by Tamela Hancock Murray
As Steve Laube pointed out the other day in his post “The Stages of Editorial Grief” receiving a tough edit can make a writer feel off-kilter, angry, unworthy, and summon other negative emotions. Of course it’s okay to experience negative emotions. You can’t control how you feel, though you can control how you manage your feelings. As he wisely points out, the key is to overcome emotions and get to work.
I’ve edited and been edited, but I can’t say I have ever gotten such a tough edit that I wanted to throw a Waterford vase across the room. One advantage may have been majoring in Journalism in college which groomed me never to become attached to my words. News articles are no place for waxing eloquent, opining, or philosophizing. And with loads of information available today from so many sources, readers rarely indulge fluff from any but their most beloved authors. This is why it’s best not to become attached to your words. Any of them. Don’t become too fond of your title, which will most likely be changed in the Titling meeting. Don’t treat finding new names for your characters as though the courts are petitioning you to change your child’s name. And speaking of characters, don’t develop your own love affair with any secondary characters. They may get the boot in editing. Be willing to let go of your fondest habits and pet phrases. They may seem distinctive to you, but if they annoy an editor, it’s best to listen.
My husband I were watching the television show “Once Upon a Time” a few weeks ago, when the story focused on the tale of Hansel and Gretel. I observed, “The witch on this show is much prettier than the actual witch was.”
He’s used to me so he’s no longer surprised by my vivid imagination. Still, he responded, “It’s a story!”
So yes, stories are real to me and of course, yours are real to you and it’s painful to relinquish any aspect of your creation. But for the good of yourself, and your reader, be prepared.
Does preparation to have your baby redressed mean you are required to accept each and every editorial suggestion? No, it does not. Once again, as Steve Laube says, “Edits are a negotiation.” However, when you go through your edits, decide what won’t work and be ready to explain, politely, why. That your grandmother was named Lulubelle probably won’t impress an editor if there is a good, solid reason why Lulubelle won’t work as the name of your heroine. On the other hand, if an editor’s suggestions will compromise a critical detail of the plot or create an anachronism, for instance, discussion is appropriate. The editor really is on your side because the two of you are a team working to present your best possible work to the public and, as a result, sell many books.
There is one emotion you should feel toward your editor, and that is, gratitude! When you are working with a traditional publisher, a huge benefit you receive is the ability to work, free of charge to yourself, with one or more top notch editors. Traditional publishers are quite picky about the editors with whom they work. Editors such as our own Karen Ball will do everything in their power to make your work the best it can be. The publisher is showing confidence in you as a writer by paying an editor to work with you. Be grateful for such an opportunity.
And finally, I have spoken with many heavily-edited authors. They have said a variation of the same sentiment, “It was a lot of work, but I can see that the edits improved my book.”
Listen to your editor. Your readers will thank you.
Have you been heavily edited? Did you feel the edits improved your book?
What battles did you choose with your editor? What was the result?