After more than thirty years of working with other people's writings,
from fiction to educational content, from memoir to technical documentation,
from persuasive essay to scholarly journal article, I have compiled
a list of the top ten things you don't want your editor to do to your
manuscript. Here they are, from least to greatest:
Misjudge your audience
You know best what your audience, scope, and purpose are, and
it is up to you to communicate them clearly to your editor before you
begin any work together.
Insist on perfection
The standards your document must meet depend on what it is and
whom it's for; you don't edit an academic paper the way you edit street
dialogue in a video script.
Put words in your mouth
Your document is no place for an airing of your editor's opinions and
perceptions. Your editor must be 100% behind your argument editorially,
whether he or she agrees with your views or not, and should only call
out weak points in your case, not challenge you on points of personal
Change your voice
Your tone, level of formality, style, and diction are your own and should
be suited to your audience, purpose, and subject matter. Your editor
should strive to maintain consistency and appropriateness without compromising
the authenticity of your delivery.
Take an adversarial stance
An editor's role is a supporting role in a partnership. The editor must
never do battle with an author in words either angry or mocking.
Assert absolute authority
Most matters of style and elements of composition are debatable, and
even in matters of grammar there is room for discretion and flexibility.
A good editor knows when to break the rules and also allows for the
possibility that he or she could be mistaken.
Take over your story
An editor may have excellent suggestions to help you accomplish what
you are trying to do, to close the gap between what you said and what
you meant to say; but only you are the setter of your goals and the
owner of what you meant to say.
Impose his or her preferences over yours
You said "We're not adverse to that" and the editor changed
"adverse" to "averse." Right. You said "We're
not averse to that" and the editor changed "averse" to
Make arbitrary changes
There must be a reason for every change, and the editor must know what
it is and be able to tell you. A vague notion of "improvement"
is not a reason, nor is "it sounds funny."
Introduce an error
This is the cardinal sin. An editor who distorts your meaning, commits
you to a factual misstatement, or, perhaps worst of all, changes your
grammatical construction from a right one to a wrong one fails the test.
Here we will plead for mercy on the strength of our common humanity;
but we may also expect the perpetrator to make due amends and take decisive