In a perfect world, editing means working closely and personally with a writer to ensure the writer creates the best work possible.
Alas, we do not live in a perfect world. Because I typically work on RPG books comprised of contributions from several writers, I often end up making final text decisions once the writer is no longer in the picture.
Currently, one of the long term projects I’m working on is taking on a bit of a new look to make the whole book come together the way we want it to, and it’s a juggling act to figure out how to incorporate some of the writing that was originally handed in. We have our plan—and I promise you it’s going to rock—but several of these chapters are going to look mighty different from what the writers gave us.
If you’re a work-for-hire freelance writer—especially one of several writers on a project—when you look at the finished product it may not be easy to identify your contribution. It might look quite different from what you submitted. Other people will have added to it—these books are typically group projects. The tone will be changed. Your writing may even be completely reorganized and spread throughout the book.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and very few of them indicate that your writing was awful.
The simplest one is that the editor needs to make the entire book seem like it’s written in the same voice. Because chapters are usually written simultaneously by different writers in different places, that means imposing tone after the writing is handed in. When you’re one of several writers, your published writing shouldn’t sound like you unless you happen to be the model for the book’s voice.
Sometimes expectations aren’t stated clearly enough upfront. Sometimes the outline changes during development, as outlines are wont to do. In these cases, what you hand in may not work as written. Of course it’s possible that you didn’t read the guidelines carefully enough or you veered from the outline, but there are also many cases where these things are beyond your control—you did what was asked, but in the end something different is needed. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon for the editor and project manager to have to significantly rework and reorganize to make all the pieces fit together.
Working one on one with writers is a luxury of time both on the editor’s and the writer’s part. All too often, it’s just expedient for the editor and project manager to handle rewrites because the writer may no longer be available or there may not be a reasonable amount of time left before the deadline.
I do work very hard to try to retain as much of a writer’s work as possible, and occasionally I’m too much of a softy—trying to save things that perhaps I should scrap because they just don’t work with the way the book has developed. On the other hand, sometimes I have to make the writing work, because it’s what we have and there isn’t time to get something else. Regardless of the reason, fitting a piece of writing into the current iteration of the book sometimes requires significant revisions.
As much as I’d like to have the time and opportunity to work with the writer until we’re both happy, that’s often simply not possible. It’s not perfect, but it’s the world I work in.