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?
Laurie Alice Eakes
I think I’m one of those weird authors who loves to be edited. When my manuscript comes back to me with edits, I’m a little nervous, but mostly intrigued to get the feedback from her. She is an exceptional editor, too, 99% of the time I can’t disagree with her in the least.
I want to make my work better and learn. Never, with my grad. degree in writing and all the fine authors with whom I’ve worked on critiques, have I learned so much about craft as I have getting edited by fine editors. And my edits have become less and less with each book for it, I do believe.
As for the title thing… Sometimes you do have to push back. Tactfully.
A title for one of my books was suggested. It was also the title of a truly awful 80s pop song. Instead of saying, “I hate it,” I sent her a link to a video of the song so she could see why that title wouldn’t work. Instead of being defensive, I made the marketing person laugh.
The title got changed.
Tamela Hancock Murray
I hope every editor reads your comment, Laurie Alice!
Great post today, Tamela. And very timely.
I laughed with what you said about being a journalist. So true. I remember my first reporting class in j-school. Wow. My prof ripped my first article to shreds. I wasn’t used to that (teachers had always been positive with my writing before). Getting that critique opened my eyes to how much I could improve with honest, solid feedback. And learning to write as a journalist was one of the best things to happen to me. I learned to write tight and get rid of any unnecessary words. This is something I can now apply as I write novels.
I’m an editor myself, so I think it’s a bit easier for me to take feedback, especially because I know MOST editors are looking to help make the product better (and not just boost their own ego).
I look forward to the day when I’ll have the opportunity to work with an editor on my book. Here’s hoping! 😉
When my book is in editing, I prepare my mind to receive the changes and comments. I remind myself of many of the things you point out here — that she is doing this to make my book better and, therefore, make me sound better. On my first book, I only disagreed with one point out of two pages of comments and was able to defend my choices without getting angry. The editor agreed with me, I think as much because I willingly submitted to everything else as it was my reasonings on that one point.
I haven’t had any professional editing done yet. I know it will be challenging so I am trying to mentally prepare ahead of time so maybe it won’t be so devastating. I’m expecting edits, I know I’m not perfect, so I hope my attitude and willingness help ease the process. Thanks for these helpful reminders. God bless.
I have not been officially “edited.” However, I have critique partners with ruthless colors in their Track Changes. I have been truly bummed over a fierce edit, but am always grateful when the work is done. I bum less now, since I have more experience with the end product :o). I am currently working to get my word count in my ms down. I keep a file of “deleted scenes” so I don’t have to completely “kill” them. Maybe one day I’ll use them in another novel :o). Great advice Tamela.
I dread potentially having to change a main character’s name. I’m so used to the names I gave them, it’s hard to imagine changing them now. But thanks for the reminder that I need to be ready for anything!
Oh Megan, how I commisserate!!! I’ve just gone through a major name change for many of my characters. Oh boy. How did I get so stuck on the “k” sound when I started. Then somehow, it transferred to “t”s. Three names were finally altered. Thank the Good Lord for “search and replace.” And just when I thought I was done, I was combing through a scene where two minor characters were introduced … Jake and Jackson. Oh my! Can’t believe I did that. Well, no more. However, I’m finding I’ve grown used to the new names. It helped to really know the characters well and choose ones that fit now that their personalities are established. So it worked out in the end.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Such wonderful attitudes expressed here today! I’m enjoying the comments!
I’ve yet to be professionally edited, but it doesn’t really scare me. Of course I say that with no edits on the horizon either.
I have learned to be ruthless with my own words though. You have to learn that fast when an agent asks you to cut 10,000 words. I ended up deleting at least four whole scenes. The first one was hard. The last one was much easier. As a result, I learned by doing how to evaluate a scene to see if it advances the plot. I still have a lot to learn on that front, but now I can usually tell at the beginning of the scene if it’ll work or not, instead of after I’ve written it.
I’m also blessed with an amazing critique partner and a host of excellent published authors I can ask questions of.
I was nervous about getting back my first edits. Had perpared myself for all sorts of fix-this, fix-that, change-this, cut-that. Ended up the edits were rather painless, and like how Laurie said, I learned something in the process that helped me with writing the next sold story. Last thing I want to do is make my editor irritated over little things that I could have done correctly if I’d paid attention to her last edit.
Oh yes…my editor can be brutal. But when he gives constructive criticism, it is the best! I sometimes have to rein him in and remind him our meeting is a negotiation and his opinions aren’t always going to be used, but they are always appreciated.
It makes for a very interesting time together! But his ideas have made my last 2 books much better and that’s what I need in the long run.
