a second line installed for that.


Yours truly,



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4 responses to “Dear Nathan – Editors”

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar

    You are having too much fun.

    I have been generally against editors – you really should bother to learn to do your own stuff, like learning how to spell and such – but you said you like editing (somewhere on the About page – yes, I read it). Do you do it for other people? With such an irreverent sense of humor, I’m sure my words would be safe.

    Now, when are you going to finish the book you MUST be writing (if you got that great deal from Ex libris)? I would definitely buy one.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      You can be the best editor in the entire world, but IMO, writers should NEVER edit their own stuff. Proofread, yes. Edit for content, yes. But when it comes to preparing a manuscript for publication, you NEED a second set of eyes because you are too close to your own work. I have seen too many good works (poetry, short fiction, novels, non-fiction) that could be GREAT works to think otherwise.

      The role of an editor is to help you to be the best writer you can be. You might be the best tennis player the world has ever seen, with your natural talent and your lighting reflexes, but without a good coach and a supportive team, you won’t go very far. Your editor is part of your team. We are your cheerleaders and your coaches. And on the production side, editors help to make sure that the product they’re working on is going to be the best product on the shelves. Publishing is a difficult, and usually unforgiving, industry. You cannot compete if your product is substandard. Editors are part of the quality assurance team.

      And yes, I do edit for other people. I do copy editing and proofreading most often, but have worked on developmental, structural, and stylistic editing projects; I’ve done rewriting, fact checking and picture/image research; and I’ve done indexing and production editing as well. Editors are highly trained professionals with different expertise in different areas (for instance, I am most comfortable with stylistic, substantive, copy editing, and proofreading, but I really enjoy the challenges of production editing, and indexing makes me more giddy than it really should). Editing is so much more than correcting spelling and punctuation (that’s mostly copy editing stuff).

      As for my book…I’ve finished a couple of novella-length pieces, but nothing is at the complete stage yet. I think I have a fear of follow-through.

      Thank you for your comments, Alicia. It’s good to make connexions.

      1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar

        There are SO many different kinds of ‘editors’ – it’s almost as bad as kinds of engineers.

        I’m always at a loss on how to even go about setting up an editor/writer relationship. I get turned off completely by the idea of people who charge by the word or page – some stuff is well written, and doesn’t need a lot of work; other stuff can’t be fixed no matter how hard an editor tries. I think Lawrence Block called it ‘washing garbage.’ They shouldn’t be charged at the same rate. But paying for someone’s time is a little too open ended. Editors should be fairly compensated – it is a job, after all. I couldn’t do it.

        Lots of people say you need an editor (unspecified species), but I’m suspicious of the idea: it’s like saying that everyone needs a doctor. Well, yes, some of the time, for some things – but what kind of doctor, how often, and who’s going to pay for the visits? Credentials and details please, and even then I’m going to argue with diagnoses. Huh, that’s just like a relationship with an editor: once the writer can do the basics, other than for obvious typos, ‘errors’ or ‘corrections’ become a matter of opinion a little too much for comfort.

        I’m sure I’ll find out when I get that far.

        If you decide to edit for someone, how do you do it? Do you have a standard arrangement? Even if two people (writer and editor) like each other and can work together, the nature of the work – and details such as genre, historical period, style, … – is all going to make it possible or not. Do you have a separate website for editing? Are you booked? Do you edit mainstream? How does one start this whole avalanche sliding down the hill – and how does one keep it from being an unending time-and-money sink? How do I arrange and pay for a sample edit?

        BTW, the book I was asking about is the one where you wrangle your hilarious blog posts into something with chapters. Have you thought of doing that?

        Sorry about the rambling nature of this reply – it’s late, I have little energy, and I’ve never had an editor before. To show you I’m not a complete idiot, feel free to read a bit of Pride’s Children on my blog (and yes, I plan to go back over Chapter 1 – my writing ‘style’ has gelled, but my writing partner warned me not to go back and fiddle with the beginning again until I’m completely finished with the current draft, or we’ll never get to the end.) I’d email you, but couldn’t find an address; mine is abehrhardt [at] gmail .

        1. cenobyte Avatar

          You’re right; not everyone needs an editor.

          It depends on what you’re doing, and the result you want. Sure, not everyone NEEDS a doctor. But if you’re 78 years old and have never seen a doctor and have no medical records, when you get sick, it’s going to cost you a LOT more money (and/or time) to find out what’s wrong and to (hopefully) fix it than it would if you had a “baseline”. It’s actually more like doing home renovations. Not everyone NEEDS a contractor, but for a lot of jobs, it’s generally better to hire one. Sure, you can probably paint a room on your own. But if you want to knock out a few walls and rewire the place to get it ready to sell? You should probably hire a professional.

          Likewise if all you’re doing is writing your own stuff for you and your family or a few friends to enjoy, you probably don’t need an editor. But if you plan to enter the competitive marketplace that is the book industry, you simply won’t survive if you don’t put out the best product you can.

          I have only rarely seen a book on the market which was produced without the services of an editor which I would consider professionally produced, or the “best it could be”. I’ve seen a lot of self-published books. Some of them are FANTASTIC. Most of them aren’t. And the number one suggestion I have for writers who choose to self-publish is to hire a professional editor and a professional designer. Because why put something out there and spend all that money on it if it “could have been better”?

          A *good* editorial relationship is one in which the writer and the editor have a comfortable and open working relationship. Good editors don’t tell you how to do what you do. Good editors suggest ways in which what you already do might work better. You as the writer are not expected to agree with everything your editor says. And your editor oughtn’t demand you change too much. There should be give and take.

          How do you decide to edit for someone? Personally, I make my estimate based on hours, not on words or pages. I look at the project and estimate how long it’s going to take me to do the kind of work my client wants done. Usually, and this isn’t a slight on clients, the client doesn’t actually know what they’re asking for. So part of any job is educating the client on the different kinds of editing and also making suggestions as to what their manuscript may need in terms of work. I do have a standard contract for different kinds of work – this is something I have learned to do both through trial and error and through working with our national professional association. Most editors can provide good services for you regardless of their area of expertise. For instance, I have worked on highly technical/scientific pieces, and I don’t need to know if the CONTENT is accurate if all I’m being hired to do is copyedit or proofread. If I were to be hired as the acquisitions editor for a scientific journal, that’s a different story.

          Am I booked? Usually. Do I edit mainstream? I don’t know what mainstream is. How do you start? Check out your local editors’ associations; they usually have listings of editors for hire. Check out your local writers guilds; they often have resources along these lines as well. How do you keep it from being an unending time and money sink? Get a contract. Insist on a contract. How do you arrange for and pay for a sample edit? Ask to see your editor’s credentials. If they can’t produce them, you probably want to keep looking. It’s the same way you’d look for a doctor or a contractor or a lawyer. You don’t just go with the first person you find, and you should try to find someone you’re going to be comfortable working with.

          Those are all very glib answers to some pretty good questions.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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