Editors

By Allison Brennan

 

I’m on a tight deadline and haven’t been online as much as usual, so apologies to my Murderati gang! It’s been . . . hectic. In addition to a book due in three weeks, school started for my kids, and four of the five are in fall sports. Volleyball, Cross Country, Football and Soccer. (Just fall sports are this hectic—fortunately, only one has a winter sport and one has a spring sport, so once we get through Thanksgiving, my schedule will be much, much easier!)

I want to sing the praises of editors today. Good editors. I’ve heard the horror stories from some of my friends about editors who don’t edit, or editors who over-edit, or editors who have a different vision. I’ve been extremely lucky to have the same editors for all my books—#15 is in production and #16 is due in three weeks.

First, the caveat—editors are like agents. Sometimes, a good editor (or agent) and a good writer just don’t click. That doesn’t make the editor bad, or the author, it makes the relationship troublesome. I’ve seen this happen when an author is assigned a different editor for whatever reason (a maternity leave that became permanent, terminations, leaving employment, etc) and the new editor, though terrific, doesn’t “get” the orphaned author, or doesn’t particularly like the author’s style.

Remember, when an editor acquires a book they need to love it. Yes, they want it to sell, and yes they may be viewing it commercially (and since I write commercial fiction, I would expect this!) but they also have to love the book and the author’s voice. They will be reading the book multiple times, they represent the author at the editorial board table, the cover art meetings, sales and marketing, liaison with publicity, juggle schedules, and stand up for the author in-house. An editor is a crucial piece of the publication puzzle because they do so much more than simply edit the manuscript.

But it’s the editing of the manuscript I want to talk about now.

A good editor will not mess with your voice. They won’t demand major story changes because of a whim or rewrite all your sentences.

A good editor will strengthen your voice, will teach you through their edits how to be a stronger storyteller, and ask questions that make you dig deeper into your story and characters.

For example, I had to send in the excerpt from my March book (the one I’m writing now) to be included as a teaser in my January book. I sent the opening chapter (I have a prologue, but I don’t like to put prologues as teasers)  which I thought was good. And it was—but my editor made it shine. Minor things, but ended up making my prose stronger. To illustrate, here are the opening two paragraphs of what I sent in, and what I got back with edits.

 

As the cold wind whipped around her, FBI Agent Suzanne Madeaux lifted the corner of the yellow crime scene tarp covering the dead girl and swore under her breath.

Jane Doe was between the ages of sixteen and nineteen with blonde hair streaked with pink highlights. The teenager wore a pink party dress, and Suzanne absently wondered if she changed her highlights to match her outfit. There was no outward sign of sexual assault or cause of death, but there was no doubt she was the victim of the killer Suzanne had been chasing through the five boroughs of New York City.

Jane Doe wore only one shoe.

 

Now, the opening paragraphs with editorial line edits:

 

As the cold wind whipped around her, FBI Agent Suzanne Madeaux lifted the corner of the yellow crime scene tarp covering the dead girl and swore under her breath.

Jane Doe was somewhere between sixteen and nineteen, her blonde hair streaked with pink highlights. The teenager’s party dress was also pink, and Suzanne absently wondered if she changed her highlights to match her outfit. There was no outward sign of sexual assault or an apparent cause of death. Still, there was no doubt this was another victim of the killer Suzanne had been chasing through the five boroughs of New York City.

Jane Doe wore only one shoe.

 

I’m very happy with this new beginning, and only a few words were added and deleted. The changes streamlined the opening paragraphs and made them stronger without changing the tone or style or story.

But line edits are only one part of editing.

Here are just a few of the questions and comments my editor had in the margins of the original LOVE ME TO DEATH manuscript (some verbiage has been changed to avoid spoilers!)

  • Too many coincidences with this (specific plot point.)
  • Can this scene be cut down a bit? I’m concerned that it draws too much attention to itself and readers will be left wondering why they’re learning so much about (character.)
  • This (section) is too clinical somehow. Revise?
  • I think this scene works.  But you need to be careful with the tenses.  You are switching between past and present in a few places.  I like having a real villian who is scary and threatening! But I definitely agree with you that his POV should be introduced earlier.
  • This seems too obvious to state.
  • Would love to know Lucy’s thought process here?  Why is she looking into the prison records?  What is her hunch?  What is she looking for or thinks she’ll find?
  • I feel like her rational for doing the research could be stronger.  Feels a little flimsy.
  • Need to make (this plot point) clearer when they make the connection.  What they think is going on…
  • I feel like we are missing a scene where Sean and Lucy exchange information.  For instance when does she learn about (this situation)?

