My last post got a little long, so I decided to split it into two posts - one about being critiqued by peers and this one, about being edited professionally during the publication process.
The main difference is the balance of power, at least for a newbie author like me. As a veteran in my critique group where we're all equals, I've learned how to take it all in, process it, and use the information that rings true for me - I'm the boss of my writing.
In my other, smaller critique group, I do the same thing, but because we all write in the same genre, what we tell each other has as much to do with how the text impacted us as readers of the genre as it did as writers. Still, we're all peers - writers voluntarily subjecting ourselves to the constructive criticism of other writers in an effort to make our work better - and the final decision as to what happens on the page is up to the person who created the characters.
When an editor takes on a completed manuscript, her job is to make the book, the author and the publishing company look good. The editor is a professional - someone who knows not just the rules of writing, but, if it's a good match, also the rules of the genre and the rules of the market. Because of this, and because the stakes are higher - the book is, after all, on its way to publication - someone in the know has to be in charge.
Even in a good editorial partnerships, the editor and the author aren't peers - at least not for the project in question. Perhaps that sounds contradictory. The nature of a partnership, after all, is a give-and-take exchange.
And a good editor understands that, deftly balancing the need for improvement along with the fact that the book is the author's baby. Consistent, gentle nudges that not only reinforce rules of good writing, but also respect the author's emotional investment in her book benefit both partners. This approach helps an author not only to find her own mistakes as the process moves forward, but also to trust that the editor won't be reckless with her work.
On the author's part, there's no room for diva-dom in this process. Battling an editor only drags out the process. Besides, there's nothing more fulfilling for an author than getting to the end of a chapter and liking it more than she did on the previous "final read" when she thought she'd already done everything possible to make it sing.
As I write this, I imagine my editor (who does all the things above) reading this and perhaps shaking her head. I don't try to be difficult, but the excitement-fear-perfectionism combo is a lethal one. Knowing this is the last chance to get it right makes the process daunting, and the need to protect voice and character is enough to make an author (at least) a little neurotic.
The good thing about the process is that it does take time - which gives each partner a chance to learn the other person's rhythm and method, style and preferences. And though it's hard to be a newbie, if the author can trust in the fact that both people want the same thing - the best possible final product - that's the best life preserver for uncharted waters.