The Author-Editor Relationship

What I’m read­ing: Promises to Keep, by Kathryn Shay

(I’m still in New York at Thriller­Fest, so I might not be prompt to respond to com­ments. Don’t let that stop you from leav­ing them!) And remem­ber, if you’re a newslet­ter sub­scriber and haven’t opened your email yet, you’re miss­ing a chance to down­load two free books and enter a con­test to win more. Hurry. These offers expire soon!

I’m con­clud­ing my recent series of posts about edit­ing with a brief look at the author-editor rela­tion­ship. My first con­tract came for a very short story (Words) and I won­dered what it would be like work­ing with a “real” edi­tor instead of cri­tique part­ners. I think most first sales come with a mystique—that the edi­tor is all-seeing and all-knowing—and as the author, we’re sup­posed to accept what they say.

Before I go any fur­ther, let me remind you that edit­ing isn’t the same as proof­read­ing, and edits aren’t the same as revi­sions. Basic edits will entail things like punc­tu­a­tion, para­graph­ing, word choices and all the other things I con­sider the “easy stuff.” Most edi­tors will use Track Changes and it’s easy enough to scroll through them and make those basic fixes. But often, your edi­tor will ask you to fix some­thing, which can mean rewriting.

When I first met Brit­tiany Koren, it was when she was assigned as my edi­tor for When Dan­ger Calls. I was, as always, appre­hen­sive about work­ing with a new edi­tor, espe­cially since this book was to be released in hard cover, which made it seem more “impor­tant” than my other books which were dig­i­tal first pub­li­ca­tions. I was anx­ious to see what she had to say, and deter­mined to do what­ever I could to make the book bet­ter. But that doesn’t mean blind accep­tance. Devel­op­ing a work­ing rela­tion­ship with an edi­tor is crit­i­cal if you want a pain­less (or rel­a­tively so) route to the best book possible.

As you saw in Brittiany’s com­ments on Monday’s post, she’s look­ing at the big pic­ture as well as the mechan­ics. Your edi­tor might point out places where a character’s behav­ior is incon­sis­tent. But she’s not going to rewrite it for you. For exam­ple, her com­ment about the first para­graph in When Dan­ger Calls was More descrip­tion on Ryan is needed in the first cou­ple of para­graphs to set his char­ac­ter up. I real­ize this is an action scene but read­ers need some­one they can iden­tify with emo­tion­ally right away.

You’ll notice, she gave me her rea­sons for want­ing the change. If I dis­agree, I can point it out in my com­ments. I’ve always worded these as my rea­sons for writ­ing it the way I did, explain­ing what I was try­ing to say—because often what’s in my head doesn’t come across on the page, as in this exam­ple (com­ments in blue because Word­Press doesn’t allow the right for­mat­ting options)

Ryan reached for his wal­let. He pulled out his ID. Ryan Harper. Six-three, brown eyes, [BK1] (Add hair color as well please.), two hun­dred pounds. Not much had changed. True, he was thin­ner since his ill­ness[BK2] (injury?) [TLO3] (Does the fact he picked up some jun­gle infec­tion not come through well enough above?) 

And it helps if you both have a sense of humor. I think it helps per­son­al­ize the relationship.Once, where she pointed out that it looked like a char­ac­ter was chang­ing her clothes in front of her boss, I responded with a smi­ley face and explained I’d been mak­ing cuts in that scene and clearly cut too much—the part where my char­ac­ter went into another room before changing!

Some­times the changes will be easy enough to address with a bet­ter tran­si­tional sen­tence, a few more words of descrip­tion, or an inter­nal thought. Some­times, how­ever, you’ll have to hun­ker down and write new stuff.

When I wrote When Dan­ger Calls (and all my other Black­thorne, Inc. books, for that mat­ter), I didn’t want to stress the covert ops/military side of things, for the sim­ple rea­son that I was writ­ing a roman­tic sus­pense, and for me, it was about the char­ac­ters, not the “fight stuff.” To that end, when I wrote the cli­mac­tic action scene, where Ryan and Dal­ton are tak­ing on a band of ter­ror­ists, I had fudged my way through gun­fire and grenade throw­ing, since they weren’t in my com­fort zone. (They still aren’t, but at least I’ve accu­mu­lated con­tacts who can answer my ques­tions and make sure I get things right.) That ‘scene’ was really one para­graph, end­ing with Five life­times later, which accord­ing to Dal­ton was really seven min­utes, silence filled the moun­tain. Leav­ing the after­math to oth­ers, Ryan flew down the trail to the blaz­ing cabin.

But Brittiany’s com­ment here was This would be bet­ter on screen between them and allow the action scene to linger a lit­tle more. Your writ­ing of action scenes is won­der­ful. Basi­cally, she’d said, “Show me those seven min­utes,” but she also added that bit of praise that made the request eas­ier to deal with. I did the revi­sion, because she was right.

If you’ve got an edi­tor assigned by a pub­lisher, and you’re not see­ing eye-to-eye, it might be wise to see if they’ll assign you some­one else. (If you have an agent, this is one of the things they should be able to han­dle) In the end, it’s about cre­at­ing a good book, and it’s a joint effort.


2 thoughts on “The Author-Editor Relationship

  1. Always good to hear! Espe­cially now that I’m work­ing with an edi­tor. haha. It’s funny because my new edi­tor and I have been “wait­ing” for the right ms for over a year. I’ve been sub­bing stuff to him since the begin­ning of last year. :D As an asso­ciate edi­tor, he’d been shot down. And, as well, not every­thing I wrote seemed to fit what he wanted… The point is, we’ve been com­mu­ni­cat­ing. I know he likes my writ­ing. I under­stand that he wants the best book I can put out there.

    I’m also will­ing to stand my ground if it’s really impor­tant. :D Of course, we haven’t reached that part of the process… haha. I guess I’ll see what HE thinks soon! Mostly though, his sug­ges­tions seem right on.

    • One hopes one’s edi­tor under­stands the work; it might take a while to ‘feel each other out’ but once you can com­mu­ni­cate and under­stand the goal is mutual, it’s an invalu­able relationship

Comments are closed.