Editing and Control: Musings ~ by R. R. Saucier, Editor, Writer, Observer

     Old School Control. Let’s talk control. As an editor, I can’t help but note that the job description for editing has morphed since self-publishing became a viable option for writers. In the ‘70’s, I was a grunt for the publishing wing of the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Manuscripts were scrupulously combed through. The attention to detail was superb: every word, every bit of punctuation was dealt with at least three times, sometimes more. Despite working with highly educated academics, the editor’s way was gospel. Sure, there were freelancers then and people who wrote term papers – but professional publications were subject to editorial control that was lodged firmly with the editor.

     Control in Free Fall. Today, I work with a lot of authors who are self-published. Some of them have been professionally published, some not. But the power equation has changed. If you hire me to edit your work, I will give you my very best effort and will let you know when the edit is a matter of grammar or opinion. You remain in charge, having relinquished no control at all. You can accept my work, ignore it, and ultimately, decide whether I’m the editor for you. 

     Professional publishing today still retains a high degree of control, however. Try enforcing how you are edited when you are dealing with a publishing house, and you better have good rationales for your choices or great sales! Curiously, many have argued that some famous, professionally-published writers are allowed too much leeway (read: control) over their works. Once their profits soar some readers feel their work suffers, seemingly from a lack of – you guessed it – editing. In other words, some writers can handle control and some cannot. 

Derry, Emily, Amelia at two weeks

     Diverting Uncontrolled Anecdote. I’ve always been a cynic. I gave up on Santa by the age of three and religion by the age of six. I have always believed that control is an illusion; the moment you feel you have it, you’ve got a surprise coming. Falls under the adage, tell God your plans if you want to hear him laugh. Or, as Leia said to Governor Tarkin, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” [Star Wars 4, if you’re counting.] 

     My husband and I had two miniature schnauzers. When one died early of Addison’s disease, we were utterly bereft. We went puppy hunting, having convinced ourselves that our surviving female schnauzer, Liesl, needed company… a ridiculous notion that I doubt either of us really believed. We adopted two male schnauzer puppies that summer; both were charming and a tad precocious.  

     When Liesl went into heat we consulted our vet, who averred unequivocally that the four-month-old boys were too young to father a litter, we were safe. As he was a professional and we were vulnerable, we believed him, but even so, we still kept the two of them separated. Ten days later we were sure the heat was over. And, after all, he was too young anyway, so we relaxed our control over Liesl. Shadow, who had not been informed he was too young, immediately proved the vet wrong. It took him about three seconds to figure it out, and that’s all it took. As Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, “…life, uh…finds a way.” (Jurassic Park, 1993)

     
     My husband wanted a little black female puppy; Liesl, ever his dog, produced three little black females. (Yes, schnauzer pups are born black and achieve their real color with time--but I’m convinced she did it just to please him, like everything else she did). And yes, you guessed it; we ended up keeping them all for a total of six: Mom, Dad, Uncle Snickers, and the three little girls, Emily, Amelia Peabody, and Derry.  

Derry, Emily, Amelia at one year.

     You need some.  Don’t misunderstand. We need control. Control throughout life is vitally important to success, personality, and self-fulfillment. Babies who lack control of language are utterly frustrated until someone figures it out for them. Seniors in nursing homes desperately strive for whatever tiny bit of control they can eke out of that environment; if they lack it utterly, despair is often the result. Children must be given choices and understand that they have control over their choices if they are to become functioning adults. A total lack of control is often cited by those who attempt suicide. Mid-level managers with little or no control who are surrounded by co-workers who are at loggerheads must be ingenious negotiators or risk total frustration.

  So, you gotta have it. Just don’t fool yourself about how much you really have, or you could end up being a schnauzer pack leader. Or just a member of the pack, because, after all, control is tricky--especially with schnauzers. 

11 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Ruth! Things have changed in the editing world, but the importance of editing remains the same.

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  2. A good editor is worth a dozen good publishers.

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  3. Great post, Ruth. As a sister in the editing world, I totally agree. And, control seems to be an issue with me, too. The Schnauzers are always adorable. One made his way into my heart a long time ago...His name was Mac.

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  4. We took in a stray, female cat who lived with us for over a year and never went into heat. The vet concluded that she was spayed, and the hubs and I concurred - until the night before our two male kitties were due to be neutered! Tessa went into heat, the boys had some fun before their snip snip (woke us up from a dead sleep), and sixty-two days later, our feline family grew by four! Lol

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    1. Laughing! The best of us are bested by nature quite regularly. Grin!

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  5. Great post, Ruth. It still baffles me when an author sends a manuscript out into the world without the benefit of a thorough edit. Nothing like a second set of eyes.

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  6. Agreed. No author can afford to go without.

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  7. Love the different perspectives on editing, and can't agree with you more on the fact that some should not have control over their own editing choices. As for your Schnauzer family... I have enough trouble trying to stay in control with just one cat and one dog. lol

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  8. I am an avid reader. I read between 100-250 books a year. I seem to find at least one typo in most of them. I always let the author know. I find it especially unnerving when it is a well known author utilizing traditional publishing. They should have plenty of eyes checking it. I am more understanding when it is a self published author as I know they often don’t have the budget for proper editing.

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    1. More and more I see mistakes in traditionally published books by major authors. Were I to guess, I'd say that their budgets are hard pressed to do the editing jobs that they used to do. But it is disconcerting to see , since they are the last bastions of good language. if they can't get it right, it's a sad day for English!

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