The edit has landed. I repeat: The edit has landed. This is not a drill.
This refrain runs through my head every time I get an initial editorial letter from my editor after I’ve sold a manuscript. For the uninitiated, the editorial letter contains detailed comments and suggestions for changes the editor would like to see in the next version of a contracted manuscript.
On Sunday evening, the editorial letter for One Last Secret, my next suspense novel, arrived in my inbox.
I’m going to gloss over the agonizing hour or so I spent actually analyzing my letter. Imagine cheers or tears or cringing or reallys?! or ack–how did that get through? or yays! It’s a private moment that you are already familiar with if you’ve workshopped your own writing, or have had editors or truthful friends comment on it.
There’s a fine line when it comes to accepting or rejecting an editor’s suggestions. Ego can get in the way. Unless we’re collaborating with another writer, our stories have incubated in our own heads for months or years. Perhaps the initial drafts have been read by friends or spouses, etc, but they’re still essentially ours. It can be hard to let go, to be willing to let the manuscript change. But while an editor is also a reader, and often a fan, they are not just any reader/friend offering suggestions. They’re professionals who have a financial interest in seeing that the story appeals to a large number of readers.
An editor or reader is attracted to a novel or story as a result of the writer’s ability to successfully communicate a vision of the story that exists in the writer’s head.
But as we know, no two visions of a story are even close to identical. The best writing speaks loudly to people for myriad reasons, and tugs at the chords deeply anchored to our souls. And no two souls are alike. It’s a huge compliment for a writer to have a reader say a writer’s work resonates with them, whether it’s something as simple as a character with whom they identify, or a whole new world into which they can escape for an afternoon and beyond.
An editor is an agent of the re-visioning process. (I’ve probably mentioned re-visioning before as a concept mentioned by Joyce Carol Oates.) In a re-vision, the vision of the story becomes something totally new for the writer. This new vision will change with each new addition or deletion or deepening of the story. It can be brought about with mechanical precision by making sure the story has all the necessary beats, or meets and even enhances the conventions of the genre. Or it will change when the writer combines characters, kicks the hero(ine) into higher gear, or tweaks the emotional impact of a scene. It’s a birth process that goes on and on until both the editor and the writer agree that their mutual visions meet on the page and are compatible enough to be presented to the world. They’re both happy. (Or they run out of time!)
For me it’s both wrenching and exciting to work with an editor. In theory—and it’s a theory I extoll frequently—I want to write and edit in service of the story. I write toward that Platonic ideal that exists for every story. The ideal we can only ever express as a shadow. But I want to at least make it a shadow that lives and makes other people see it as an ideal thing in their heads. It should have no visible seams, no dull moments, no unnecessary details, clear ideas, smart dialogue, and compelling images. In other words, as close to an ideal as possible.
Occasionally though, the old ego wants to dig in its heels when the suggestions come. My story! it cries. Mine! Mine! Mine! It begs me to leave it alone. Very occasionally there are story elements that I feel are integral and necessary to the story, and I try to negotiate their continued existence. Now that I think about it, the very few times that has happened, various editors have been very supportive. But I generally keep my ego in check. It really is all about the story. And a good editor knows how to balance the writer’s need for respect/story integrity with her own need to make the story more appealing to the marketing department and readers.
Not everyone likes the revision process. As I said, it’s both wrenchingly difficult and exciting for me at the same time. Change is hard, and changing our stories can be particularly tough because edits often feel like judgments. I just keep telling myself that an edited story is something shiny and brand new in the world. A new creation. And who doesn’t like the feeling of having created something new?
How do you approach the editing process—whether suggestions are from reader friends or paid editors? Do you love it, hate it, or see it as just one more step to be endured?
Or tell us about an editor you’ve loved working with…
I’m editing at the moment and I definitely recognise the emotions on the first read through. I like working with editors because most often, I read the comments and realise that they’re right. My most common response is ‘huh, that’s obvious now she’s pointed it out’. Very, very occasionally, I come across something I doesn’t feel right. For those ones, I need to analyse what the editor is saying is missing and work out how best to change the manuscript to fill the need. If after all that I still feel it’s better left the way it is, I do that.
I like working with editors. After living with the book for so long, I’m too close to my writing to see the problems. The work needs fresh eyes to make it better.
Well said, Rhoda. Fresh eyes, indeed, are what’s needed. Hope the edit goes smashingly!
