Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The truth about editors: Four debut authors have their say

One of the many things I learned during my nonfiction career was never to put a newspaper to bed before another set of eyes went over it. For our weekly publication, we had the writer, the editor, the typesetter and the copy editor. Why so many pairs of eyes on the text? For one simple reason--because no matter how many times an author writes something, the brain tends to accept what s/he "meant."

I've been excited about selling my 2007 Golden Heart finaling manuscript to Bell Bridge Books. I've also been intensely curious about what happens next. But with the publishing industry bursting at the proverbial seams, I reasoned other publishers might be different. So I approached some friends--three other debut authors who also are going through the editing process--and asked if we could get together and compare notes. They generously agreed. Please welcome in alphabetical order: Anne Marie Becker, Julie Rowe and Maryn Sinclair.

Anne Marie Becker: Thanks for having me today, Donnell. I'm excited to share the editing portion of my publishing journey and look forward to reading what others have experienced. I signed the contract for my debut novel, Only Fear, in January and promptly set about savoring the emotional high. Another milestone reached, bring on the wine and chocolate.

But reality soon hit. I'd be editing a novel I hadn't read in 18 months (talk about fresh eyes!). And I'd have deadlines that weren't set by me.

The panic was quickly replaced with curiosity. What would it be like to have someone working with me to make this novel fantastic? I looked forward to the challenge. (I'm crazy like that.)

Here are only some of the things I've learned as Deborah Nemeth (a.k.a. my amazing editor at Carina Press) challenged me:
  1. Track Changes is my friend. (Thanks, Deb, for the forewarning of all the humungous red boxes that would dot my manuscript upon opening it! They weren't so bad after I got into it.)
  2. How to make a proper "em-dash" in Word. (Press shift-option-dash.)
  3. "Further" and "farther" are different. (And I tend to prefer "further.")
  4. Save often. Especially when using Track Changes while going back and forth between multiple documents. (My computer took to throwing hissy fits every so often and freezing up.)
  5. Don't make your heroine cry too much. One of Deb's most valuable comments was a quote from Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint: "If your characters cry, your readers won't have to; if your characters have good reason to cry, and don't, your readers will do the weeping."
  6. Throw out as many dialogue tags as possible. Instead, use an action statement that shows who is speaking. (But, if you have to use a tag, "said" is often best.)
  7. Repetitive words and phrases are redundant. (Though I try to catch these, several slipped through the cracks. Deb caught many of them. Extra eyes are invaluable!)
  8. If a hero's eyes are green on page five, they should remain green (not change to hazel) on page 105, unless genetic mutations are part of your story.
  9. "RUE" = Resist the Urge to Explain. Trust that your reader will understand, rather than repeating words and gestures. (All of my readers will be of superior intelligence and excellent taste, of course.)
  10. Trust your editor. There's always more to learn about my craft. (Yes, this one I knew already, but this process was a great reminder.)Link
Wherever you are in your edits, good luck!

Only Fear, Anne Marie Becker's 2009 Golden Heart winner for Best Romantic Suspense will be released by Carina Press September 5, 2011. (Please visit www.AnneMarieBecker.com for more about Anne Marie.

Julie Rowe: I've been writing for over ten years and have 15 or 16 completed novels sitting on my hard drive. I've taken dozens of online classes and attended many conference workshops in the hopes of learning that special something that would put my writing over the publishing hurdle.

I finally figured out what that special something is: hard work and a damn good editor.

I've been finaling in contests for years, the Daphne, Finally a Bride and the Golden Heart. I've received lots (I'm afraid to count them) of "good" rejection letters with personalized feedback. I've also worked through a dozen revision letters from a variety of editors (with no commitment to buy the book), resubmitted the manuscript, and still received a rejection rather than an offer to publish.

I learned so much from those revision letters. I learned that editors are hungry for a riveting story, intriguing characters and an emotional journey that leaves them breathless.

I learned that I'm not writing for me, I'm writing for the reader, and that the two are NOT the same.

I learned that a good editor can see the overall promise of your story, the small details that make it unique and problems the author can't.

My novel, Icebound, due to be released by Carina Press November 14, 2011, was initially written in 70 percent heroine's POV and 30 percent hero's POV. Editor Kym Hinton sent me an encouraging, detailed revision letter (with no commitment to publish) suggesting I remove or change ALL of the hero's POV scenes and go really DEEP within the heroine's POV.

