Question Time: What’s It Like to Work with Editors

Over the course of my career, the most common question is:

Does it hurt when they change (or cut up) your baby? 

By baby, the person asking mean my novels.  Since people call it my baby, I’ll use the same analogy. I’ve heard it said it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes at least a few people to turn my great super fab-u-rific idea into a book people actually want to read, that connects the readers emotions.
Still, I never have liked the metaphor that my story is my baby. (Get real, my dogs are my babies)
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A better metaphor is that my stories are swords.

Swords must be sharpened, tempered and honed and with them, I want to stab at your emotional wellbeing. I want the reader to cry with Abby. I want the reader to go on an uplifting adventure with Ellie. That is what an editor does. They sharpen. They hone. They polish.

Wait, it sounds like working with an editor is hard?

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Editing is hard, but it is worth it, because the end product is ultimately my vision.  Not my fab-u-rific idea.
As many of my readers know, I’ve had two books published by 48Fourteen and I’ve self published. Being an author takes a special mix of megalomania, tenacity, and self-doubt.
So lets quickly look at the megalomania and tenacity.  I write for me. I write what I want to read. I want to explore my super cool fun ideas.  I need to believe in myself. I need to believe that  must be tenacious enough that I am willing to rewrite my super cool words six or seven times to get it right. I do the work when it stops being fun. I need to be willing to laugh in the face of rejection.

Now to counteract all that, I also must know my limitations or it will never be a book. A piece of my vision isn’t about me. It’s about the book: I want to create books that people want to pick up. That they are excited to read. And while I think I have at least a few neat ideas, and am a decent book designer due to my background in art, I can’t do it all alone.

Working with an editor is hard, but is an essential step in book creation.
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Can’t an editor make me change my baby?

Maybe. Do you have a backbone?
There is a myth that an editor can carve up your story willy-nilly until you won’t even recognize it. No they can’t. Read a freaking contract. Most are not allowed to make major changes to your work without your approval.
When an editor suggests major changes, ask yourself: Why is the editor suggesting X? Does X solve an underlying issue. Does X agree with my vision of the novel?

But what happens if I disagree with my editor?

I’d say its your book. You must make the call. You have choices. Always. I’ve never gotten in so deep that my only option was to walk away from a book contact. However if that is your choice, then walk.  After all, why would you want someone to publish your book if they don’t believe in it?

So you’ve gotten lucky?

Probably.

On Saying: No…

When it was suggested for Other Systems that I completely change Harden’s character – aka drop his age and make him a love interest. Or rewrite the book with a love interest for Abby. NOTE: Other Systems’ editor did not suggest this, the acquisitions editor did. I was freaking out inside, but I said no. Harden’s a mentor. And realistically Abby didn’t need a love interest in this book. I couldn’t make this change, because I wasn’t being true to the heart of this novel.
(FYI: This was the first time it happened and on my debut novel, so I worried that I might lose my contract or I was being a diva. I didn’t lose my contract. Of course, I made other changes so I guess I wasn’t really being a diva either.)

On Saying: No, but what about…

In almost all my books, sometimes the editor suggests something and while I don’t agree with the suggestion, I realize the problem with the scene, then rewrite it my way and with my ideas. I have never gotten so much as harsh email for doing this.
In The Light Side of the Moon, I was told to cut the android scenes, because its a long, fairly slow paced novel and the acquisitions editor didn’t care about the android characters at all. When I rewrote the book, I did not cut them, instead I made her care. I made everyone care about them. And they are everyone’s favorite characters.

On Saying: Huh?

Finally, I have been flat out confused about what an editor is saying.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. During Other Systems, there was a few scenes I rewrote at least 3 times because I didn’t understand what my editor was saying. He kept repeating “Slow down this scene” in different ways. Finally I brought it to my writing group and people said, “It’s okay, but it needs more tension.” So I added more tension–which slowed down the scene and it was now deemed solid. Thank you writing group!
But honestly, most of the time, all I’m thinking is:  Damn how could I be so blind to that repetitive writing tick..OR how many different ways did I mean to spell that word. Opps!  
The Grove Cover_blogsizedSeriously in almost every chapter of The Grove which I sent to my editor, people were glancing at their phones and over their shoulders. (Especially over their shoulders!) I was too close to the story. I couldn’t see it.
My editor Denise DeSio did. She took my fairly awesome story, and honed it until it was sharp. That’s what I paid her for. I didn’t agree with everything she suggested. I don’t have to.
Then a proof reader was hired. She polished my sentences until they shined. These edits were all grammatical and spelling.

Does anyone else have any good stories or tips about working with editors? 

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