I like my editors ruthless. They get paid to pick my work apart without softening the blows. I want salt, not sugar.

As a novelist myself, I went through several drafts of my second novel before it was published. And that’s all thanks to my editors, whose criticisms at times were nothing short of scathing. But that’s not necessarily a sign of bad writing. More so, it suggests a great editor. My novel went to on to receive fine reviews, as did its predecessor, thanks to the valuable insight of my editors.

Here are some of the wonderfully harsh comments my early drafts received:

“We should justify why these characters are bad. Provide a backstory for each so the reader can understand why they act they way they do.”

“You’re showing, not telling.”

“I almost stopped reading after this point.”

“Richard, where are you going with this?”

As you can see, the comments range from the helpful to the harsh. But they all demanded the same thing: me going back to write another draft. I honestly thought my book was just fine the way it was. Maybe it was. Maybe the editor was having a bad day and was taking it out on me. Maybe they missed the point of my story. Maybe they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Let’s consider the context here. Editors may seem harsh at times. They may appear to not understand where your book is coming from, or missed some fine point you were trying to make. But think about this: your editor has been trained to read with a fine critical eye. If he or she missed the point, chances are your average reader would too. Sure, their feedback was based on their opinion. But it was learned opinion.

 

Trust between a writer and their editor is the key issue

This may be hard for you, as a writer, especially when they’re picking apart a work that reflects so much of yourself. But try to recognize that your editor truly wants your book to succeed. Don’t you? Of course you do!

Writing is the hardest part of creating a book, and the editorial process is an all-important step within that part. So I trusted their comments. I wrote that draft. And in reading it back, I realized how valuable their harsh criticism was. The story was vastly improved. Had my editors done nothing but heap praise upon my work, my writing would never have developed as it has, and my books would have foundered due to poor quality.

My reputation as a writer would have suffered as well. Soon after, another editor had a chance to review my book. She was known for missing nothing and nit-picking everything. I was a little nervous, to say the least, while it sat in her hands.

After her first read, this is some of what she had to say:

…it’s a great book. I really enjoyed the story, and you honestly have probably the finest ear for dialogue out of anyone I’ve ever edited. The characters were all very believable and interacted very naturally. The story hung together well (that might not sound like a compliment, but believe me, from me it is), and you are fantastic at creating atmosphere without bogging the reader down in details. I really felt like I was standing next to the characters and seeing what they saw.”

These comments were the reward for all the editorial abuse my manuscript had endured. She still had lots of notes for me, but that was okay. I had learned to love notes! All writers go through this. You probably will too.

So take heart, gentle writer. Working with an editor that appears ruthless may not only help your book, but also help you develop as a writer.