It took me a few weeks, and it was a lot of work to revise that much of the manuscript, but the result was WOW! I submitted the revised manuscript and three months later got the call with an offer to publish.

I've worked through another developmental revision letter with my editor, and I'm astonished all over again at how much better the story is. She doesn't tell me how to write, she suggests I do things like enlarge some of the secondary characters, change up the dialogue in a scene to better show the hero's character growth and use plain English instead of some of the medical jargon I use out of habit.

We've brainstormed title ideas and scene revisions, and my editor has been available to answer questions. Next, we'll get to the line edits, but I'm not worried. I welcome the next stage of the process.

To learn more about Debut Author Julie Rowe, check out her website at http://www.julieroweauthor.com/

Maryn Sinclair: In the movie Pearl Harbor, which depicts an event in 1941, there's a building in one shot with "est. 1953" on it. Two characters in Days of Thunder call Tom Cruise's character Tom instead of Cole--his name in the movie. How come no one caught those things? Editing is the difference between a clean product and a sloppy one.

When Donnell mentioned a combined post about our editing experiences, I thought, how do I express how important the editing was to my very first published novel, Sexual Persuasion? I'm not talking about leaving off a quote mark or forgetting a word. I'm talking about major story flaws--things sharp readers find that cause them to swear off an author. A major problem for me is when two scenes happen at the same time from different POVs. For example: my hero, Alex leaves my heroine, Charlotte in the street-level entrance of her apartment. He's too wound up to sleep and and goes to his friend's restaurant. Meanwhile, Charlotte climbs the stairs and finds her sleazy ex-boyfriend in her apartment. Her assault scene takes less time than Alex's restaurant scene, yet I didn't account for the time discrepancy. Charlotte calls Alex. He rushes back. Um, what did Charlotte do all that time? My editor saw that. I didn't. What to do? I had my traumatized heroine delay calling Alex, equalizing the time difference.

Oh, here's a goodie: In a flashback scene between my hero and his male lover--my hero sits down to his favorite meal that his lover made for him: chicken topped with shrimp. Hel-lo! My hero is a vegetarian and has been since the age of ten. That one really embarrassed me, and I questioned whether to even mention it because it sounds like I didn't know Alex. I did. I do. Really. But somehow that one slipped by me. Are you ready? It also slipped by a couple of critique partners, two edits by my fantastic primary editor, and the line editor. That's right. A couple of critiques and three edits missed that fact. The third and final editor caught it. But really, I should have detected that ages ago. More importantly, I never should have made the mistake.

Those were important mistakes, which makes me wonder how many errors pepper my other books and why editing, good editing, is so important. A toast to the Loose ID team for excellent editing and for making me look better than I am.

Maryn Sinclair's Sexual Persuasion was released in May, 2011. Maryn was also a guest on Five Scribes earlier in 2011 http://fivescribes.blogspot.com/2011/04/erotic-romance-making-of-story.html To learn more about Maryn, visit her website at http://marynsinclair.com/

I ask you, readers, aren't these women fantastic? I so appreciate their sharing and their candid perceptions about what took place before, after, and during their editing processes.

As for me, Donnell Ann Bell, my book still unnamed at present (formerly Walk Away Joe) but is due for release from Bell Bridge Books September 15, 2011. As soon as I have a title, I'll be shouting the novel's new name, you can count on it!

The novel just went to copy edits. It's been through a two-page, single-spaced revision letter, and intense editing by Senior Editor Pat Van Wie, and since we've covered redundancy above, I'll just say my editor addressed most, if not all, of what Anne Marie, Julie and Maryn talked about.

The major thing I learned about editing is the importance of follow-through, and staying in character. For instance, in chapter five my heroine takes a gun out of storage and puts it in the top of her closet for protection. Pat asked, what does Melanie do with the gun? Nothing, I replied, it's illegal for her to have it in her possession. Pat simply said, do something with that gun. (After much hair pulling, I did. Imagine my relief when it added an important layer for all the characters involved).

My editor's perceptions as far as character growth were also right on. In chapter three, my heroine fearlessly decides no one will force her from her home again. So what do I do when I need to create the black moment where all is lost between the hero and heroine? Take her out of character and have her contact her realtor to sell her house. Yeah, that was effective. (Not.)

These are things my fantastic critique partners never caught, but my editor did. I also think that after working with her these many months, her vision for this book is equal to mine.

