By Peter Mackowiak
Like any relationship, the one that exists between editor and author is fraught with potential. On the one hand, an honest exchange of drafting and feedback can lead to writing that is fruitful to any person who chances upon reading it. By the same token, any participant in the editing process has the ability to sabotage not only the work but also the publication as a whole.
And of course, any publication lives between these seeming extremes. So how might a content team recognise honesty even as it curtails disrespect among its participants?
Case in Point: A Remote Magazine
Almost any editor or writer could tell you stories that show how the success or failure of a piece depended not upon a word, a paragraph, nor even the medium but on the people involved. As the representative of an organisation, the editor must lead with an understanding that she or he manages people foremost, and marketing materials secondarily.
What does this mean in practice?
You Are The Editor
As an example, let’s consider an online magazine whose contributors and editors never meet face-to-face. Such an arrangement can pose its disadvantages to our editor—how is one to gauge the tone of a piece written in the first person without having met the author in person?
Take the sentence: “I feel like anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wrong.”
Out of context, the best practice here simply is to ask and to pose your question in such a way that gives all benefit of the doubt to the author—especially in the early stages. Feelings are tricky. A good note on the above statement might be: “What evidence could you give in support of this claim?”
You Are The Author
Now let’s trade laptops so that you are the writer who has just received the above bit of feedback. On first glance, and depending on context, it may seem the editor has applied too much logic to a question of emotion.
And yet, it is always on the writer to make him- or herself clear. And the editor in this scenario has given the author an open-ended opportunity to do just that. We can imagine a litany of more hurtful comments: “What about other people’s feelings?” being one of them.
So as the author in this situation, a reasonable (if passive-aggressive) response could be: “Please see the rest of the paragraph.” Or, better yet: “I feel this sentence stands well enough alone, would you mind elaborating?” Or what if the author were simply to take the edit at face value, revise the piece, and see what comes of it?
This example is merely one fragment of an imaginary instance where editor and author stand before all the possibilities of difference GoogleDocs affords.
I have caused them to write reasonable enough comments to one another, all the more so for being concise and direct. Whichever side of editorial you find yourself on, the hope is that over time, less work might be spent on editorial itself and more on the works being produced.