Yes, it happens.
While there are rules for grammar and usage, language is so fluid that many times content editing can be subjective. With subjectivity, comes room for argument or disagreement. In all these years of editing, I have had opportunities to consult with authors about edits I've made that they weren't particularly fond of.
My goal is always a win-win, but there are times when I yield to their preference and times when they come to understand my edit choices. In either situation, I follow these steps to ensure that the author and I maintain a relationship of trust, accountability, and open communication.
- I listen to their concerns.
- I make sure I understand their point of view and the context for their point of view.
- Is this just a personal preference?
- Do they feel the edit compromises their voice?
- Do they feel uncomfortable because the change is outside their field of expertise?
- Does the change not jive with their personal convictions?
- Do they not understand the audience for whom it is being written or the market it is being sold into?
- Do they understand the publisher’s expectations for the manuscript?
- Are they overly confident in the communicability of the original text?
- Are they unfamiliar with our house style, Chicago Manual of Style, or usage/grammar rules?
- Once I understand their point of view and demonstrate my understanding of where they are coming from, I determine if my edit was absolutely necessary based on why I made the change. If it wasn’t and their way of wanting to state something doesn’t compromise anything, I am happy to yield to their preference. If it does compromise something fairly concrete, I move to step 4.
- I explain to the author the authority I used to make the edit:
- Publisher’s expectations
- Author’s audience
- Buyer’s market
- Clarity and readability
- Correcting grammar or usage
- Applying house style or CMOS rules
- Enhancing their credibility
- Adjusting for word count issues
- Avoiding libel or copyright infringement
- Usually at this stage, the author knows I am in their corner and it is my desire to make them look good and help them communicate in a way that not only reaches their current audience but will also expand their message to a larger audience. Above all, my edits serve that purpose. When they know that and I am not able to back down from my editorial changes, the author is usually happy to accept my edits.
- If there is solution that allows for compromise and we both are able to be satisfied, then I search for that during our conversation and offer that for their consideration.
Working with authors is a joy for me, and I rarely reach an impasse with them. If I can find a way to give them what they want, I do it. But I am always thinking of how their words will affect them and their brand today, tomorrow, and on into the future. I believe this allows them to trust me with their most precious asset—their words.
If you are a writer, what are some of the ways you’d like to see an editor address your concerns?
If you’re an editor, what other ways can you suggest that would allow you to positively address author disagreements?