For more information about me, my web page is www.donnellannbell.com.

For anyone in the process of submitting or revising, I hope the experiences we've shared will help you make it through your revisions unscathed. One final bit of advice. Sit back and let your editor's words digest. I suspect it won't make much sense at first. It's still your baby after all. But revision is a collaborative effort. It's also a wonderful learning opportunity if you treat it as such.

Questions, comments? We'd love it if you'd share your experiences.

Happy writing, revising and editing.


magolla said...

Fascinating! I've often wondered how editor's minds work.

Keri Stevens said...

I'm laughing so hard because Deborah Nemeth gave me the same quote on crying. Yup.

Vince said...

Hi Donnell:

This is always one of the most useful sites I visit!

This is a wonderful post that I can use at once.

I was a copy editor for many years and I found that it is important to ‘edit for’, that is, to edit for one given problem at a time. You can’t see everything at once. Often the biggest mistakes are easiest to miss as you are not looking for them but you may be looking for everything.

I suggest you make a list of editing ‘pass-throughs’ that you want to cover:

Physical descriptions
Time spans
Weather conditions, moon, time of season, sun-ups and sun-downs
Anachronistic words
POVs (color code POVs in Word with highlighter)

These are just a few. Some of these passes can be done very quickly with the ‘search’ feature.

The most important passes will be the ones where you often make mistakes.

BTW: 'Editing for' is usually done last after you think you have the job fully edited.

It would be helpful to build a combined list of productive ‘pass-throughs’ compiled by your experienced editors.

"If you do not know what you are looking for, it can be hard to find it."

Thanks to your guests.


Adrienne said...

Great post, ladies. The crying thing must be universal with Carina authors because Gina Bernal told me to cut back on my heroine's tears as well. I, of course, never noticed it until it was pointed out to me. That's what I love about having an editor. They find all that odd-ball stuff that critique partners may miss.

Donnell said...

Hello, Margaret, Keri and Vince: The great thing about the Internet and meeting people is the information you gain in doing it. I absolutely loved everything Anne Marie, Julie and Maryn had to say. I'm hoping people who are going through the process, whatever the publishing route you choose, will find this useful. Thanks for stopping by!

Callie James said...

Wonderful post! Thanks, everyone.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Keri - LOL. Deb's fabulous, and I love that quote!

Vince - You're so right when you say not to edit for everything at once. I must have edited Only Fear at least thirty times over the years, and something new always pops up! And your mention of time spans is a great point. My editor had me do a timeline because a couple of the scenes didn't flow correctly. So helpful!

Adrienne - I think the crying heroine must be an attempt to add emotion to a scene (at least, it was for me), but it was so much more powerful when I gradually built to tears, or when I took them out all together and let the reader feel for her. Probably the single biggest thing I learned from this editing process was how to layer in the emotion better.

Amanda Brice said...

Great post, ladies!!!!

Ellis Vidler said...

Great post, all of you! I found it fascinating, the process you went through. The things we don't see are amazing. I'm still looking forward to working with my new editor, but it will be soon. It's invigorating when the editor is good. I can't wait to read the three books I haven't yet--I've read Maryn's and it's terrific.
Best of luck to you all!

Bev Pettersen said...

This was great. Really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. Thanks very much for sharing, and best of luck!

Susanna Fraser said...

It really is amazing what only becomes obvious once a good editor points it out, isn't it? Both my Carina books ended up with one chapter either totally new or completely rewritten at the request of my awesome editor, Melissa Johnson, and they're so much stronger because of it. She saw places where I'd wussed out or not followed through properly that I never would've noticed if I'd gone through the manuscript a hundred times.

Nancy Naigle said...

Thank you so much for the post and the great additions here in the comments. My debut novel just came out, but I don't think we ever stop learning the craft and becoming better writers.

I can't wait to apply these tips and I bet I recall many of these as I continue working on my latest wip.

Hugs, high 5s and happy reading!
Nancy Naigle

Barbara Monajem said...

LOL. I can relate to the crying thing, too. My editor said to please not have my heroine get teary-eyed quite so often. I wonder if she would be OK with a teary-eyed hero? Must try that soon...

Rita said...

Great post.
No problem with my heroines crying -they don’t! I think of my editor as a partner who knows the story and characters as well as I do.

Jean said...

