Monday, September 13, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Editors

Teeth and Bones Editing Contest:

How to enter: Comment on the Novel Matters blog anytime between Monday, September 6th, and Friday September 17th. At the bottom of your comment type TABEC (short for Teeth and Bones Editing Contest). Only comments with these letters at the bottom will be eligible to win (we understand that not all our readers are interested in this level of editing, but would still want to be free to comment and discuss editing - that's the reason we require interested people to please use the TABEC letters at the bottom of their comments)You many enter as many times as you like over the two weeks. Each comment counts as an entry (but don't forget to type TABEC at the bottom of each comment).


Winner: One winner will be announced on Friday, September 17th at 5:00 PM pacific time.


The prize: A teeth and bones edit of your first chapter and synopsis by Bonnie Grove. The edit will be on the substantive level (the overall concepts, characters, and themes, etc. of the novel). It will be Bonnie's teeth on the bones of your manuscript.


The winner will work one on one with Bonnie Grove via e-mail. The winner will consent to having the first paragraph of the work posted on Novel Matters in a before and after comparison.


This means the winner will agree to have the first paragraph of your WIP appear on the blog, first as it was originally written, then in its edited form.


As the inaugural NovelMatters poster in our new series about editing and editors, I chose the topic of relationships with editors.


Here’s my disclaimer: I never had an editor I didn’t like. I have had uniformly

pleasant experiences being edited. I realize that’s not the case with many people’s experience. I’ve done lots of things wrong in my life but my relationship with editors holds no regrets for me. Maybe God just blessed me with talented and amenable editors. But maybe some things I did right played a role in the love-fest.


1) First, I am very conscientious about my work. I don’t turn in anything sloppy, or that hasn’t been read by several readers whose opinion I trust (my NovelMatters sisters, for instance.) Back in the day before word processing I paid someone to type my manuscripts so that I always turned in clean copy, and I try to do the equivalent of that –going the extra mile before the editor ever gets the manuscript--with electronic manuscripts.


2) I operate on the assumption that an editor sees a bigger picture than I do of what should be going on with the overall effect of my writing. A recent book of mine had every reference to a breast edited out. Why? It was a conservative publishing company. They knew their audience better than I. I had to trust my editor’s sense on this.


3) I assume that my editor is trustworthy and has my best interests in mind. I assume he or she wants me as an author to look good and not bad. I have said it this way: An editor is the one who tells you there is spinach on your teeth before you sit for the only portrait that may survive you.


4) I see an editor in the role of a master. (Whoa! Where am I going with this? This is the part where Bonnie will start pounding her head on her computer monitor.) In the Bible, people are told to relate to their employers or masters or whomever they work for, serving them as if they were serving the Lord (Ephesians 6:7). My business relationships (and editor-author is a business relationship with some degree of authority exerted over me) must be conducted not only pragmatically but symbolically: The way I relate is a picture of a bigger reality in my life.


All this doesn’t mean that I just “lay down” when something is important. When someone without Mormon background edits my books on Mormonism, I don’t allow them to use what they would see as verbal equivalents which change meaning. I wouldn’t allow editing that expresses a theological position with which I can’t agree. And if an editor removes something that I think is important, I’m comfortable explaining why it should stay. But if the editor decides to take something out – and in the case of a recent book, an entire chapter was taken out, ouch, ouch, ouch—he or she has the final word.


Now, God has a way of testing people who think they’ve figured out things. I may get an editor on my next book whose personality and priorities conflict with mine. Then we’ll see, I guess, how I stand up to an adversarial editor.

37 comments:

Terri Tiffany said...

I had my first experience with an editor recently and I think I went through every emotion there was possible at first--and then slowly I saw where what she did was the best thing for my writing ever. She worked hard to bring out who I was as a writer. TABEC

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

I'm in TABEC

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I think it helps to be open-minded too. I like to be edited.

~ Wendy

Steena Holmes said...

I sent my previous work to two different people for help - I paid for their services. One told me there was no hope and he couldn't do anything to help while the other (while I'm sure she felt the same thing) was more positive, showed me the flaws and weakness' while also showing me how to play off of my strengths.

It showed me that just like writers, there are different types of editors. Personally, I prefer those who are willing to come along side and help you.
TABEC

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Great post, Latayne. The editing process makes both the author and the publisher shine. I was told by my editor that they get letters from readers when mistakes slip through, which is inevitable. I'm sure they want to keep those to a minimum!

Nicole said...

(I think we need a better name than "conservative" publishing house. Since when is "breast" a dirty word? Good grief. Some people just need to grow up.)

Latayne C Scott said...

