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Viewing Post from: Nathan Bransford
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Nathan Bransford is the author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle grade novel about three kids who blast off into space, break the universe, and have to find their way back home, which will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2011. He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., but is now a publishing civilian working in the tech industry. He lives in San Francisco.
1. Ten Commandments for Editing Someone's Work

It's Jacob Wonderbar week as I'm gearing up for the release of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe! Stay tuned for prizes tomorrow and Thursday.

Whether you're a writer or not, there's a substantial likelihood that you will be called into service editing someone's book. It may be a loved one, it may be a writing partner, it may be a sworn enemy. It probably won't be a sworn enemy. (Though that would be the most fun, wouldn't it?).

Whomever you are editing, follow these ten rules of law to be the best editor you can be.

1. Remember that it's not your book - Your job as an editor is not to tell someone how you would have written their book. Your job is to help them write the book they want to write. This can't be emphasized enough: It's not your book. It's not. Defer to the writer. Try to help them do what they're trying to do. Work within the world they've constructed.

2. Find out what the author is looking for before you start editing - Are they wondering about a particular stretch? Are they hoping for a major edit? Are they not really looking for editing at all but for moral support? Make sure you have a sense of what the author wants and what their mindset is before you start editing and adjust your approach accordingly.

3. You're not doing anyone favors by being too nice.  - Here's what a writer wants to hear when someone is editing their work: "OMG it's perfect I love it!!!" Resist the temptation to tell them just that. Your job is to help them make the work better, not to be a human rubber stamp. There is a Major Exception to this commandment: When the writer is looking for reassurance that they should keep going and is not really looking for editing. In which case the appropriate reaction is "OMG you're brilliant I love it you should keep going!!" (If you followed commandment #2 you will have sniffed this out ahead of time.)

4. You're not doing anyone favors by being a jerk either - When you are editing someone's work you have their fragile, mercurial, reptilian writer brain in your hands. Do not crush it. Be gentle. Be polite. Suggest, don't order. Ask questions, don't assume.

5. Pointing out problem areas is far more helpful than offering solutions - While editing, it is inevitable that you will be struck by ideas about how someone else's book could be better: What if he had feathers instead of hair?! What if this vampire twinkled rather than sparkled?! No. It's okay to offer up some illustrative directions the writer could go to fix something that isn't working, but ultimately the writer is the best equipped to come up with ideas for new directions. Your job is to spot what's not working, not to rewrite.

6.  Try to figure out why something isn't working for you - There will be times where something about a scene just doesn't seem right. But rather than thinking about how you would make a weak stretch better, try to figure out instead why it isn't working for you. Is it implausible? Are the characters not being true to themselves? Does the scene lack space monkeys? Identifying the underlying issue can be invaluable for the author.

7. Just make it work - Throw out everything you learned in English classes. You're not looking for what the book means, you're not looking for symbolism, you're not looking for theme. You're looking for whether it works as a coherent story and whether the writer achieved what they were striving for

74 Comments on Ten Commandments for Editing Someone's Work, last added: 4/13/2012
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