Marilyn Levinson writes the Golden Age of Mysteries Book Club and the Twin Lakes series, and the Haunted Library series as Allison Brook. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.
Having published seventeen novels in more years than I care to mention and two books coming out soon, I’ve been vetted by a variety of editors. Just as each writer has her own voice, every editor edits in her own particular way. Some editors I’ve worked with considered me a clean writer and made a few notations on my manuscripts. Their edits mostly dealt with simple grammar and punctuation issues: adding or deleting the occasional comma, pointing out that my protagonist had invited a guest for mac and cheese then prepared a dinner of meatballs and pasta. Or they split my compound words into a hyphenated word or two separate words, depending on the publisher’s style. These are small changes editors should and do make.
Other editors have inserted their stamp via changes and deletions. I thought I’d mention a few I’ve found interesting:
1. An editor changed every “he asked” to “he said.” Interesting. Recently, when I used “she said” after a question, my current editor changed it to “she asked.”
2. Another editor deleted many of my introductory sentences to a new scene, feeling they weren’t necessary. I believe such sentences establish time and setting and I continue to include them.
3. One editor eliminated expressions such as “she grinned,” “he nodded,” “she smiled.” While I felt the cut was too severe, it taught me to be more creative and not to rely on these well-worn phrases.
4. After a statement, I often write “he said,” and follow it with an action. For example: “I’d like you to make the corrections in red,” I said, handing him the pages. My editor eliminated “I said” and followed it with a new sentence: “I handed him the pages.” I’m of the school that considers “said” a tag hardly noticed by readers, and considered this type of change to be her personal preference.
5. Is there something wrong with saying “ten o’clock?” I ask because one editor eliminated my use of “o’clock” each time it appeared in my manuscript.
6. Another editor insisted on inserting the word “and” in every clause beginning with “then.” An old grammar rule, I believe, that’s gone the way of the floppy disk.
Most of the corrections—or differences of opinion—involve the use of commas. I suppose that’s because different editors follow different schools or styles. Until recently, I inserted commas to set off clauses not essential to the sentence. I inserted a comma to separate two independent clauses. In both cases, I’ve had my commas removed. I haven’t always inserted a comma after timed-related phrases such as “after dinner.” Now that I’ve been “corrected” re all of the above, I’m truly confused as to when to use a comma.
The rules are constantly changing. We authors must remain flexible and accept the new order when long-established rules are discarded. We no longer type two spaces after a period. Nor do we insert a comma after “white” in “the red, white and blue.” (Goodbye Oxford comma.) All of this takes some getting used to. I’ll abide by the rules and try not to get too upset when a new editor changes what I’ve just managed to learn.