Thank you all for your comments. I need to clarify something that I wrote that was inflammatory, I guess. The editor who took out references to breasts didn't necessarily take out that word. I used "workarounds" of words acceptable. For instance, I couldn't use the word "nipple" (even though my first chapter nearly required it).

Now, Nicole you firebrand you, I need to explain something that many writers don't take into consideration. First of all "Christian publishing" as a whole, by its very nature and definition, excludes at least certain treatments of certain subject matters, and excludes certain subjects as well. Of course boundaries are being pushed all the time, but at any point in time there are fairly-easily recognized exclusions that distinguish Christian publishing from ABA publishing. By the same token, there are "inclusions" (what an ABA publisher would call sermonizing) that would be edited out of most ABA books -- because they would be offensive to the secular reader unless handled with great originality, insight and creativity.

Now, within CBA, different publishers have different audiences. A publishing house's editor may have a literal list of words that can't be used. Why? Because they are prudes, each editor on a personal level? No-- because each house knows its audience, what that audience (who pays their salaries) will tolerate and what they will not. My publishing house caters to the tastes of readers who don't want to feel ambushed by things that would offend them. This audience trusts the publisher to give them "safer" materials to read.

The surprising thing to me was that the risk-taker, border-stretching publishers didn't take a chance on my controversial book Latter-day Cipher, a very conservative one did. So I was happy to work within their parameters -- not a thing that was excised hurt the book in the long run. The editor Andy McGuire knew that. I trusted him.

Marian said...

Handing the manuscript to the editor is like taking the baby to the doctor. You have to trust their professional judgment. If you have a healthy baby, that's no problem.

TABEC

Nicole said...

Sorry, Latayne. I should just keep some of my comments to myself. I'm familiar with all of your points. "Safe" is a term that irks me since I don't consider much of so-called "safe" fiction safe at all. I consider it cloistered. I consider it hiding from the world in which we should not be "of" but "in". To each his own. My opinion is irrelevant, but I stand by it. However, I understand your position.

Meg Moseley said...

Latayne, your principles for dealing with editors are great. I'm a newbie at this, having just turned in my first-ever line edits, but I've already seen that a good editor is priceless. It's a joy to have specific guidance from a pro who wants to make my story the best it can be.

It was hard work, especially at the substantive-edit stage, but was it worth it? Absolutely.

Latayne C Scott said...

Actually, Nicole, I consider the term "firebrand" a compliment. It's one that's been applied to me as well.

vonildawrites said...

My daughter (then 8) took a full 6 months to get used to competitive gymnastics. "Miss Jennifer doesn't like me," and all that. [It was the same with her violin teacher once she moved beyond beginning pat-on-the-head levels.] But, I've since asked her, "What would you think if Miss Jennifer didn't give you any corrections?" Her response? "I would think she didn't believe in me." She learned that good coaches and teachers give corrections BECAUSE they believe in you! I hope I get a chance to follow my daughter's example, and demonstrate the same attitude toward an editor!

--Voni

Nichole Osborn said...

I have yet to experience the editor/author relationship, but I think if the author went into it with an open mind and a teachable spirit that the whole process wouldn't hurt as much. TABEC

vonildawrites said...

Whoops...forgot to leave
TABEC at the bottom of my coaching comment.

TABEC!

Voni

vonildawrites said...

Whoops...forgot to leave
TABEC at the bottom of my coaching comment.

TABEC!

Voni

MandyB said...

Your guides to a pleasant and workable relationship with an editor are a very good example. I will take them on board in my writing journey.As a newer writer, I am in awe of anyone who has travelled the editing route and been published.
TABEC

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I liked the guide to working with an editor in a mutually beneficial relationship. I like to edit because it almost always results in a stronger story. I've done editing on my work after receiving feedback from a freelance editor and from entering writing contests.
TABEC

Karen Schravemade said...

I've heard it said that there's no such thing as "submission" until there's disagreement. Latayne, I respect the Biblical model you use for dealing with editors. As with so much in life, it pays to be humble and work from the assumption that others may in fact have a clearer view than we do.

The attitude that's helped me in all this is simply to give it a try. I may not fully understand the importance of something an editor suggests, but I tell myself it won't hurt to just give it a go. So I save the original version in a separate file and attack the alterations as a creative experiment. Usually I end up liking it better anyway.

Karen Schravemade said...

Oops. Meant to add TABEC.

Lynn Dean said...

Excellent post. Writing seems like such a solitary activity, but producing an excellent book is very much a team effort.

TABEC

Emma Connolly said...

