Working with an editor

I thought about titling this post, “Check your ego at the door.”

First, some disclosures. I have only ever worked with one agent, Tamar Rydzinski (fabulous editorial advice) and one editor, Alicia Condon (equally fabulous editorial advice), and I get along with both fabulously well.

So, you know when you send stuff out to beta readers, and it comes back with a bunch of comments, and you were totally expecting a landslide of praise, but instead you get a page full of of, “WTF?!?!?!?!”

If it’s a beta reader, you can ignore that commentary. You can do it arrogantly (“OMG. She was just JEALOUS of my writing GENIUS.”) or you can do it quietly (“Thank you so much for your input. I’m going to take some time to digest your comments.”).

If it’s an industry professional, you have to swallow your pride and really look at what they’re saying.

In my day job, my attitude tends to be, “No job too small.” We’re all working for the same team, we all want the same goal.

In writing, it’s the same. When I disagree with an editorial comment, I have to think about what my editor/agent is going for. This can be tough.

This can be really tough. I have the tissues to prove it. (Does anyone remember the post about Storm coming back from my agent fourteen pages shorter?)

But here’s where it’s important to check your ego at the door. It’s easy to get your back up and refuse to make changes. It’s easy to argue that you need that scene and that one and that other one, even though they all basically say the same thing. It’s easy to dig your heels in and be difficult.

But why? Same team, guys. Same team.

Your editor and your agent are trying to help make your book the best it can be. They’re also trying to help you make money. Half business, half art. Don’t get so tangled in the art side that you forget about the business side.

In Spark, one of my editorial comments asked if Gabriel could use a different phrase to avoid offending anyone. I could have refused to change it, saying it was true to the character and I needed those words in there. But really, it was one phrase, and it didn’t really matter.

The best part about being a writer is that there are always more words.

Sometimes you need to ask yourself if you really care about the change someone is asking you to make. Is it going to break your soul to change it? Then explain why.

In Storm, Becca is harassed by her ex-boyfriend. Throughout the first third of the book, I only talk about this in theory — the reader never actually sees it. Along the line, it was recommended that I should cut the actual scene where Drew gives Becca a hard time, but I dug my heels in to keep it — and explained why. It stayed, and it’s in the finished manuscript. There’s another scene at the end between Michael and Becca’s mother (you guys have no idea who these people are, but stay with me), and it was recommended that I cut the scene because it slowed down the pacing. That scene was so, so important to me, but I totally understood where my editor was coming from, so I cut half the scene and ramped up the tension.

Sometimes it’s about meeting each other halfway. It’s about communicating. If you disagree with changes, speak up. Explain yourself — but listen, too. Try to see your work from both sides. You know that saying about how life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it? This is never more true than in an editorial relationship. 

(Oh. And in marriage. Parenting, too. Look, it’s a great quote, okay?)

If you’re working with beta readers now, try to get in the habit of working with the advice you’re getting. It’s easy to fall squarely on either side of the fence: either rejecting every piece of advice because you don’t want to admit you need to change things, or taking every piece of advice until you’re completely overwhelmed and you don’t recognize your manuscript.

I’ve seen people in both camps. It’s never pretty.

Learn to walk that fence board. Learn to communicate and discuss what’s not working. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent something back to a new writer with comments, including the line, “I’m happy to talk this out, if you want.” Almost no one takes me up on that.)

Learn to see where your readers are coming from.

It will pay off later.

You know, after you’ve signed that first book contract.

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In other news, keep an eye on that countdown widget, guys. When we hit 60 days, I’m going to release the first chapter of Storm!

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5 thoughts on “Working with an editor

  1. Another one of the nice things I’ve discovered about self-publishing is that you get to choose your editors. This means I pick English teachers I know well — and trust. They are vicious with their red pens, slashing unnecessary words, telling me where I’ve worded things strangely, etc. But I know they know what they’re doing, as they’ve read not only hundreds and hundreds of books, but also, they’ve TAUGHT people how to do this stuff for years and years. I know this; I don’t have to wonder if they really know or if they’re just someone barely hired by an agency. And because I trust them, I feel much more confident in taking their advice.

  2. This is why I’m honored to have a great friend who /always/ tells me when something I write sucks- and then opens the discussion for how to improve it. I aboslutely love critique that’s a conversation, not a demand or a demoralizing bashing.
    I don’t know if my writing will ever been seen by the eyes of an editor, but it’s fascinating to me to hear that in some ways they are just like my friend (though a bit more professional, and with probably a bit more experience :P)

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