I’m at this same point. After an hour-and-a-half long phone call with my editor, we tried to pinpoint why she didn’t think this book worked as well for her as the others in the series, and she’s afraid readers of that series might not feel they were getting a “real” Blackthorne book. It wasn’t a case of “add XX to chapter 20 and YY to chapter 27” but rather an overall “feel” she wasn’t getting. I’ve been rewriting. Rearranging. Cutting.
Then it’s a major reread to make sure you haven’t lost continuity, don’t have the wrong characters showing up knowing the wrong things …
I blogged about my trials and tribs, too! 🙂
Oh, that sounds like a big challenge, Terry. How great that you have such good rapport with your editor. “Feel” is a tough one to nail, but you know your work and your characters better than anyone. I bet you’ll knock it out of the park!
Great analysis of the editing process, Laura! Re-visioning is exciting. I love it when a critiquer or editor comes up with a fresh twist on a plot or character that I never thought of, yet it fits and turns the story in a new direction. As both a writer and a reader, I enjoy such surprises.
Since I’ve edited others’ work and been edited myself, I don’t view the process as adversarial, but rather as a collaboration to improve the story. We may not always agree on *how* to improve it, but we’re both working toward the same goal.
Sometimes on initial reading of edits, I hear that internal screech of protest, the visceral reaction of “Don’t you dare lay a hand on my child!” But after sleeping on it, 98% of the time I conclude the editor is right and, yeah, my child did need a swat on the butt.
Ha! Yes, that metaphorical swat on the butt is often a necessary thing. It’s always the whiny kid in me who resists changes, and the adult who needs to step in. I’m glad I’m not alone!
Fresh twists are gold. I’ll never forget how I was on the phone with CJ Lyons back in 2011, talking about a problem in my Appalachian Frankenstein book, Devil’s Oven, and she said, “well the seamstress has to prick her finger, drawing blood.” And it all suddenly came together, like magic. Love that.
I have never gotten an editor revision letter. I’ve heard other authors freak out, mostly about those nebulous comments an editor might make, like “it needs more of something here.”
My first editor from Harper on 7 books wrote short emails with few questions or comments. She asked for a conference call when she was excited about the 1st book in my series after she’d read it.
My YA editor with Harlequin Teen turned out to be my favorite. My first MS she bought garnered 150 comments on track chgs. I freaked until I let released my ego back into the wild & embraced the collaboration with an experienced industry professional & extreme lover of books. My goal over my next 3 books with her was to minimize her need to comment. When I got her down to 75, it was my victory lap. She really wanted to help me & “our” books were always better because of her. I didn’t always accept all her edits, but unless it was a significant change to my plot or character, I assumed anything she brought up would be legit questions readers would have. She was wonderful.
Congrats on your edit re-visioning.
Jordan, the Harlequin Teen editor sounds like a dream. Congratulations on getting down to 75.
I actually prefer in-manuscript edits, but I think here we are talking about some character shifts, combinations, etc. And it’s good for me to have an overview since we are new together. But there’s nothing more satisfying than “accept change” and closing comments!
I work as a freelance editor and I always feel it is an honor for an author to ask me to help them make their book the best it can be. It is a weighty responsibility. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has taken an idea and seen it through to a completed manuscript. My intentions are never adversarial and I try to be respectful and encouraging in all my comments and suggestions. Plus I really enjoy what I do! Just saying this in hopes that it will help other authors to know that good editors have the best interest of your story at heart. We are not on a mission to hurt your feelings or wreck your day.
That’s a great reminder, Lori–thanks for giving us your editorial perspective! It really is all in the best interest of the story, and the vast majority of writers understand that. We are often just being sensitive snowflakes who need to get over it. ?
I read through my editor’s summary of suggested changes for JANE’S BABY, a political thriller that will drop April 2018. They didn’t seem all that daunting, especially after the editor started her summary with “Wow. Double wow. I can see why you [the publisher] loved it.” Then I checked the manuscript. 134 comments, heavily weighted with suggested edits, not compliments. (I have one other published novel, but the editor was definitely not as dedicated.) This after I had addressed in excess of 250 comments from my agent while we prepared the script for submission. Ugh. The result: addressing each of the editor’s suggestions made the MS leaner by nearly 4000 words, one darling has been excised, a second darling survived and is stronger because of it.
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