Friday, May 13, 2016

Questions from Readers

Writing about Voice (Part 2 of 3)

Barbara Higby asked, “Who wrote this?” when she read one of her edited pieces in print.

Sorry, Barbara, but it happens all the time. So here are a few thoughts.

First, apparently the editor didn’t send the piece to you before printing it, so there’s nothing you can do about it. This happens to many of us. You get credit and money for the piece, but there’s little ownership of the edited copy. As the cliché says, “Been there, done that,” and many of us have.

Second, most publishers return the manuscript to you after it’s edited and before it’s published. You can accept or dispute any changes. Years ago, my writer-friend Jim Watkins and I were talking about our books being edited. “If it sounds like me, I let the changes go.” I agreed.

I discuss only changes that sound unlike you or distort the point. I used the word discuss intentionally. It’s a dialog between you and the editor. And most editors are open to have you disagree.

Several times I’ve had fine editors. When we agree, they send the book manuscripts to copyeditors—which is a kind of entry position into publishing. They check the grammar, punctuation, and other minor details.

In recent years, three times I’ve had zealous copyeditors revise my manuscript so badly, I complained to the editor. The worst was the woman who changed Psalm 5 to Psalms 5. (It’s the book of Psalms, but number 5 is only one psalm). Another one got rid of every contraction, and I read stilted prose. In each case, the editor agreed and a new copyeditor has taken over.

Barbara, I’m sorry your publisher didn’t solicit your input. I suggest you not try that publisher again or wait until your new article is accepted and say, kindly, “On my previous article, the copyeditor changed my voice so much, I didn’t recognize myself.” Ask the editor to let you read it before publication to make sure it’s still your voice. (If she responds with a no-answer, you either agree to their policy or tell her you wish to withdraw your manuscript. If you take the second approach, I hope you’ll realize that you’ll never sell to them again.)

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