Editing Anxieties: What if my editor ruins my book?
Updated: Jul 19
It’s always daunting to be edited, and it’s always a little bit painful to get your edits back and see all the marks your editor has made. A lot of writers, especially newer writers, fear the editing process for this reason. What they fear even more is bad editing.
And that’s totally understandable! Most editing isn’t cheap, and it would totally suck to hire an editor who didn’t understand your intentions and turned the book into something you didn’t want at all. It truly is the stuff of nightmares!
But there are ways you can prevent this from happening, and there are things you can do if it does end up happening despite your best prevention efforts. So allow me to ease your mind in this post.
But first, a reality check:
You are in charge of your book.
Let’s say that again: You are in charge of your book. You are the writer. You are in charge. If you don’t like a change your editor made, you can ignore it. Nobody is forcing you—the decisions are entirely yours to make.
Edits are suggestions, not commands.
When editors go through a book, we typically use Track Changes or a commenting feature of some kind for a reason: our changes are suggestions, not commands. We know that our author clients will not take all of our suggestions. We have accepted this as a reality of our job. You should remember this as well.
As long as you have the original copy of your book, it can’t be ruined.
You do have the original copy, right? And it’s backed up somewhere else besides your computer, like on a flash drive or cloud or external hard drive? As long as you have that, no matter what your editor does, nothing is actually ruined. Yes, having an editor do a bad job is terrible, but it’s fixable as long as you have the original document. Don’t lose that original manuscript!
Are the edits bad, or are you just mad?
In my “I just got my copyedits back. Now what?” post, I talked a little bit about the potential emotional reactions you might have on first seeing your edits. You can feel a whole range of emotions from hurt to anger to embarrassment. This is especially true if it’s your first time being edited. You’ll probably think things like, “My editor just doesn’t get my vision!” or “They’re so nitpicky! It doesn’t need that much work!”
All of this is totally normal. It’s also normal to think your editor has done a horrible job at first. But that’s the thing—everything looks worse when you’re upset. When you’re feeling negative, every little red mark seems like a personal insult.
You can’t properly evaluate the edits you received while you’re still highly emotional. So take the time to cool off, then come back and look again.
Most importantly, don’t make any permanent decisions while you’re still upset. Don’t send your editor an angry email (which could potentially ruin your relationship with them), don’t jump right into major edits (which you may regret once you come back with a clearer mind), and most of all, don’t give up on this book! Just because it needs more changes doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Not even close!
Often, authors find that once they’ve taken the time to deal with their negative emotions, the edits don’t look that bad after all. In fact, they see the reason their editor suggested the changes in the first place, and are pleased with the results of those changes. In other words, the edit was never bad—the emotions just made it seem that way at first.
Nope, they’re actually bad.
After you’ve cooled down, you’ll be able to evaluate your editor’s work more accurately. If they...
did the wrong edits (as in you asked for a developmental edit and they did a proofread),
over-edited (like changing the spelling of a character’s name without your permission), or
worst of all, added mistakes that weren’t present before
...then yes, you’ve probably received a bad edit. (Take a look at this post for more about how accurate your editor should be.)
If this is the case for your novel, then you’ll want to take it up with the editor directly. Don’t post on social media or leave bad reviews until you’ve tried to settle things with the editor privately. Many times, your editor can come up with a solution that satisfies you. So take a few examples from your book, plus the relevant parts of your contract, and send those along with your concerns.
In the wrong edits instance from above, for example, you might say, “The contract states in Section 3 that you would help with the character development, world building, and plot, but all the edits in the book are simple grammar fixes, which aren’t mentioned in the contract.”
Different editors will handle this situation in different ways. Some may offer to redo the edits, some may offer full or partial refunds, and some may say that the work is done and will refuse to compensate you in any way. Be clear with yourself on what outcome you’re hoping for from the beginning. You may not get the result you want, but knowing what you want will keep you from settling for, for example, a re-edit when what you really want is a refund.
Fortunately, you do have a little bit of control over this scenario, and that control comes from your choice of editor in the first place. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but the key is choosing your editor carefully. If you’ve carefully researched your editor and chosen someone based on their experience, qualifications, abilities, and personality fit, then the chances of getting a horrible edit like this are much lower.
You can also help prevent this outcome by getting a sample edit done. There’s no better way to see an editor’s style then by getting a sample of your work edited. Of course, this isn’t usually possible with something like developmental editing, where the editor needs to see the whole manuscript, but line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders all usually do samples.
The final preventative measure you can take is to read your contract thoroughly and bring up any questions or concerns with your editor before the editing actually starts. Don’t be afraid to say “The contract says proofreading is xyz, but I always thought it was abc. What I want for my book is abc. Can we do that instead?” Keep misunderstandings from ruining your experience by being upfront and candid from the beginning.
Just as with any service, bad editing is an unfortunate reality. Fortunately, though, you can do a lot yourself to prevent a bad editing experience. Plus, as long as you keep a draft of your novel, it never can truly be ruined, even if you’re unlucky enough to receive a bad edit.
Do you have any editing anxieties you’d like to see addressed on the blog? Feel free to send me an email!