In the classic film Chariots of Fire, Olympic sprinter Harold Abrahams hires a coach, Sam Mussabini, to help him win the 100-yard dash. Mussabini first lays out a string of coins, representing the steps Harold takes in a typical race. Then he pushes the coins together slightly and says, “Can you find me another two coins, Mr. Abrahams?”
This is what editors do. Because we can bring years of experience and fresh eyes to your manuscript, we can spot weaknesses that you didn’t know you had. An editor can see where your characters act out of character. We can spot when you aren’t including enough detail (or including too much) when you set your scenes. We can tell you that the subplot that you thought highlighted your main character actually slows your pace more than it’s worth. We can find you two coins in the hundred.
Unfortunately, some editors try to do more.
I recently had a client come to me after working with three other editors who had all left distinctive marks on her manuscript. One suggested that she take what was, in fact, a prologue and make it into chapter one, because books nowadays shouldn’t have prologues. Another told her she needed to humanize her main character more, so she added a scene at the beginning that delayed the start of the real story. The third said the story started too late, and she should jump ahead, losing much of the humanizing material she’d just added.
The point here is not that the editors offered bad or contradictory advice – we all get it wrong from time to time. It’s that all of their advice pushed the client to make changes she didn’t feel comfortable with. They weren’t just adding steps to her race. They were trying to run the race for her. [Read more…]