As editors we often hone our craft and better our skills, and there are plenty of ways to do so: experience, courses, books, webinars, and reading, among others. However, with over a decade’s experience as an editor—in-house with a corporate publisher and an independent publishing house, and especially as a freelancer working with self-published authors—the skill that I treasure the most is empathy.
Empathy for the author: Fiction editing is a lot about intuition and feelings. It is also a lot about putting yourself in the characters’ shoes, in the author’s shoes, and in the readers’ shoes. Toggling different worlds is not easy but it certainly makes us more empathetic. As an editor, not only do we need to feel with the reader, we also need to feel with the author. We need to be aware and appreciative of the work that an author has put in, respectful of their time, and understanding of their emotions. A good editor will understand why the author has written what they have written and how the author\’s world can be communicated more effectively to the readers. Even if a book is not very well-written, an empathetic editor can make it a good book with their emotional intelligence and deep understanding.
We must show empathy not only during the process of editing but also in our communication with the authors. Whether it be during writing the editorial assessment, when selecting the language we use in our emails or phone conversations, or simply in waiting patiently while the author navigates through our red marks, we must be empathetic.
Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean lacking objectivity—a key skill for an editor. We need to find a fine balance between the two. And although what we do daily is a conscious performance of empathy, it has to be genuine and organic.
Empathy for ourselves: As editors, no matter how good we are, we can’t possibly be omniscient. No amount of editing can make a fiction work perfect. As a work of art, it can always be bettered by someone else’s standards. However, the fact that we have done our best is good enough and should be enough reason to rejoice. Don’t let the one tiny typo that slipped away eat away at your mind. Also, don’t sacrifice your sleep and rest hours to work, work, and work. We can’t be of any use to the author if we are tired and cranky. Space out your schedule, set reasonable deadlines, and enjoy what you do.
Empathy for the editor, from the author: But empathy, albeit a skill editors acquire, is certainly not limited to our species. To all the authors who are reading this, here is how you can show empathy towards your editors. Firstly, be respectful of the editor\’s time and calendar. If you need more time on a manuscript, simply let the editor know in advance. Most fiction editors block their calendars in advance and a heads up will be very helpful and will prevent them from losing out on money. Secondly, communicate what you want clearly. It is okay to be confused and to not have all the answers. Your editors are here to help. You can always work your way through your doubts with the help of your editor. Thirdly, accept that neither you nor your editor know it all. It is all a learning curve and working on the book is a collaborative experience. Empathy makes the work process so much easier and friendlier.
So, to all the wonderful empathetic authors out there, and especially to all my fellow fiction editors, let’s raise a toast to ourselves for the superpower of empathy that we possess and that has made us evolved and emotionally intelligent beings, and let’s keep preserving and polishing this superpower so that we can continue wearing our capes with pride.
If you want to chat with me about editing or work with me, you can email me at email@example.com. Feel free to look me up on Linkedin. To see why I love my job and feel qualified to write this post, please visit my website.