Maintaining the attitude of a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist when editing, particularly for fiction and memoir, is crucial to preserving an author’s voice.
Opinions are like . . . you know: everybody’s got one. House editing style guides and preferences are no different. Browse through any random collection of imprint house publications, periodicals, or online articles, and you’ll witness a menagerie of guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the Associated Press Stylebook(AP), and a smattering of personal preferences seemingly chosen at random. The resulting style format can resemble an amalgamation of spare parts—something akin to a Frankenstein’s monster of house style. The curious aspect is the specific, obscure details individual editors decide to take a stand on—the hills upon which they choose to fight and die.
Developmental editors get to tinker with literary Lego, develop complex relationships with authors, and directly impact the narrative’s creation and final result.
I recently had the pleasure of attending my first professional editing conference, Red Pencil 6: Tracking Changes in Editing. This biennial conference is put on by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild and, according to the organization’s website, welcomes more than two hundred editors from the Pacific Northwest and beyond for a day of learning, networking, and camaraderie. This year’s conference took place on September 23 at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. I was thrilled to be able to attend the event with seven other Ooligan editors.
The dreaded “self-edit” acts as the bane of most writers’ existence. After pouring yourself into a carefully crafted piece for so long—draining blood, sweat, and tears in the process—it can be overwhelming to then restructure, reformat, and (oh please, no!) cut out portions of text. You’re attached to the writing, you’re invested in the experience, and you’re determined to share your story with the world—so why do you now need to edit it? New studies are proving, however, that this dreaded “self-edit” can actually prove therapeutic, in the same vein as writing and art therapies. Shaping a personal narrative is therapeutic in its own right, but the act of further cultivating and honing this narrative through a self-editing process can lead individuals to completely reprocess their own understanding of the world around them.
Given that there is overlap between the different stages of editing, and the fact that some smaller presses forgo line editing altogether, why should we even care about it? It’s a legitimate question. I think the line edit holds an important place in the publishing process, even if it doesn’t get the benefit of being a distinct procedure.