And because editors know that writers need praise, there were positive comments sprinkled throughout so I don’t think the entire book is complete garbage!

One problem I have in writing is that I become so absorbed in the story, I write and rewrite it so many times, that sometimes I think I put in a scene but deleted it in a rewrite because I erroneously thought it repeated information. An editor sees the story several times, but the first pass through—where she’s seeing the story all there for the first time—she’ll catch things that get missed in all the writing and rewriting. I am so close to the story, so immersed, that I think I write things because I thought of it. It’s one reason why no one should be the final proofreader of their own work. I’ll “read” a word that isn’t there because my mind fills in the word that “should” be there. Same goes with storytelling as a whole.

One of the things I always forget is describing my characters. I usually don’t do this until I revise, and sometimes I forget and my editor catches it. I know exactly what my characters look like. So when I re-read, I think my mind fills in the description without it actually being on the paper :/

I would love to believe that whatever I write is brilliant and without the need for editing. But when I think I don’t need an editor, my career is over. I’m a far better writer today than I was sixteen books ago. Line edits are lighter because I’ve absorbed the unspoken lessons I learned by analyzing why certain changes were made. Yet, I need a good editor to continue to help me grow as a storyteller. I still have a long way to go. It might take a hundred books before I don’t need help . . . naw. I’ll need an editor then, too.

Who’s someone who made you a better person/writer/professional? Who made you stronger than you thought you could be?

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “Editors

  1. James Scott Bell

    Agree, Allison. I've been fortunate to work on multiple books with a great editor, and with a "hands on" agent. I also benefit from the eagle eye of my wife, who is always my first reader. This is no game to go it completely alone.

  2. Tracey Devlyn

    Hi Allison,

    Great post! I'll soon be working with an editor for the first time and will keep your comments in mind.

    I've been extremely fortunate in my critique partners. They helped me create a publishable book. Plus, I now have an awesome agent, who specializes in story development. I've been blessed in so many ways.

    Thanks again for your candid post.
    Tracey

  3. Dudley Forster

    I just want to get to the place where I have an editor. * goes back to writing, dreaming the dreams of the published *

  4. Sylvia

    I'm with Dudley. If I were at a place to have an editor, that would be quite nice. My editors (and bless them) have been Judy Greber and Louise Ure. Of course they haven't seen a word from me in years….blowing dust off a file….

  5. Louise Ure

    Sylvia, I'd better see something new soon!

    And Allison, those bullet pointed comments from your editor sound just like the remarks from my stellar editor, Michael Homler at St. Martin's. He's got a keen eye.

  6. Allison Brennan

    James, you're not alone–many spouses are first readers. Stephen King's wife, Tabitha, for example. I also wholeheartedly believe in his advice to write with the door closed and edit with the window open, meaning write alone without input and advice, then when during edit listen to people you trust (but in the end, it's YOUR book, so only make changes if you agree.)

    That's another sign of a good editor. When you disagree about something, you can stand by your work and your editor will support you. Usually when my editor and I disagree, it's because my scene was misplaced or not clear. For example in LMTD, I had a great character building/relationship building scene between my hero and heroine. Great scene . . . but it didn't have any purpose beyond character development and my editor felt it could be cut. However, when I put a villain scene in front of it (rather than immediately after) it added tension to the quieter scene and worked on multiple levels and we both ended up liking it much better ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi Tracey! I used to have a crit group, but time didn't benefit us. I couldn't give them back what they gave me. There were some other issues as well, but the big one was time. My editor is now my first reader.

    Dudley–keep writing! BTW, I kept ALL my rejection letters. They're in a file and I look at them sometimes to remember that it was a long, hard journey to get published.

    Sylvia, what I said to Dudley!

    Louise, I've talked to other authors who have similar editors and we are all very lucky!

  7. Debbie

    Like the editing comments in your blog Allison, my husband offered great advice, but maybe that's just because it was wrapped so positivly. Clinical criticism doesn't bother me at all and often I find my own errors comical and I see comments like those above so helpful in my own work. It's that fresh set of eyes that says, "Hey, you didn't explain that, cover this, introduce…." and I appreciate the attention to detail that some criticism lacks. On the other hand, I've never truely been edited, told to cut a scene, blend two together, lose a character or subplot. How does an author handle the grittier, harsher reality? What if it's only an eye to marketability and not to a better story?

