Isaac Asimov On Working With Editors

So I just released my third novel “Last Week” as a PDF file (available for FREE here).

In contrast to my first and second effort, this time I paid Zoë Markham of markhamcorrect.com some money to provide copy editing service. In this post, I am going to discuss my experience. And to spice things up a bit, I will use some quotes from Janet and Isaac Asimovs’ book “How to Enjoy Writing”, published in 1980. It contains a short section on working with editors, not titled “how to enjoy editors”.

But I sure enjoyed this part of the process. Isaac Asimov seems to share this feeling. First quote:

JANET: It’s amazing that editors all seem to love you.

ISAAC: I like them. I’m funny that way.

Before I started this experiment, I assumed I would hate the experience. After all, the job of an editor is to point out my failures and weaknesses. How can I possibly like that, if I am not a masochist, which I am not?

Part of the answer is that I get to read my manuscript again. And since it was fun to write in the first place, it was fun reading again.

Another part of the answer is that my editor made some super valuable suggestions for improving the manuscript. And I like having a better manuscript as a result of the process.

That is of course true on a purely grammar and spelling level. Some of these mistakes were difficult to find for me because I have German as a first language. For example, in German “glasses” (Brille) is singular. In English it is plural.

But it is also true for many suggestions that improved the clarity of the manuscript. My text would be not wrong on a grammar and spelling level, but would still be improved by one of the suggestions.

Yet another level of usefulness were a couple of places where the editor found and pointed out inconsistencies.

In contrast, there were also some suggestions I did not follow. Let’s quote Asimov again:

But really, I don’t think I’m the best writer in the world, and I’m ready to accept changes. I went through the manuscript and adopted at least one hundred of the ten thousand changes he put in, where the changes actually corrected me in matters of fact, or where he really did catch me in what I like to call an “infelicity in phrasing”. However, my general writing style must be inviolate, not because it is perfect but because it is the only style to which I want my name attached.

When leaving the level of grammar and spelling (“infelicity in phrasing”) and reaching into the level of style, there is a fine line between helping to improve and changing the voice of the author. I don’t have enough experience, so I am not sure how to navigate that. But the above quote from Asimov (who does have lots of experience in these matters) does show that there is a need for the author to reject some of the suggestions. And, interestingly, that may be the right answer in some cases even if the suggestion would lead to a more perfect text.

Another set of suggestions would be those that one could call exchanging URLs for uniform resource locators. That’s a Dilbert reference, if you didn’t recognize it. In other words, some of the suggestions may replace one good way of phrasing with another good one.

In those cases, I mostly followed the suggestions.

To sum up, I enjoyed the process of editing. And I like the fact that my manuscript is much improved. I could never have found so many errors on my own. It was a pleasure to work with my editor on this project, and I strongly recommend Zoë Markham for anyone who thinks about hiring a copy editor.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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