I’m what I would consider a “hard edit” because my revisions are quite frequently extensive despite that I try my level best to make my editors’ jobs/lives as easy as possible. However, I wholeheartedly trust my editors and I am sooooo thankful that my books don’t make it to the shelves without their insight and editorial guidance. I can’t imagine the embarrassment my editors have spared me! LOL! Things I learn on edits are things I’ve applied to future books and therefore I’ve grown as a writer. Those few times when I wasn’t sure about edit-wise, my reader letters convinced me that traditional publishings’ editors truly do have a strong pulse on the readership of their house/lines. I think the part I struggle with in regards to revisions is that I am harder on myself than anyone and I just hate that icky feeling like I might have let my editors down by missing the mark. BUT, they are also liberal with praise and I know they believe in me, believe in my work and trust me to get it right on revisions. I am so very thankful for their expertise. The couple of books that I’ve had no revisions on, sent me into a total panic because I couldn’t imagine no changes needing to be made. LOL! Granted, the line edits on those books were much heavier, but still. I 100% trust my editors. My one regret *might* be that all of my US Air Force Wings of Refuge books were titled “Soldier” rather than “Airmen” for the simple fact that many PJs have heard about my books and want to read them because they honor their profession, but can’t find them due to the titles. That said, I might not have sold so many of the debut books had they not been titled “Soldier” in an election year…something Marketing assured me would sell well. And they were beyond right. So, it’s hard to say how the sales would have been impacted as well as if the editors would have been able to let the series go on for seven books due to sales. If the books ever go to reprint, I would probably ask for them to be retitled. Other than that, I have been enormously happy with all of the suggested changes. I recommend new authors not get so married to their words that they can’t imagine cutting certain scenes or aspects if an editor strongly recommends it. Editors know the readership better than authors do. We (authors) need to trust that, trust them and let them do their job. Our job is to sift prayerfully and carefully through their suggestions and save any STETS for things of utmost importance to us. Let everything else go in the name of trust and a solid working relationship that runs both ways. Editors aren’t only looking for great books. They’re looking for authors who aren’t difficult to work with IMHO.
I haven’t been heavily edited yet, but my critique group has returned sections that leave me cheering when one sentence is left intact. Lol! I love the picture of an editor being a partner to make each book it’s best.
Oh and I thought the same thing about the blind witch! I expected a stooped-over hag.
Thanks for this Tamela. I’ve edited and been edited, and I know the pain on both sides. I also know of some authors who have messed up their relationship with a publisher because of their attitude about the edit. It’s really key to remember that it’s a partnership and the editor makes editorial changes and suggestions for a reason–not just on a whim. BTW, my first dog was named Lulubelle. She had been named Jezebel until the first owner (my aunt) got a visit from the ladies group at the local Baptist church…
I played Jezebel in a musical at a Baptist camp. I tried to play her with some empathy and charm. It didn’t work. Some names have such a stigma.
Laurie Alice Eakes
Before they even looked deeply at my proposal for my Regency series, Revell asked me to change the names. Sigh. I was a bit attached to those names.
Then, when my editor got the manuscript for Lady in the Mist, she made me change my heroine’s last name. Her reasoning made me think about something new we have to consider.
People are listening to books on their Kindles. If the name is too long, too awkward, or just doesn’t render well by an electronic reader, it will damage the reading experience.
We may say we hate to listen like that, and this isn’t for us as the writer; it’s for the reader who does.
So, no, I try not to get too attached to names any more than to titles. Again, my editor was right about this once I gave myself a minute to take a deep breath and think.
No professional editors…yet! My critique group is a mix of people from different backgrounds, but I did that on purpose. My target audience is Christians, but I have sent my ms to several non-Christians because I want their perspective as well.
The person who is doing a huge portion of the rough edit has challenged me many times on historical accuracy and continuity, which was fun, because I knew more than she did. But I’m not a citizen of the country in which the book is set, and she is. But if a writer gets history wrong, then what else will he or she mess up? Who wants to work with a project that is sloppy and innaccurate?
As for names, my main male character is a Native American. I doubt anyone will want to change his name, considering it is an actual word from the Navajo language, describing his current situation in life. I doubt if/when I get to the professional editing stage that I’ll have too much heat for that!
The old adage “show, don’t tell” is an amazing way to self edit. As is foretelling or repeating things already discussed. Unless you write soap operas.
Or has spelling mistakes…
I find it helpful to read my writing aloud before considering it ready. Somehow it’s easier to catch rough spots and lack of flow that way. (Cuts down on edits, too.)
Yipes! What is the text-to-speech function going to do with names in languages other than English? Laurie Alice, this freaks me out a bit and makes me wonder — do Kindles speak Welsh?
As far as edits, my crit partner can be truly vicious, the more so because she edits professionally as a freelancer and because she’s on to every one of my bad habits. That said — she and the other editors I’ve had at the publishers are Solid Gold. I honor them for their skills, even though I do sulk for a day or two once I get edits back. But they’re pearls beyond price.
Deb, that was my thought too. Historical could take a beating in the hands of an auto-reader.
I love editors, and I love my critique partner. Plain and simple. My own blind spots drive me crazy otherwise, because I know they’re there, but I can’t *see* them. 🙂