That Magic Moment

by J.T. Ellison

There comes a time in every author’s life when they have to make a decision.

An editorial decision, that is.  A moment when your editor says, "What do you think about this?" and you have to decide one way or another whether you want to listen. It can be very, very hard to hear that a change may be necessary. I imagine there are authors out there who go into a complete tailspin when they receive "input." But good editorial input is like having opposable thumbs, it makes life a whole lot easier. I’ve been blessed so far with the suggestions and critiques I’ve received, and I’m not terribly uptight when it comes to changing aspects of my work. But that has everything to do with being surrounded by the right people.

If you were on Facebook this week, you might have seen a status update from me that said "JT loves her editor." I’m wasn’t trying to suck up. I was telling the truth. I do love my editor. She’s brilliant. And she can play me like a harp. She knows me. She gets me. And she has the vision to strengthen my work with just a few strategically placed plucks.

We’ve just finished working on the second Taylor Jackson novel. Yesterday, to be exact. The book is about to go into production, which means we backed into a hard deadline. As of now, the books is done and has been sent to copyedit, so there is much rejoicing in the Ellison household today. I’ve already received the cover art, a cover so amazing that I’m sitting on it for a few months so we can make a splash at the right time. It’s that good. Talk about people who get me, the Mira Art Department knows my mind better than I do. I give them a couple of nudges toward the direction I want, they come up with sheer genius.

Back to the editorial decision.

I always look forward to my edits. I find the process fascinating. Simply put, I write a book, do three revisions, let other people read it, read it again myself, thinking it’s the best I can possibly write and THEN submit it to my editor.

And that’s where the magic occurs. My editor suggests a tweak here, a change there, more information, less detail, sugar, spice and everything nice. When I was doing the edits for All the Pretty Girls, check that, when I thought my edits were done, my editor came in with a suggestion at the 11th hour. It was a tiny little suggestion. Minor. Minimal. I thought about it, plugged it into the manuscript, and voila! it became a novel. I hate to overuse my cooking analogy, but that’s just what it’s like. You add all the spices, let it cook, and though it tastes wonderful, something you can’t put your finger on is missing. You might even go so far as to serve the dish… then a guest says, hmmm, needs salt, and you’ve got it. Eureka. A dash will do, you taste it again, and it’s perfect. Simple, yet satisfying.

And that moment is pure bliss.

I had one of those transcendent moments Wednesday night. I submitted my revisions, my editor read through them, and she came back with a relatively minor question that rocked my boat. I don’t want to tell what it was because it goes to the crux of the story, and I’d rather not give it away just yet. She asked the question, and I didn’t have the answer. I wrote her back and said I would have to think about it and WHAM! Just as I clicked send, it hit me. The answer was already there, in the manuscript, ripe for the picking. It literally took two lines to make it come to the forefront. Crazy.

That’s what a great editor can do for your book. I made the changes. When I hit send again, I was giddy. I’d found the salt.

The past few weeks have seen several debates regarding self vs. traditional publishing. All arguments aside, I’ll tell you why I would never self-publish. Yes, I’m looking for a mainstream audience. Yes, I love the distribution models, the access to bookstores, all that jazz. But it’s the editing that I would miss.

There’s a symbiotic relationship that grows between a writer and editor. Your agent’s job is not only to place the book you’re trying to sell, it’s to match you with an editor that fits your temperament. I think it’s vital to be paired with an editor who gets you. Who can be as excited, laid-back, cheery or morose as you are. Someone who can be your polar opposite when you’re down, and knows when to reign you in for your own good. Someone who can understand when the time is right to talk to you about making changes, who won’t step on your feelings or your dreams, who knows when to push and when to pull back.

And yes, your relationship with your agent must be harmonious as well. It’s terribly difficult to be at loggerheads with your agent. They are your cheerleader, your priest, your conscience and everything in between, and it’s vital that the lines of communication stay open, that you stay open, and they stay open. This business of being reluctant to contact your agent about an issue because you don’t want to waste their time is nonsense. You need to be a cohesive unit, and that takes communication. But send them cookies. Often. Send your editor some too.

So as I float today, thrilled to pieces that I’ve found that elusive morsel that I didn’t know was missing, I ask you. Do you have any great catches that your editor made for you? I’ll lead it off. Mine once pointed out that cannibals don’t use pixie dust to shrink heads. Talk about mixing metaphors…

Wine of the Week: 2000 ODDERO BAROLO Rocche di Castiglione Falletto     It’s halfway down the page. If anyone can get their hands on this stateside, let me know. The website I’ve linked to is my present to you — a bevy of wonderful, top-notch vino.


Since I will be disappearing for the week of Christmas, taking a long overdue vacation from the Internet, the writing world, and everything in between, I wish you a Merry Christmas — and if you celebrate something else this season — peace, joy and goodwill for the New Year. See you next Friday, though I’ll be remote.

