About Me, My Thoughts, Self-editing Tips, The Publishing Process

Confidence (and Lack)

I‘m just going to come right out and say it: sometimes I feel completely incapable as an editor.

When these times come, I stare at the author’s words and they swirl together like some cheap TV special effect to spell out “You are a fraud!” I worry every time the phone rings that one of my publisher friends will be on the other end of the line.

“Hey, Stephen?”


“We’ve been looking at the book you just edited. You know the one we’re talking about?”

Gulp. “Yes?”

“…and we were wondering…did you send us the wrong file?”

This experience is sort of like a waking version of that dream where you show up to school and realize you’re naked and then suddenly you’re in the auditorium to receive some stupid academic award and the girl walking toward you on stage to present the award is Sherry Morris, the most beautiful girl in the school and the object of your secret crush but when the lights come up everyone starts laughing at you. Because you’re naked. And it’s cold.

You know that dream, right? Anyone? Anyone?


Anyway, the point is – I have moments when my confidence falters. Yes, editors wrestle with doubt. This is different than “editor’s block,” which is our corollary to writer’s block and is identified by a glazed, faraway look and frequent clicking of the “send/receive” button in hopes that the solution to the problem in front of us will appear in a serendipitous email.

Doubt presents itself in another way altogether: a look of abject fear prompted by the singular question, “Am I ruining a perfectly good novel?”

The answer (thankfully), is usually “no.” But what prompts such a big question? It’s simple: There is often more than one way to edit a scene. Editing is an art. Just like writing. And sometimes we get it wrong on the first pass. Most of the time we catch our mistakes before sending the manuscript back to the author. And when we don’t? The author almost always calls us on it. And this is the real secret to the editorial process: it is a collaboration. As the publisher’s gatekeeper, I’ll fight tooth-and-nail for editorial changes that my experience and intuition say are right on, but gladly step back and let the author hold sway over those changes that could go either way.

Okay, so now you know.

You aren’t going to tell my publisher friends, are you?

Just a reminder, tomorrow I’m going to tell you all about this blog’s first writing contest. The prize? I have this really lovely flocked Yoda Christmas decoration that my writer-friend Tosca Lee gave me and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I passed it along to another writer. Or maybe a Starbucks gift card? Hmm…I’ll let you know tomorrow.

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