Too many people think an editor is like the guy who details your car. He cleans up the grammar and punctuation and makes it all look shiny. Editors do some of that, but it comes at the very end. Fixing punctuation and spelling really is cleanup work.
A good editor is more like a coach. A good coach helps you improve your game. A good editor does the same, showing you how to strengthen the weak parts of your writing. A good editor asks the impertinent questions and suggests more logical structure. A good editor also leaves the writing alone when it’s already good.
But rather than me describing it, I’ll show you.
Click this link to see how Simon & Schuster editor Mitchell Ivers tried to salvage the manuscript for a book titled “Dangerous.” The author is Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart News editor and self-described conservative troll. Simon & Schuster gave him a huge advance against future royalties. The plan was to publish the book in its Threshold Editions imprint, which features conservative authors such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck.
The reason we get to peek behind the curtain is that the publisher gave up on the book, deciding not to publish it. The company even let Yiannopoulos keep the money he’d been paid. But he sued anyhow. These editing notes ended up in the court records.
Ivers is considered sympathetic to the kinds of views Yiannopoulos is espousing, but Ivers is nonetheless a diligent editor. That means he points out problems and suggests solutions. These notes also show that even a sympathetic editor can run out of patience.
It’s a big file, a 267-page PDF that will take up 56.4 MB if you choose to download it.
Some highlights of what Ivers has to say:
PAGE 77: I will not accept a manuscript that labels an entire class of people “mentally ill.”
PAGE 132: This whole section has to go. Too much ego at a point when you’ve had truly eye-opening insights into comtemporary media. The ego stuff just trivializes everything.
PAGE 140: Paris Hilton is not the best authority to quote here. Stick to Camille Paglia.
PAGE 208: This chapter is a mess of low-context writing, in which you assume the reader shares your previous knowledge and point-of-view and muddled thinking. Give the complexity of the topic, you need to make this chapter the MOST CLEARLY WRITTEN in the book.
PAGE 249: It is always a mistake for an author to say “I can think of no better explanation…” It’s your job to think of a better explanation. It’s what we paid you an advance for. THINK HARDER and replace this long anonymous internet post with prose of your own.