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Editors, The Necessary Evil

By On Sep 16 2010, 11:00 am

Authors love to complain about editors and, let’s face it, there’s a lot to complain about. Who decides whether a publisher’s going to avail themselves of your masterpiece? An editor. If a publisher has the artistic taste and commercial savvy to offer you a contract for your masterpiece, will they publish it as is? Hell no. Who’s going to make you change it? An editor.

Among the definitions of the word edit is “to revise or correct, as a manuscript” and “to expunge; eliminate.” Most authors don’t like being revised or corrected, nor do they like to see any part of their masterpiece expunged or eliminated.

The painful truth, of course, is that editors – bless their fussy, nitpicking, arbitrary, judgmental, cold cold hearts – are a necessary evil. There, I said it.

I firmly believe there is no author, anywhere, who doesn’t need an editor. Jonathan Freaking Franzen has an editor. Loretta Chase has an editor. A very, very, very bestselling author some years ago released a book that garnered a lot of criticism from her millions of readers. They said, “It’s like she didn’t have an editor or something.” She said, “I’m ___________! I’ve sold a gazillion books! I don’t need an editor!” They said, “Um, yeah, actually, you do.” And they were right. (But Gawd, can you imagine being So Big that a Huge Publisher will release your books without an editor? Me neither.)

The fact is, you can’t judge your own stuff objectively. You can’t see a plot hole when you’re standing in the bottom of it. You might not realize that your hero’s motivation, so obvious to you – because, duh, you’re the one who thought of it – is not clear to the reader. What seemed really hot to you when you wrote it seems kind of ….icky to the reader. And the fact that your characters seem to sigh heavily on every other page? Yeah, you need to do something about that.

The reverse is sometimes true as well. The story you’ve worked on for so long that you’ve become sick unto death of it? Your editor reads it and says – “Hey! This is really good!” The tertiary character that you thought should be killed off in the second chapter? Your editor thinks he should be bumped up to the hero’s best friend.

That’s why your editor’s there. To see the flaws you can’t see, and the beauty as well. To help you polish the story a little more, after you’ve polished it for so long that your arms are about to fall off.

My first full length book is entitled Yours Mine and Howls – it’ll be released in February. And even though that’s five months away, it’s not too soon to start thinking about promoting it. It’s only my second book, so I’m nervous – Kiss and Kin has sold very well, and I want Yours Mine and Howls to sell even better. How to publicize it?

I thought – maybe I’ll do a series of free reads on my blog, once a month, and give readers a glimpse of things that happened to the hero before the book opens. It’ll be like five mini-prequels – six, actually, because the first one introduces Cade MacDougall, the hero, and his daughter.

My blog mates thought it was a great idea, and so did my buds at Romance Divas. My brand new editor, Mary, who’s going to be editing YMAH but isn’t the one who acquired it, said it might be a great idea, but she had caveats: I should be very careful, take my time, make sure it’s heavily proofed, and, most importantly, make sure I present the hero the way I want readers to see him. Mary said she wouldn’t be able to read over it for me – which I completely understood, because she’s buried in submissions [oh, for my very own editor who lives only to read my stuff!] – but to make sure I get other people to read it first.

And suddenly, I got scared. At first, I’d loved the idea of just writing something and posting it – not having to submit it, hope someone likes it, hope they want to publish it. Just instant communication between me, the writer, and Them, the Readers.

But then I thought – what if Them the Readers don’t like it? What if the people who bought Kiss and Kin read the mini-prequels and think, “Ugh. No thanks.” What if my brilliant promotional tool actually drives readers away before my book is published?

I need an editor!!!

Or at least someone to read this stuff and tell me what’s wrong with it (that is to say, an editor).

So I ran the first short story past my regular beta readers and, sure enough, they had problems with some of it. They thought I’d included too much back story, stuff that would seem repetitive when readers read the actual book, which kind of defeats the purpose – I want to get people interested in the story, so that they’ll want to buy the book when it comes out. And they had concerns with some of the actions and some of the dialog.

All of the criticisms were spot on, all of them pointed out flaws in the story I hadn’t been able to see, and all of them resulted in me writing a much, much better story than I had originally written. I’m very glad I didn’t post that story without first running it past my beta readers who, in this instance, acted as my editors.

As I mentioned, Mary isn’t the editor who bought YMAH. The acquiring editor left Samhain very shortly after I signed the contract. Mary seems like a lovely person, and I know she’s got experience editing romance, especially hot romance, and I trust she’ll give my book her best efforts. But I couldn’t help being nervous. What if she doesn’t like it? What if it’s not really the kind of book she would’ve acquired? She’s got another submission from me, a novella set in the same universe as YMAH – what if she passes on it? I am not the world’s most self-confident writer to begin with, plus I worked on YMAH for so long that I can’t read it anymore – I’m, yes, sick unto death of it, and I can’t tell if it’s any good anymore.

So I emailed Mary the other day to tell her I’d posted the first free read, and that I’d already gotten some positive feedback. She emailed me back to say that she’d cruise by and take a look.

And she told me how much she liked YMAH, and she actually kind of gushed about it, and I’m going to save the email and read it over and over again for years to come like people do with love letters.

See? Some editors aren’t evil at all. Some of them are brilliant and discerning professionals with a true appreciation of the writer’s craft…



3 Responses to “Editors, The Necessary Evil”

  1. MJ says:

    I know just what you mean about being scared about putting something unedited out there! I think I could never do a straight-to-Kindle book for that reason! I need editing!

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