I have joined an excellent online critique group led by the kidlitoshpere’s very own Kelly Herold. The group’s closed, so no one go bothering her to let you join. We’ve already hit the maximum number of 10. This morning I sat down to type up a coherent version of the scattered notes I’d written over the manuscripts. I confess that I felt a little pressure as I wrote them. Since over half these people are already familiar with this blog, they know that I’m an editor. Yet, I’ve never worked with any but one of these people before. What kind of expectations would they have? What kind of miracles was I expected to work? And then I came to my senses and decided to write a normal critique just like I would for any writing class I’ve ever been in. And as I wrote, I realized that there are some subtle differences between editing and critiquing.

In the ideal critique, you write a large number of margin comments and then a detailed critique in a note to the author. Now since we are limited by email and the difficulties of making coherent comments even with Word’s note function, I decided to forego margin comments. I don’t how old-fashioned it makes me sound, there just is no substituting actual handwritten comments on the side of a manuscript. Instead I wrote a detailed note critique. Now the equivalent in editing would be an editorial letter. These are letters that comment on very early drafts that are going to require extensive revision. There’s not a lot of point in making line edits if the whole thing needs to be rewritten. The letter details the problems and gives an idea, sometimes general, sometimes specific, of the changes that need to be made. And the equivalent of margin comments in editing would be line-edits. However, these are much more specific, often so detailed as to change the wording of a sentence.

That’s when I realized that the main difference between critiques and editing is the visibility of the editor. When you critique, you just make suggestions. You don’t do anything that stamps your own style on the writing. You don’t drastically change the actual words. But in editing you do. You leave you own individual impression on the work. Things that are suggestions in a critique are really demands in editing. Not that editors are despots that cancel contracts at the first sign of dissent. However, I need justification for why you’re going to ignore my suggestions. When I do a critique I don’t care if you take my advice or not. You don’t have to reword a sentence my way. But with editing you kind of do. The result is that you can tell what books I’ve edited – like I left a fingerprint on it. If you read all the Blooming Tree books, I bet that in the end you could guess which ones were primarily edited by me as oppossed to Kay or Judy or Meghan.

So, which do I like better? It’s hard to say. In some ways editing is easier since I don’t have to worry about the results. I also don’t tend to have to worry about insulting or crushing someone’s dream when I edit. On the other hand, there’s something very satisfying on being in on a story’s very beginning, and that only happens with critiques.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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