This month’s topic is courtesy of Frank J. Milos of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Frank asks: How much input does an editor have on the stories a writer writes for him. (or her)? The answer is two-fold. First, the editor has as much input as he (or she) wants to have. And second, it all depends on the working relationship that the specific writer and editor develop. The editor is the person who signs the writer’s pay vouchers. That means it is in the writer’s best interests to submit material that pleases the editor, or else that writer will soon find him or herself out of an assignment. If there’s ever a serious disagreement between a writer and an editor, the editor always wins. (This is no idle posturing on my part as an editor. I’m also a freelance writer for Marvel, and the same applies to my editors.)
As far as working relationships go, every writer-editor team is different. All my writers are capable and accomplished (why else would I have hired them?) and can come up with a 22-page story without any input whatsoever from me. But, as editor, I insist that they verbally run the outline of the story by me before committing the synopsis to paper so I can spotcheck for glitches in logic, consistency, dramatic structure, characterization – you name it. It’s a good system. Every writer (myself included) benefits from a second opinion. Nobody can simultaneously be close enough to his/her work to make it intense and have enough aesthetic distance from it to see if it indeed accomplished what it was supposed to.
Believe it or not, the fun part of being an editor is not shuffling papers and making phone calls, it’s the creative kibitzing with writers and artists. I make it my job to throw out to my writers any ideas that may occur to me. If I throw out an idea a writer can’t use or make work, and he or she explains to me why, fine. No harm done. There are no wasted ideas. It may work better somewhere else. If a writer does decide to run with an idea of mine, it’s up to him or her how to handle it. The writer’s job is to make it work. My job is to make sure it works. Beyond specific story points and ideas, I do have a major say in the long-term direction of a series. If I feel the direction is inappropriate for a given character or book, it won’t happen.
So that, in general terms, is how much creative input an editor has. The main reason I’m still an editor after almost nine years of the grind is I’d rather have a little input in a lot of books than a lot of input into just a few books, which is what I’d have as a full-time writer.
If you have general questions you’d like me to answer in this space, write and let me know.