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  • Grammergency #24: Three Things an Editor Can’t Do for You
Grammergency #24: Three Things an Editor Can’t Do for You
Written by
Annie Tucker
October 2015
Written by
Annie Tucker
October 2015

In my last post, I wrote about five questions to ask any editor whom you’re considering hiring to work on your book. This week, I’m turning to the dark side—that is, I’m going to cover what an editor can’t help you with. The publishing landscape is complex and ever changing, and as much as editors play an indispensable role for authors, they have their limits. Developing the best possible working relationship with your editor requires knowing not only what you should expect from her, but also what you shouldn’t. Here’s a rundown:

1) An editor cannot guarantee you an agent.

Over the years, many of my clients have asked me whether I can connect them with prospective agents once my part in their editing process is complete. Some editors happen to be dialed in with literary agents, but I am not one of them, nor is any other editor guaranteed to be. And even the well-connected ones who might be able to refer you to a handful of agents can’t promise that any of those people is then going to take you on as a client—i.e., try to sell your manuscript to traditional publishing houses. It’s more constructive and feasible to seek an editor who can help you develop and/or fine-tune your book proposal and query letter and whatever other written materials you need to get started on the path to traditional representation.

2) An editor can teach you about writing, but she can’t work miracles.

The majority of clients I work with these days are first-time authors. That’s really fun for me, because they’re enthusiastic and eager to learn and often finally getting to fulfill a long-standing dream of writing a book. I especially love it when they say they finally “get” some piece of narrative advice I’ve been emphasizing throughout our collaboration. That might mean they’ve learned to identify good opportunities to revise flat narrative summary to interesting dialogue, or that they really grasp the “show, don’t tell” concept now, or that they’ve become able to preempt one of my “expand or delete” comments. I hope that each of these little aha moments has a lasting, positive effect on the way my clients approach their writing in the future, but does that mean I can transform a novice author into a Pulitzer Prize winner? Sadly, no. (If I could, I’d have turned myself into one by now.) So take the small victories for what they are, and keep practicing.

3) An editor cannot be a therapist the way a trained therapist can.

Hairstylists, bartenders, personal trainers . . . A whole subset of the workaday world is moonlighting as armchair psychologists, but I didn’t realize that writing coaches are among them until I became one myself. I want to support my clients as much as I can to become more fulfilled, more productive creative people with quantifiable results to show for their hard work, and that can entail giving weekly pep talks, empathizing with frustrations, and being a confidant. In fact, establishing these kinds of interpersonal connections is one of the things I like most about my job. However, I’m not always qualified to advise people on how to handle the psychological challenges that are sometimes synonymous with authoring a manuscript. If your writing is bringing up intense emotions that threaten to overwhelm you, take them seriously and do whatever works for you to process them in a healthy way. I wish I had the antidote, but I’d have to go back to school for a long time to discover it, and then I wouldn’t be able to work on all these great books.

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below.

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  • Annie Tucker

    Ha! Thanks for the kind words and the comic relief, Veronica! 

  • "Editor is not your therapist... editor is not your therapist... editor is NOT your therapist... " Got it!

    Dr Kay will be pleased that her expertise is not being usurped by my editor. I think we've all seen enough Lifetime movies to know that our therapists can be rather fragile creatures and we certainly wouldn't want to do anything that my upset that delicate balance.

    Seriously though.... great advice here, some good take-aways. Thank you!

  • Marcia Mabee Bell

    Hi Annie!  Great post brings back memories of our developmental work together.  Will be in touch in a couple of months:  weddings, weddings, weddings!