  8. Allison Brennan

    Debbie, most editors are editing to make the story better. Marketability is important, but that's usually addressed in negotiations and proposal–not when you turn in the manuscript. Alex had a terrific comment in her blog two weeks ago–I think it was Dusty who had a proposal about an island and suspense plot, and Alex said, "But what if the president was on the island?" Suddenly, the story has that marketable "hook" without changing anything about the story itself.

    I've had to do major rewrites and I've had books that had very light revisions. All my editor notes are directed toward making the story stronger. I've only been told once to include an element solely for "marketability", but that's a completely different blog for a different day. My advice? When the publisher buys the book, they have a vested interest in making it as strong and marketable as possible. But it's your book and your name on it–in the end, you need to agree with the changes, whatever they are.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    My editor at Tor-Forge, Eric Raab, definitely has a subtle, magic touch. He knows my voice and improves it where he can. And if I believe in something strongly enough he lets me keep it–providing I can back up my reasons for keeping it. In the process of defending my decision, sometimes I realize that he's right, or that he sees something in my blind side, and then I make the change he suggested. It's a good give-and-take. The person who really challenges me on every sentence and every plot point is my wife, Ryen.

  10. Jude Hardin

    Sixteen already? Damn. What's that, about four a year? I'm impressed!

    My first will be released next May, and I had a very similar experience with my editor at Oceanview. And I also think I'm a better writer for going through the process. Great post, Allison!

  11. Allison Brennan

    Exactly Stephen–a good editor makes us look at what we write and question it and ultimately, whether we make the change or not, the story is better for editorial input. I can look at my first book and what I'm writing now and see a huge difference in story, complexity, character depth, and basic writing.

    Jude–three a year! And only 2 this year (3 next year.) ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . I've heard terrific things about the editors at Oceanview; I'm so glad you had a great experience!

    A

  12. Dana King

    :"…and the new editor, though terrific, doesnโ€™t โ€œgetโ€ the orphaned author, or doesnโ€™t particularly like the authorโ€™s style."

    Don't the publishing houses take ten minutes to see which editor might be best suited to continue with the orphaned author? Seems like common sense to me.

  13. dirtywhitecandy

    What a good point. A good editor won't try to turn your book into their version of your book; they'll try to help you write YOUR book the best way you can. We should bless good editors when we get to work with them, because they have our book's interests at heart.

  14. Shane Arthur

    Allison, 1st time here. I like what you're written. And I agree. Editors should not erase the writer's voice, just remove the blubber around it.

    I just finished King's audio book today. I love how his wife was his pillar of support.

    Regards,
    Shane

    p.s. Love the logo.

    p.p.s. If I may (and I don't mind if you tell me to go pound sand. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), I'd like to suggest a few additional mods to the 2nd paragraph:

    “““`
    Jane Doe was somewhere between sixteen and nineteen, her blonde hair streaked with pink highlights. The teenagerโ€™s party dress was also pink, and Suzanne absently wondered if she changed her highlights to match her outfit. (((There was))) no outward sign of sexual assault or an apparent cause of death. Still, (((there was))) no doubt this was another victim of the killer Suzanne had been chasing through the five boroughs of New York City.
    “““`

  15. mens watches

    http://www.manelefree.net replica swiss watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com replica watches
    http://www.watches-mens.com mens watches
    http://www.watches-mens.com/breitling-navitimer breitling navitimer
    http://www.watches-mens.com/rolex-datejust rolex datejust
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/rolex-watches rolex watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/bell-ross-watches bell ross watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/ferrari-watches ferrari watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/bvlgari-watches bvlgari watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/rolex-datejust-watches Rolex DateJust
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/burberry-watches Burberry watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/breguet-watches Breguet watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/chopard-watches-c-24 chopard watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/hublot-watches hublot watches
    http://www.worldwide-watches.com/u-boat-watches U boat watches
    http://www.watches-mens.com/rolex-daytona rolex daytona
    http://www.watches-mens.com/iwc iwc watches
    http://www.watches-mens.com/panerai-luminor panerai luminor
    http://www.watches-mens.com/burberry burberry watches

Comments are closed.