A Word About Editors

The first thing I’d like to say about editors is that I don’t want to be one. Granted, I did a stint as a newspaper editor and enjoyed it, but being the editor for a publishing company is a whole ‘nother gig altogether.  And despite the horror stories that float around the publishing world (mostly by writers) about editors who massacred a manuscript and completely sucked out the central meaning, that brand of editor is in the minority.

And let’s be perfectly candid. Often it is the writer who sends out his or her “baby” who has those sorts of problems. The writer who has an attitude something like this: “If I had wanted to write it that way, I would have. You just fix the spelling.”

And this attitude is NOT the way to an editor’s heart.

I fact, most of the editors I have dealt with are on the ball, overworked, always in a hurry, attend way too many meetings, and wouldn’t change places with anyone. They can spot a dangling participle from across the room, and they will remember that the protagonists’ eyes were blue on page 11 and shouldn’t be hazel on page 217.

Shortly after I submitted the manuscript for Something Stirs, my editor called me and said, “In the prologue you have Rodney lighting candles and the flame burns blue. Something about that didn’t sound right, so we brought in three or four different kinds of candles to see what color flame they had. We have discovered that, short of soaking them in moonshine, a candle will not burn blue. Can you fix that?”

Holy cow. That’s thorough.

The other thing to remember about editors is the fact that they don’t have a lot of time. Well, OK…they have the same 24 hours the rest of us have, but their day is generally crammed full of the aforementioned activities, not to mention working in 15-20 minutes a day to have a personal life. In short, they generally want communication to be brief, informative, and pertinent. That’s not to say they don’t have regular conversations like the rest of us, but when dealing with multiple writers and other assorted publishing types on any given day, their time is valuable.

So…when an editor takes the time to write a personal note/email/text or makes a special request, it is best to take it seriously. For example, I recently pitched an idea to the editor at a major publishing house and she asked for a proposal. I submitted said proposal and within two weeks she emailed saying she really liked one part of the story and suggested a change to the other major part. In her closing paragraph she asked if I would be willing to make the changes and resubmit it.

The reply in my head was, “Does a frog have a waterproof butt?” My email reply was more along the lines of, “I’ll be happy to. I should be able to have it back to you in a few days.”

And I did.

After reading the new proposal, she made an additional suggestion and said I might find a certain book useful as I completed the manuscript. That would be the completed manuscript she wants to see.

Did I order a copy of the book? Does a frog have a waterproof butt? And her suggestion was right on the money. I had to cut a few scenes and rewrite most of what I had done to that point, but that’s how this business works. And I am working diligently to finish the manuscript and get it to her.

During this escapade, Ramona Richards (another editor with a head crammed full of brains) posted on Facebook and referred to a blog about responding when an editor asks for something. The gist being, editors are too busy to just ask for things wily nilly. They don’t ask unless they’re interested.

Must be something to that.

Along that same line, when I first began my writing career I submitted a short story to a magazine and three weeks later (in the day

Edit Ruthlessly
Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

when the average wait was 4-6 months and you had to lick stamps) I received a rejection letter, a completely marked up manuscript, and a letter of encouragement. That editor gave me a master’s course in what makes a story work (though the paper looked like Freddy Krueger worked on it) and a lot of encouragement in that manilla envelope, and I have never forgotten it.

A good editor can take an OK manuscript and make it better. They can also take a good manuscript and make it amazing.

But their job is art of a partnership. A good editor will see things we skimmed over fifty times. and they will have ideas we never considered. And they will generally make our work sparkle. Sure, once in a while you find a dud editor, but they are not the norm. And to be fair, every now and then an editor finds a dud writer. So it evens out.

So, the next time you want to disregard an editor’s advice, take a second look. are they really so far off base, or are they calling your baby ugly?



5 Replies to “A Word About Editors”

  1. Tom,

    Enjoyed your post—again. Cuts through the clutter and gets to the heart of the matter as usual. I read your column monthly in the Christian Communicator. Sound advice, compelling topics, great sense of humor. Like your new blog design too.

      1. I used to show my fiction to friends and family members, and they’d all shower praise. Then I asked an editor friend to take a look. She gave me 5 minutes of advice that changed the way I approach storytelling. I think she led with, “Your endings suck.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s