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.