Good advice for editors from Jane Friedman

March 10, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: editing, journalism, writing.

One of my favorite people from the world of independent publishing is Jane Friedman, a wide-ranging consultant and author of the weekly newsletter Electric Speed, which is consistently full of good tips and advice.

The introduction to her newsletter this week struck me as especially enlightening. It’s a special message to those who would be editors:

One of my husband Mark’s favorite albums is God Bless Tiny Tim, first released in 1968. He believes it’s now an under-recognized album, mostly forgotten.

In 2018, the year of the record’s 50th anniversary, Mark decided it was time to write about it—a love letter, if you will—to convince the music world to listen again.

I was excited to see what he’d write. Of course he’s talked to me at length about what this album means to him. I couldn’t wait for his observations to be shared more widely. And he happens to be a very fine writer.

So he labored over this piece for months (doing loads of research) and was on the verge of publishing it.

But then he didn’t.

Why? Because of two mistakes.

The first mistake: He showed it to me.

The second mistake: I made a lot of revision suggestions that quashed his desire to go any further with it.

And now the 50th anniversary is in the distant past.

Editors do a lot of harm every day, unintentionally. In Mark’s case, I wanted the piece to work for the kind of audience I’d like him to have, not the audience he actually wants to reach. Plus I didn’t frame the feedback in a way that made it easy to take next steps.

It’s hard to find the right editor. If you’re struggling with an editor right now, ask them lots of questions. Figure out their assumptions. Ask for what next steps they’d take.

Good, heartfelt advice. And if you are looking to up your writing and editing game, you should subscribe to Jane’s newsletter.

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