Today I’d like to address a specific issue that comes up sometimes. I know it’s in the title, but I’m gonna say it again for the sake of a header.
Critique partners and editors are not interchangeable
CPs and editors are both worthwhile, and they have a lot in common. They both love words. They both want to help you create the best story possible. In the best cases, they have a lot of support and enthusiasm for you and your project. CPs are most helpful when they’re readers of the genre you’re writing. Editors are assigned projects based on their expertise in that genre and/or style.
They both have their place in the publishing process.
However. There is one teensy-weensy, but ever-so-crucial little tiny detail:
Editors are paid professionals.
A critique partner is usually a friend, a fellow writer who can give both craft and reader feedback during early drafts. Before we go further, let me say that editors and CPs aren’t mutually exclusive. Editors can also CP for their friends, and your CP may also work as an editor. (Hell, I’ve been a CP for authors for whom I was an editor on a different manuscript.)
But an editor is either a) a representative of the publishing company with whom you have a contract to produce this book or b) a professional you have personally paid to prepare your manuscript for self-publishing the way it would be if it were going through a traditional house (who, for the record, should also provide you with a contract).
A CP, especially a long-term one, will sometimes work with you through brainstorming the first draft, through editing the second and sometimes third drafts and beyond. The thing is, they are just as close to the manuscript as you are by the time it gets to your editor at the publishing house or to the editor you’ve hired for the final stretch of self-publishing. Your editor is there specifically to be fresh eyes and evaluate, objectively, every aspect of the manuscript to get it as damn near close to perfect as possible.
Now, I know writers trust their critique partners. The bond that forms is a strong one, and they can be just as invested in what happens to the book during editing. But at some point, you must move forward from the CP stage. When you complete Phase 3, you don’t jump back to Phase 2. You move on to Phase 4.
Editing is a negotiation, not a democracy
So why am I writing this blog post? Because sometimes, writers will take their editor’s suggestions…and run it by their CPs first.
I don’t mind this so much after I give structural notes. If I’m telling you that you need to up the suspense in the first third, you might need some help brainstorming. I, like most editors, will give specific suggestions for ways to add suspense to help you kick-start that brainstorming.
And, like most editors, I am also very happy to discuss those suggestions with you myself. I want to help you brainstorm. Sometimes I am downright desperate to brainstorm with you. At the end of every single edit letter I send is a note saying, essentially, TALK TO ME PLZ I AM HERE TO HELP. I love discussing big story stuff with authors. I do. I even tweeted it.
Y’all, I love discussion with the author as a part of editing. #amediting
— Cait Spivey (@CaitSpivey) July 21, 2014
A lot of authors seem strangely reluctant to engage in that discussion with their editor, though. So they end up needing to talk and going back to their CPs. This makes editors very sad.
Fundamentally, going back to your CPs after getting notes from an editor tells that editor that you don’t trust them. I cannot adequately impress upon you how bad this is for your relationship with your editor. Before you ask for anyone else’s opinion you need to open a dialogue with your editor about the issues you have with their critiques. Like I said when I detailed what a freelance editor does, good editors adjust for their clients.
Of course, that can only work to a point. I called editing a negotiation in the heading to this section, but it’s a one-sided one whether you’re with a traditional publishing house or self-publishing. If you’re with a publisher, your editor has a lot of power because of the contract you signed with them. If your visions are constantly clashing, that’s a problem. Sometimes the solution may be getting assigned to a different editor, or even terminating your contract with the publisher. Same goes with self-publishers. You are paying the editor, so they can’t force you to do anything; but if you’re constantly ignoring the suggestions made by your freelance editor, it’s time to sit down and discuss it with them so you can figure out whether a core conflict of direction is the culprit. It may be that the best option is to part ways.
Engage with your editor
If your publisher’s editorial director or operations manager is good, they’ll have already paired you with someone well-fitted to your manuscript’s needs. Reach out to your editor early (as soon as they’re assigned, if you can) and talk to them about your manuscript. I find it particularly helpful to talk about what your vision of the novel is. I’m going to give very different feedback on the same pages if an author tells me they see their novel as a sweeping romance versus a sexual thriller.
When you’re hiring a freelance editor, do your research! At Bear and Black Dog (my editing company), Ash and I have both blogged about our editing styles and common critiques, and here on my personal blog I’ve explained my feelings on topics like reluctant love and sex in YA. If your story includes reluctant love, for example, and you hire me as your editor, you’d better be prepared for me to critique your love story with a fairly harsh lens.
The important thing to remember is that your editor is a person who is doing their job, namely, guiding your manuscript into a publishable novel. Trust them. Talk to them. Save your CPs for the next manuscript.