Walking the Tightrope of Editing a Respected Writer

By Joanne Kim, MAI intern

Beng Alba-Jones headshotSitting across from a highly respected and older author in your office, you hesitate to begin the conversation as a younger editor. What if I offend the writer? What if the writer thinks I am being rude? Editors face multiple challenges in working with well-known writers, especially in non-Western contexts. Here, Beng Alba-Jones (right), a freelance editor and former assistant editorial manager for OMF Literature, Inc. shares her insights and experiences. Beng will be co-leading MAI’s upcoming webinar “Who? You Edit me?!” on March 19.

How might age affect the degree of respect a young editor receives from an author?
It will take a tremendous amount of faith on the part of an author to trust a young editor. A young editor needs to jump through more hoops to prove to an author that he is competent enough to help him or her churn out a great book. As for respect, a young editor needs to earn it — by showing excellent work ethics, professionalism and care for the author, among others. If you are perceived to be too young to be an expert in editing, you need to think smarter and work harder.

How would a highly admired writer or respected leader differ in his or her attitude Working Meeting by Ambrotoward a young editor?
In this case, it will be twice as hard for the beginning editor to gain the confidence of the highly admired or respected leader. He needs the kind of confidence God gave to young David who faced the giant. It will be hard, for sure, but not impossible.

Do you think editors in non-Western cultures face greater difficulty working with older writers?
While this can be a universal issue, it’s even harder for Asians because most of us, Filipinos for instance, are raised to show deference to those older than us. For instance, we have this word, “po,” which we add to the middle or the end of the sentence whenever we are talking to somebody who is significantly older. In addition, we consider it impolite to use somebody’s first name if we are younger than him or her. Maybe editors in the West have it easier where there is a more even playing field.

Did you ever encounter a writer who would not accept your editorial input because you were viewed as a young and inexperienced editor during your time at OMF Literature in the Philippines?
I have not experienced having my editorial comments rejected because of my youth and inexperience. However, there was one author who, during our first meeting, blurted when she saw 23-year-old me, “You’re just a girl.” She said it in surprise and I didn’t sense any irritation on her part. I took no offense and we just shared a good laugh over it. I worked with her on many projects and for many years until the Lord took her home almost four years ago.

Have you had any challenges in this area? Tell us.

>>Register now for our free March 19 webinar with Beng and Sabry Botros of Egypt to learn tips on working with writers who are admired and respected leaders.

Photo above by Ambro, Freedigitalphotos

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