You have started working on your latest editing project and are less than impressed with the quality. You have a few options here. It is very possible that you don’t have a choice about whether or not to edit this. Maybe it was handed to you by the publishing house and they asked you to get it up to snuff. Or, maybe you are a freelancer and this came from a private client. You have more freedom to decide to give it back to her to keep working on it or you can slog through and help her figure out the issues. Whether you want to keep the project or you think it is best to return it, you need to communicate to the author that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. You want to do this without hurting her feelings or crushing her dreams. What is an editor to do?
The sandwich method!
Does this mean you take the author out for sandwiches and then tell her the book was awful? No. Please don’t do that.
So, what is the sandwich method you ask?
It’s simple. Sandwich the bad news in between the good news.
Start with something you liked about the piece. Or something she does well. Build up her confidence and let her know where she is strongest.
Next, tell her what could be improved. Remember that she has handed over her baby to you and you should speak accordingly. Let her know that there are things that need to be changed, but tell her gently. The goal here is to tell her what is wrong with her manuscript in a kind way.
Finally, end on a positive note. Tell her another aspect you really liked in the story. Share what your favorite part was. Give her a boost before she embarks on the next draft.
Remember, as an editor, your job is to help the author make her story the best it can be. You need to make sure what you say isn’t going to break her spirit. Even if there is loads of work that needs to be done on a project, give her something positive to hang on to. She will appreciate your help much more if she feels you are a friend helping her out instead of a stuffy grammarian who is a little rough around the edges. When you are unsure if what you are going to say is too harsh, think about how you would feel if someone said it to you.
This can also be a great method to use even if the manuscript is in good shape and just needs some cleaning up to make is stellar. All writers deserve to hear your positive thoughts about their work along with your critiques.
Have you had a time you needed to break the news gently to an author? How did you handle it?
Has an editor broken hard news to you in a good or bad way?
Share your experiences in the comments!