My Edits Enclosed
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
In the olden days at the beige insurance company, we had a manager who reviewed all our copy before it was published or sent to design. We were young writers then, eager for feedback, praise, and encouragement from someone we looked up to as a mentor. It drove us batshit crazy with disappointment, then, when anything we sent him came back with redline edits and one phrase in the email body copy:
“My edits enclosed.”
“That’s it?” my coworker would moan. “He can’t say more than that? No ‘Good job’ or ‘Way to go, Tiger’?”
She would usually follow this up with an expletive. We were young, and whispering cuss words over our cube wall about our boss was thrilling and felt very adult.
I too was always disappointed. I’d spend hours on a brochure about coordination of benefits or a series of letters about network disruption. I’d email it to Mr. Boss with pride and high hopes. Then feel extremely let down when I got back just a Christmas tree’s worth of red and green edits and those three inscrutable words.
Despite being a middle manager at a beige insurance company, our boss had once been a newspaper reporter—a period of his life we referred to as his “smoky blue newsroom” years. So his opinion meant something to us.
Now that I’m at least a decade older than he was then and have been working at Beige & Co. for almost as long as he’d been alive at that time, I get it. I get “My edits enclosed.” I actually have to stop myself from typing the exact same phrase when I send edits to the beige company writers I now review.
He was being efficient, not dismissive.
As an editor, I get sucked into the world of the words. A manuscript is a giant crossword puzzle demanding to be solved. I’m not thinking about anyone’s ego. Nor do I know how long a writer agonized over what word to use in a specific sentence. If the word doesn’t work, I strike it out. Because I’m not editing a person. I’m editing copy.
But I’ve vowed to do better. I know better. I just need to stop and put myself in the writer’s shoes and remember Mr. Smoky Blue Newsroom and the young writer I used to be.
Part of my challenge is that I work in two different editorial worlds. One is the beige company. There, no one writer owns the words. The company owns the words. There’s a brand voice and style and tone that we all have to attain. My job is to enforce factual accuracy and adherence to the corporate tone. I hack away, sometimes ruthlessly (sometimes half-heartedly), and there’s no feedback. No pushback. No complaints (that I ever hear about).
I’m not thinking about who wrote the words as much as I’m thinking about who will read the words. I’m thinking about the blowback if factual inaccuracies (or worse, a misplaced comma) make it out into the world.
Every so often I have a moment to think about the poor writers who probably wince when they see a document arrive in their inbox with my initials at the end of the file name: KP EDITS.
I once messaged a relatively younger writer to say, “Hey. Got a minute?”
She replied with “Uh-oh. What did I do now?” Smiley face.
So I occasionally take a moment in a staff meeting to say, “I’m sorry. I hope I’m not pissing you guys off. I don’t mean to be mean.” They always assure me that I’m not mean, I’m not pissing them off, and they’re grateful to me for saving them from themselves.
They’re so gracious. (Liars.)
My other editorial world is freelance. And that’s a very different vibe. I try to tread more carefully there. I’ve learned to read through manuscripts at least twice—once to make edits, and once to undo edits I didn’t need to make. I’ve learned to speak out loud thoughts that otherwise—in my beige world—I wouldn’t necessarily say: Great job! I love it. Your characters are rich. Your story is captivating. I enjoyed the journey.
I always mean what I say. I don’t engage in false flattery. I’m just not used to giving anything more than “My edits enclosed.”
I have so much respect for anyone who sets out to write a book—an actual, freaking BOOK!—and accomplishes it. That in itself deserves a gold medal and a trip to Disneyland. Then, when that person pays a complete stranger to go through their work and change it? Find the flaws and fix them?
That’s impressive. Truly. You guys are badasses.
Editing is both an art and a craft. It’s a service and a skill. Sometimes it’s objective. That’s when it’s easy. But other times it’s subjective. That’s when it’s hard. You can give a manuscript to ten different editors, and you’ll get back ten different ways to edit it.
I know. It’s maddening.
That’s why I always welcome dialogue with a writer. Ask questions! I can learn from the writers as much as they can learn from me. I beg the beige company writers to ask me about edits. “Ask me!” I say. “Let’s talk about hyphens!”
They don’t take me up on it. It’s lonely being an editor. Everyone’s afraid of using bad grammar in front of us, so no one talks to us.
Anyway. I admire writers so much. You’re putting your heart and soul on a page. It’s a personal investment of time and creativity. And I know that handing your manuscript over to an editor can be terrifying. I’ve had writers tell me they were anxious, relieved, hopeful, scared, and excited when they reached the editing stage.
I can only imagine. Personally, I don’t think I could do it. I’d probably self-combust with anxiety.
A few years ago I edited a novel written by a young woman still in high school. I told her that together, we were making a quilt. She’d chosen the fabric, invented the design, spent the long hours sewing, and brought her vision into being. My job was to take her quilt and reenforce the stitching. I would make sure the quilt held up over years of being used and loved.
So if you’re shopping for an editor, that must mean you’ve pieced together your quilt. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve done something amazing.
I wouldn’t rip apart your hard work and make it over the way I think it should be. That’s not how I see my job. I see my job as helping you create a book that connects with readers and makes a difference in the world. Sometimes I’ll leave your voice exactly as it is. And sometimes, I’ll shove a preposition here, tuck a comma there, and flip a participle into a different place. But they’re still your words. Just in a different order.
The entire time I’m working, I’ll never stop marveling about how you and your accomplishment are amazing. (Even though when you get the edits back, it might not feel that way at first.)
And no matter what, I promise, you’ll always get more than, “My edits enclosed.”