—-RATI in the Media—

Our own Robert Gregory Browne will be on Kim Alexander’s Fiction Nation, on Take Five, XM 155 on
Saturday December 22nd at 6pm, on Sunday December 23rd at 10:00am, and
on Monday, December 24th at 3:00am, and on Sonic Theater, XM 163 on
Thursday, December 27th at 3:00pm. All times EDT.

Kim Alexander has been doing some amazingly cool interviews. Check out her whole backlist here, there’s plenty of familiar names.

12 thoughts on “That Magic Moment

  1. neil nyren

    On behalf of editors everywhere, we thank you, JT. I’ll tell you one of the things that gives us the most pleasure: when we ask a question or make a suggestion, and then the writer *runs* with it, coming up with something far, far better or more interesting than we might originally have had in mind. It’s just exhilarating, and leaves us floating, too.

  2. Rob Gregory Browne

    First, JT, thanks for the plug. I’ll send that box of candy out in tomorrow’s mail.

    Second, I couldn’t agree more about a great editor. I’ve been very fortunate with my editors in this business in that their only goal was to help me write a better book. Quite a change from what I’m used to.

    On my upcoming novel, my editor caught a logic flaw that would surely have made me look like a complete idiot. It was a very simple fix, but it’s great to have that second set of highly experienced eyes to catch such things.

    I don’t want to be a suck up either, but I have to say that I think I have one of the best editors in the business (are you reading this, Marc?)


  3. cj lyons

    I *heart* my editor because she brings cold, hard logic to the table–something that I’m sorely lacking.

    She’ll say little things like: CJ, how can this character be two places at once? We’re writing a thriller, not a paranormal, right?

    And she’ll be sooooo right! But she loves how I can bring out nuances in my characters, use my lack of logic (aka intuition) to bring them to life on the page, conflicts, warts, and contradictions and all.

    She and my agent both talk about my characters like they’re not only alive but they’re all best friends (having coffee klatches at Starbucks while I toil in solitude, no doubt )……coming from seasoned publishing pros like them, let me tell you that’s when I know I’m a real writer!!

    And yes, I send cookies and chocolate on a regular basis–and to my art director as well, my cover rocked!

  4. Tammy Cravit

    I don’t have book editing stories, but I’ve learned more from the newspaper and magazine editors I’ve worked with than I ever did in any of my writing books or classes. Watching a good editor work is rather like watching someone conduct a symphony, in my mind: All she’s doing is swishing that little baton, but the result is like magic.

    In fact, my mom was an editor of children’s books for a number of years. Watching her work was just amazing. I hope, when I get my first novel published, that I’m lucky enough to have a good editor.

  5. Louise Ure

    JT, that moment of epiphany you describe is so fine, isn’t it? I’ve felt it, too. Sometimes because of an editor’s brilliant insight, and sometimes because I was drinking a good wine and watching the sun go down.

    But I’ve never thought the book was then perfect. I still want to change things when the hardcover shows up in the mail.

  6. Pari

    J.T.,Great post.

    One of the editors I cherished most wasn’t my formal editor at all; she was the independent reader that UNM Press asked to critique CLOVIS for publication. It was Sara Ann Freed — the legendary editor at Mysterious Press. I knew Sara Ann and she had been a sort of informal mentor to me. So, when UNMP asked her to read CLOVIS, she took the time to truly examine it and to offer suggestions/queries to make it better.

    Because of her insights, I slashed one character’s role down to nubbins and ended up creating another — Abel King — who is many readers’ favorite.

    I learned so much from her and wish she was still alive.

    My agent is a superb reader as well. After he’s ripped through a manuscript, I feel the book has just gone through a graduate course.

    BTW: CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! on #2 AND your upcoming vacation.

  7. allison brennan

    I love my editor too 🙂 . . . I think the best editors are those who don’t tell the writer what to do, but ask the writer questions or point out what doesn’t make sense or what can be fuller. Great editors can make good writers shine.

    BTW, one of my books just went into production, too JT! May they have a fun Christmas together 🙂

  8. billie

    Great post, JT. I haven’t had an official editor yet, but both agents were former editors and both had insightful questions to ask that led me to a better book.

    And… happy winter solstice! I prefer the solstice celebration to everything else this time of year. But am looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s too. 🙂

  9. JT Ellison

    Whew! Back from a whirlwind day of Christmas shopping. As you might expect, life has been on hold this year while everything book related gets finished, so this was my first day braving the malls. Ick.

    Neil, thank you. I meant to put in a reminder to all new writers to LISTEN to your editor and to your agent as well. They generally know more than you about what’s going to work.

    Everyone else, I must depart yet again, but I’ll be back this evening to comment on your comments.xoxo


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