Monday, August 5, 2013

Memo from the Editor's Desk

Memos from the Editor’s Desk #1:

Let’s clear the air on a very touchy subject: Edits, comments, and anger.

Congratulations—you’ve written a story. Pat yourself on the back, take a moment to enjoy the amazing feeling of accomplishment and then go—I just love this story *breathy sigh*.

Of course, you should love the story you worked so hard on. If you didn’t adore every bit of it then why in the world would you spend months or years writing it?

Now, and this is the tough part—divorce yourself from your story. I know that sounds harsh, and you don’t have to do this overnight. Take some time. Let the story rest. Get all the things you loved about the story away from you.

You may ask why?

Here’s a clue. It’s a story. It isn’t a baby. You didn’t give birth to it. Granted, it might feel like you did.

No, really Lee, why should I set my story aside? Why should I take my manuscript to divorce court? I love it!

I know, but once your book is contracted to a publisher, the hard work is about to begin. Yes, the hard work, which is not to diminish the hard work you put into writing your story in the first place.

Keep this in the back of your mind when you are preparing to open your first edit—the editor has a job to do and that is to edit your book. Forget what your crit partners and loving family members have said about your story. Editors are by nature very tough, or at least they should be. They should be able to deconstruct your story and point out things you missed or completely forgot. They should say, well you lost control of your conflict here or have characterization problems there. After all, it is what they are paid to do. Yes, grammar does come into this, but normally grammar is either handled as the edits move along or in the final edit (otherwise known as the copy edit).

A true factor that authors forget is that this is not personal. It isn’t that the editor hates your story or is out to demolish your story. It is that they are doing their job.

Never assume something about an editor because the moment you start in with – but my crit partners just loved it or such, the editor is on notice that you are going to be difficult. Remember, assumptions go both ways. Taking it to your twitter or facebook, even couched in veiled words, “can you believe my editor wants me to do this?”, is even worse. Now you’ve put the whole publishing house on notice.

Granted, you may not agree with a little or a lot of what your editor wants done in some cases. Choose your battles carefully. The switching of one little word isn’t going to make or break a story. Adding a little to a sentence or a revision to that sentence isn’t a slap across your face. It isn’t. I swear it isn’t.

Characterization is always a tough edit to go through. I know that from personal experience. But, take a step back and say—is my character actually out of character? You may find that the character has indeed slipped from its arc. You may have done something like said the sky is green the previous page and now its grey. These things happen. It is your editor’s job to catch them.

But, Lee, I don’t agree with this one comment which leads to this next comment, and then there’s this and that. What am I to do? I’m just so upset about this, that I can’t think straight. Help!

First, step back and remember—this isn’t personal.

Second, look at the comments, but do so one at a time. Don’t flip out because a manuscript has come in with a few or an infinite number of comments in it—take it one comment at a time. You may want to reach out to all your writing buddies, but unless you have one who can be totally unbiased, they may just stir you into even more of a froth.

If you are truly stuck, then it is best to ask the editor for clarification. If you don’t trust yourself to do this and not get all outraged, or the editor snaps back, then go to the editor-in-chief or senior editor.

It has happened in the past that an editor and an author just don’t mesh. This happens. Still, you should try to work through your edit and with your publisher in a professional manner.

I can tell you—arguments really won’t get you anywhere fast.

Humble regards,


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