Yesterday I sent off queries and synopses to 5 new literary agents. This makes 33 agent queries. I've had requests for first 3 chapters twice, but then rejections. I'm going for the record. So, could it be my novel needs teeth and bones edits? Sigh. TABEC

Emma Connolly said...

Elizabeth, i wish I was in TABEC too! I need a vacation!
TABEC

Nichole Osborn said...

I have an off topic question dealing with querying.
I have a children's picture book that I have written, but I don't have an illustrator yet (I should have one by early spring) Should i query agents without the illustrator or wait until I have one? TABEC

Ruth Ann Dell said...

I have worked with a wonderful editor who had the ability to make see my writing through her eyes and at times it was so funny that I laughed out aloud. That certainly took the sting out of the rewriting as did her understanding attitude as she pushed me to improve my work.

TABEC

Latayne C Scott said...

I really appreciate everyone's comments! Thank you so much.

Nichole, you posed a question about having an illustrator. I think I'm the only one of the NM ladies to have published a children's book (The Dream Quilt, Waterbrook Press, under the pen name Celeste Ryan.) At that time I was told adamantly by the publisher that they wanted the text only (it was a picture book) and that they wanted to choose an illustrator. I don't know if this is still true of children's book publishing today since I have given children's book writing up for Lent. (Just kidding! But I'm not writing for children right now.)

Best to check with someone who's actively in the children's literature authoring business.

Marcia said...

"An editor is the one who tells you there is spinach on your teeth before you sit for the only portrait that may survive you."

Great metaphor, LaTayne! Tickled my funny bone, too ;-) Most importantly, it got the point across.

~~Marcia

from d'sticks o' Texas

Marcia said...

Oh.

TABEC from Marcia

Seems my forgetter is right in style.

Ellen Staley said...

As Mandy mentioned, I do stand amazed at what an author endures to reach successful publishing and hope I will take the criticisms as intended, to make my writing the best it can be.
That said, working on my first synopsis is a task unto itself! Boy do I need to reduce verbage.
Ugh!

TABEC

Nichole Osborn said...

Thanks Latayne!

Megan Sayer said...

Ellen: you're so right! I'm amazed at how hard it is to really nail a synopsis. I'm now of the belief that the synopsis is where structural editing really begins - mine has shown me all the holes in my story, and revealed a few places where I'd seen as insignificant things that were actually key plot hinges. Wow.

I was googling synopses the other day and read a site by an editor, saying how much easier it would be for writers if they let editors look at the synopsis before they actually started writing; much easier to make those structural changes before you've written 300 beautiful - and suddenly irrelevant - pages.

TABEC

Ellen Staley said...

Megan,thank you for your words of wisdom. I felt the synopsis would help me pinpoint gaps in my characters threads and identify non-needed tidbits.

I like the idea of composing the synopsis first, refining it and then writing the story. Might try that next time through. I'm learning alot by writing it. Just hope that what I think is important to include is. But it's still too detailed.

Tomorrow is dedicated to reducing, reducing, reducing. Double ugh.

TABEC

Megan Sayer said...

Hi Ellen,

I SO hear you!
The following is a link to an excellent article about how to write a synopsis. The first bit is a bunch of info, but then she goes into some very easy, specific "do this, then do this" steps. I used her notes to get me started.
It might actually be easier to for you to start a NEW synopsis using her method than to try and reduce mine down.
http://www.bethanderson-hotclue.com/workshops/writing-the-tight-synopsis/

(Gosh, listen to me. I just never take my editor hat off!! Sorry if I'm sounding all high-handed - I'm not trying to - just went through the same issue three days ago).
All the best,
Megan

TABEC

Megan Sayer said...

...did I say try and reduce mine down? Oops...I meant YOURS.

(oh the irony!!!)

Ellen Staley said...

Wow! Megan, thank you so much. That site is a great help. Look forward to using it tomorrow.
Thank you again.

TABEC

vonildawrites said...

Ruth Anne: I have a friend with a journalism degree who also makes me see the writing through her eyes. It is, indeed, a very funny experience. Plus, it helps that I wrote my novel during National Novel Writing Month, so I knew it was going to be very rough. Lots of laughs over things like accidentally renaming a character. Thanks for reminding me to take editing with humor as I make corrections!

TABEC

vonildawrites said...

Megan: Thanks for the synopsis-writing link, too. I think the action of getting a synopsis in order will help order my disordered novel. How could it be disordered after I plotted with index cards and all?

Wish I knew! lol

TABEC
Voni

Latayne C Scott said...

Do you have any idea, dear readers, how deeply satisfying it is to us at NovelMatters to see you helping out one another with advice and links. Bless you all.