My editor fantasies

by Pari

here is little Effie's head
whose brains are made of gingerbread
when the judgment day comes
God will find six crumbs

stooping by the coffinlid
waiting for something to rise
as the other somethings did —
you imagine His surprise

Dear E. E.,

I was pleased to receive the first two stanzas of your newest poem, "here is little Effie's head," though I'll admit to being a bit perplexed by your unconventional punctuation. Do you really think readers benefit from the lack of commas, periods or capitalization? As these stanzas stand now, the reader has no clue where to pause, to take a breath.

While I'll admit I'm new to editing poetry, it seems that a few hints might help the reader grasp your meaning and meter more effectively.

"Coffinlid" should be two words.

Also, is it possible to be more specific in lines six and seven? I'm not convinced the use of "something" and "somethings" works here. Are you referring to crumbs? To souls? Do you really want to bump your readers out of the poem with these kinds of questions? The same objection could be made to line eight. To whom are you referring with the word "you?"

While creativity takes time, I have faith that the remainder of your poem will arrive – as we originally agreed – before the end of office hours tomorrow.

PN Taichert

From the moment I dreamed of being published, I held an image of the perfect editorial relationship. My editor would be experienced with a marvelous breadth of knowledge about effective storytelling and the many nuances of American English. We'd have a partnership. I'd supply the nearly done sculpture and the editor would supply the kind of professional eye that would take my work to an even better level.

Perhaps this image is outdated.

I know many authors who dis their editors as being too young or not having a clue. They tell horror stories — especially about copyeditors — who correct incorrectly. I love the example Susan Slater refers to where someone in New York kept changing the word "adobe" to "abode" in a work about New Mexico.

But I also know writers who adore their editors and cherish their comments more than gemstones.

In my experience at UNM Press, the main editors tend to focus more on herding manuscripts through the process and making sure all the pieces come together on time for publication. This is a valuable service. But I've never had a discussion about broader concepts in my works, about whether a particular character is neccesary or a certain resolution works.

The copyediting is great for line edits but there's little attention paid — at least vis a vis my works — to the overall picture.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very grateful. I just want more. I want to be the best writer that I can be, to be pushed to be better.

Yeah, right, Pari. Dream on. The publishing business doesn't work like that anymore.

Why not? Why not!

Sure, everyone is overworked. There are too few people to do the job. Still, I yearn for that give and take and hope to experience it in my writing career . . .

But back to the beginning of this post:

Over on the listserv at Novelists, Inc., one of the members posted this link:

Please take the time to read what an editor might do to Axl Rose's "Sweet Child O' Mine." (It's the reason I decided to toy with e.e. cummings' famous poem.)

And then let's play:

Tell me about your editor or dream editor.


Pick a short piece of literature and edit it, like I did at the beginning of this post, and share your fun with the rest of us.

I can't wait to read what you all have to say.

24 thoughts on “My editor fantasies

  1. Tammy Cravit

    The best editor I ever had was a grizzled old newsman who taught the difference between “perfect” and “good enough”, who corrected the glaring oversights I inevitably missed on any long story, and who left matters of style mostly alone. He certainly didn’t nitpick every comma and semicolon, but I can’t recall a story I wrote which wasn’t better for the changes he suggested.

    I think the truth is that editing, like writing, is somewhat of an art form. Blindly applying the rules in a mechanical fashion will suck the life out of any creative work, be it a story, a painting, or whatever. I think the basic mechanics and theory behind editing can be taught, just as the basic mechanics and theory behind writing can be taught. But to go beyond those basics, to learn when and where and how the rules can safely be bent or ignored? That takes skill, experience, and more than a little intuition, in either realm.

  2. Louise Ure

    Pari, I’ve been blessed with good editors for all my work, although my current editor makes more substantial suggestions for overall changes than the first one did.

    My favorite comment (which makes me grind my teeth while smiling) was his notation behind a particularly sloppy metaphor of mine. “C’mon, Louise, you can do better than this.”

  3. Cornelia Read

    I have been VERY lucky with my editors–they seem to catch all my most embarrassing mistakes, and have wonderful suggestions for how to fix things that aren’t working. Other than them being a little too enamored of “Dean,” I think they’re perfect.

  4. pari

    Brahahahaha, Cornelia.

    Here you go:

    I forgot to tell him about the water I’d spilled while getting dinner ready. It had rolled off the counter and down to the floor. I had an excuse though. Dean started bitching at me the minute he walked in the door. When he pulled the screwdriver out of his tool belt and began repairing the plug, I’d been shocked that he was bothering to help with anything around the house . . .

    Not as shocked as he was.Poor Dean.

  5. B.G. Ritts

    Out of the night that covers me,Black as the Pit from pole to pole,… [snip] …I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul.

    ‘Gentle’ William,

    Thank you for your submission, “Invictus”, to our collection of “Poems for Youth”. While I am in awe of this strongly felt effort, it does not conveniently blend with the other poems.

    If I may make a suggestion or two: think more in terms of daytime and light; and remove references to violence, punishment and death.

    I do find your references to courage and resilience refreshing and hope that you will be able to incorporate those ideals, along with the above suggestions, in a revised effort.

