An attendee at a webinar I presented had a question that surprised me. It was the April meeting of the St. Mary’s Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association, and we were discussing the importance of finding an editor with experience in your topic and genre. If you want the best edit, I explained, you need a professional who understands your area of expertise. That way the editor is much less likely to introduce errors.
And this is where I always tell the story about Babe Ruth’s “so-called” shot.
When I worked in-house in the early 2000s, part of my assignment included making corrections to reprints. When a book sold out its first printing, I would get a copy of the book and mark any corrections that had been submitted in the interim. The corrections would appear in the next printing. These were usually fairly minor points, but one was memorable.
The book was a collection of baseball history, and one of the anecdotes referred to Babe Ruth’s so-called shot. “So-called shot”? What in the world could they mean by that? I was a big baseball fan at the time and I was left scratching my head.
Ah, yes. It took a moment but then I got it. It was not Ruth’s “so-called shot.” It was his “called shot.”
Babe Ruth famously pointed to the center-field stands in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series and proceeded to hit a home run to that location, thereby calling his shot. It was legendary. The world was watching. It was Cubs vs. Yanks, and the Yankees won, 7–5.
Ruth never would confirm whether he actually intended to call his shot, and so the legend grew even more. Baseball fans everywhere have debated the moment for decades.
But not everyone got the message. Apparently one of the book’s editors — copyeditor, proofreader, production editor. Who knows where the error originated? — was not familiar with the story. My guess is a proofreader made a last-minute “catch” and the damage was done. Thank goodness for reprints.
The Author Is the Expert . . . on Content
As I wrapped up this story, I noticed a hand go up. The attendee asked, “What should I do if I disagree with my editor’s changes?”
It took me a moment to answer, as many thoughts went through my head. I had just gone on a three-minute tangent about how editors make mistakes, so clearly there are times when you must overrule your editor. But let’s not go crazy. What kinds of changes are we talking about? Who is the publisher? Who hired the editor?
Assuming (1) we are not talking about rejecting all of the editor’s changes, (2) the publisher has given the author allowance to overrule the editor, and (3) the author is not an egomaniac, my answer is, “Do not make those changes.”
Three Reasons to Overrule Your Editor
I have included a lot of factors in my calculus of whether this author should make or not make an editor’s changes. Context can definitely change things. For example, if the author is simply an egomaniac and does not like the idea of anyone changing her words, then there have to be some restriction of the author’s ability to overrule the editor. However, giving author and editor the benefit of the doubt, I see a few instances when it makes perfect sense to NOT make your editor’s suggested changes:
- The edit changes your meaning.
- The edit introduces an error.
- The edit changes your voice, for example, using words you would not ever choose.
You are the expert when it comes to the content of your writing. That is true whether you write nonfiction, fiction, or memoir. You are the authority!
So, if you feel a change hurts your book, “stet” it. That means don’t make it. Leave the original or, if possible, suggest an alternative that satisfies you and the editor.
The Editor Is the Expert . . . on Grammar and Bookmaking
Now, you as the writer should also acknowledge that you probably don’t know everything. Although you are rightfully the expert in areas of content or voice, you may not be up-to-date on all of the latest grammar, spelling, and punctuation trends.
You also likely are not as familiar with the many customs and conventions in bookmaking. And why should you be? This is why editors exist: to help authors navigate the rough seas of book publishing.
That doesn’t mean editors don’t make mistakes. We do. Some editors are not good at their jobs, unfortunately, and even the good ones miss things or may misunderstand your meaning. Therefore, even in the arena of grammar and bookmaking, there may be times when you have to overrule your editor.
In this realm, I recommend taking a pragmatic course of action:
- Check with your editor if a change looks suspicious. Ask why she made the change so you can understand her point of view.
- Ask other editors or writers for their opinions so you can fully understand the issue.
- If you still feel your editor has made a mistake, look for a third solution to the problem, rather than simply reverting to your original wording.
It can be tricky going against your editor. You might be concerned about insulting them, or you might be angry that they introduced an error. That is the cardinal sin of editing. But open communication and mutual respect will get you through.
Good editors are most concerned with creating a good book. They acknowledge their mistakes, and if you are the one who is mistaken, they will take a few minutes to straighten everything out.
So go ahead, be bold. Disagree with your editor. Chances are you will get a better book when you stand up for your vision and participate fully in the editing process.
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