    Looking forward to your next communication,Your Gentle Editor

  6. R.J. Mangahas

    Well, hopefully I’ll find a good editor when the time comes.

    BTW, “e.e. cummings” is NOT capitalized. [Sorry, that was my middle school English teacher being channeled 😉 ]

  7. pari

    Jake,After the initial bouts with ego, you’ll enjoy it. I promise.

    R.J.,I know that about e.e. but the editor didn’t. Obviously, she was fairly uptight. Wouldn’t you say?

  8. Rae

    Sometimes I just can’t resist…

    Since I’m not a writer, I don’t have any personal experience with editors. I do however have experience with Evil Powerpoint, the Oppressor of Creative Thought. So when I think about bad editing, the ‘improved’ Gettysburg Address (link below) comes immediately to mind. It’s been around for awhile, but it always cracks me right up.


  9. pari

    Wow, Rae,I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that one. I bet there are whole segments of businessy folk out there that actually think it’s an improvement.

  10. J.T. Ellison

    I’ve been blessed with an editor who actually edits, and has a great sense of what works and what doesn’t. Without a doubt, she’s made me a better, more aware writer, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I know exactly what you mean about that perfect symbiotic relationship, Pari.

    My copyediting experience has been mixed – one brilliant, one horrid and one in between. STET is my friend, and thankfully, my editor backs me to the hilt. And double thankfully the brilliant copyedit was on my first book, so I learned a LOT!

  11. pari

    J.T.,I suspect a good editor makes all the difference in the world.

    You’re right about the copyedits; my experience has been very mixed.

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Great post. Like you, I’ve had very mixed experiences. My greatest editors, I have to say, have been part of the team at my agent’s.

    Copyediting, on the other hand, has proved a largely frustrating experience. In narrative (and not when I’m hastily typing in the Comments box here!) I still use commas for their original purpose – to tell the reader where to pause. Changing them round to conform to the correct rules of grammar just ruins the flow of the piece for me.

    If something is wrong, or doesn’t work, or isn’t convincing, I’m desperately thankful to my editors for pointing it out (before a sharp-eyed reader or reviewer gets the chance). But trying to Americanise a UK character, or make changes for the sake of rules of punctuation by which I am not playing, just annoys the hell out of me ;-]

  13. pari

    Zoe,I’m with you on commas. So was my pretend editor.

    I’ve always wondered about trying to “Americanize” a piece of work that isn’t American. Why would you do it? Should we change Madame Bovary to Mrs. Jones to make Americans feel more comfortable.


  14. Allison Brennan

    My editor has made me into a better writer. I’ve fortunately had the same editors for all 11 (soon to be 12) books. My novella had a different editor, but she was “trained” by the same editorial director who trained my editor.

    I love my editor not only because she makes me look good, but because she points out places where the story is confusing, where characters are not fully fleshed out, or where she doesn’t understand the decisions they made. She helps me to maximize my strengths and improve my weaknesses. More important, she never tells me what to do or HOW to fix any of the problems. And if I don’t agree with something (which is rare–even if I don’t think there is a story problem, I usually have made something more confusing that it needs to be), she accepts my choices. She’s my first reader. And believe me, I push the envelop on both story and deadlines.

  15. Stacey Cochran

    I would like an editor who has a little bit of a chip on his/her shoulder and has something to prove. I’d like an editor who is strong at both line and content edits, and has the respect and communication skills necessary to generate tremendous in-house enthusiasm for my work. I’d like an editor who is intelligent, has a quirky sense of humor, and is compassionate.

    I’d like an editor who is not afraid of what his/her peers might think… an editor who is bold, ambitious as hell, and wants to help develop a bestselling career.

    I want an editor who realizes that having a bestselling author isn’t the end-all be-all and while it’d be nice to create the next Dan Brown/Stephen King/JK Rowling that there are far more important things in this world than who is the most popular author… like, for example, helping folks around the world who don’t have the kind of opportunities and gifts that we have here in the U.S. …

    an editor who believes in my vision of a creating a culture of creativity.

  16. Dana King

    Dear Mr. Lincoln,Thank you for your recent submission from Gettysburg. Though our usual policy is to ignore submissions written on the backs of envelopes, your status as President allows us to bend the rule this one time.

    Here at Soon to Be Defunct Publishing, we try to keep our readers’ attention through plainspoken and conversational language. Though I am sure “four score and seven” appeals to your artistic angels, we feel “eighty-seven” is more appropriate to our mission. There are several other places where the prose is a bit purple; please make an effort to rein these in.

    We also feel it is counterproductive to denigrate the work itself without an adverse effect on sales. Please change the phrase that begins with “people will little note, not long remember..” to something a little more positive.

    As always,Your Editor.

    My favorite copywriting quote is Raymond Chandler’s:

    Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofsand tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patoiswhich is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that whenI split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will staysplit, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more orless literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-roomvernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mindrelaxed but attentive.

  17. pari


    Both parts of your comment were wonderful!

    I especially loved the Chandler response to copyediting. Even when he was pissed, he was eloquent.


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