Great post! Again, every *eye* sees something different. It's amazing how the brain *fixes* the parts you skim over :)
Good luck!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Ellis - great word, "invigorating," and so true. I was sick of reading my own words until I worked on the manuscript with Deb. I had renewed energy after that.

Susanna - that "wussing" out thing is so tempting for me. In my "real" life, I hate conflict and try to smooth things over too quickly. I try in my writing to do the opposite, but wasn't sure how successful I was. So nice to have that reinforcement from someone else who is invested in the book.

Nancy - High 5's right back at ya on your debut! :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Barbara - LOL. I'm SO glad I'm not the only one who had a weepy heroine. I gave her some spine, though, and it's making my WIPs stronger. I've had to find other ways to show her getting upset. A certain set to her jaw, or narrowing of her eyes, or biting her lip can go a long way. ;)

Rita - so true! I think of my editor as my partner in crime, too. (And it helps to have someone who professes love for your writing.) Can't wait to read about your strong heroine.

Jean - the brain is truly amazing. There's a psychological term for it's tendency to fill in blanks with whatever seems to fit. Can't remember the term right now, though. LOL

Thanks to everyone for stopping by today - it's great to hear your experiences, too!

Annette said...

Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing, ladies!

Susan Edwards said...

Wonderful post on editors and editing.

Renee Ryan said...

Hi Donnell,

Great post, great insights by all four of you. Yes, it's amazing once you sell a book and realize the things that are important from an editor's perspective. I'm completely different contest judget since I've been through the editing process.

The copyediting points are important, but the key things that will keep a manuscript from selling have to do with story and characterization. We often get so busy in the critique process we forget to focus on "why" and "is that realistic" and other such inconsistencies.

Some of the questions I've been asked by an editor are: Would a hero/heroine really do _____? Or... Didn't your character say____ on page xx and now he's saying _____ here, that's not consistent. Fix it.

Well, you get the idea. Story, motivation, character consistency, those are some of the things I've learned from my editors.


Donnell said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Maryn is doing, of all things, copy edits, and Julie has an awful cold that is keeping her literally under cover.

I think from this post we are going to have the most stoic heroines of all time ;)

And, Renee, I think fiction editors must have an engraved "Fix it," tattooed on their editor diploma.

What's amazing to me is that something I so clearly perceived in my head totally rang false to my editor. That's interesting, and what Julie said about "You're writing for the reader not for yourself," couldn't be more true.

Thanks for sharing what you've learned from your editing processes.

And to Barbara Monajem & Renee Ryan, congratulations, you two, on your Daphne finals!!!

Mona Risk said...

Hi Donnell, I enjoyed reading Julie's and your two other guests' posts. I usually do what Vince mentioned. For example I search for scent, and check what sent I used in each scene. I keep a diary for time-frame, what month the story starts and when does it end, especially when my heroine has a dead-line and will leave in three monthes, two monthes, three weeks, etc...
I also check the charcaters' ages.
I noticed that even after I check everyting, errors can be introduced while accepting the edits. I have the computer read out loud in adobe the final ms. a great feature.

Maryn Sinclair said...

Thanks, all, for your comments. Donnell is right. I'm in the middle of edits for my second book, and I'm tearing out my hair.
I honestly think if 100 people looked at your manuscript, there'd be 100 different takes on what does or doesn't make it work. Every editor brings his or her expertise to the table. There are definitely editors who work better for some writers than others. When you find one on the same page, it's like finding your soul mate. Well, almost.

Donnell said...

Mona, thanks for sharing. Timelines are incredibly important, as Maryn pointed out in the section of her blog. Adobe read aloud feature. Fantastic. As Chris Roerden pointed out we should be reading our manuscripts out loud.

hicotton said...

Oh, this post made me feel so much better. I thought I was the only one who left out a character and then referred to him later, and changed characters' eye colors as often as their clothes. Thank you ladies.

One question for Anne Marie -- could you be a little more specific, please, about the em dash? I have Word XP (2003)and the only "Options" I can find is under Tools. It doesn't have anything that refers to a dash. Love to get those annoying dashes straight!

Jenny Schwartz said...

Oh dear. I think we've been flooding Deb with tears. She gave me that quote, too :)

Gwynlyn said...

Congrats to all of you!

Sharon Archer said...

Great blog! Congratulations on your sales, Anne Marie, Julie, Maryn and Donnell! I hope it's the first of many and the beginning of fabulous careers for each of you!

The insights and tips you've all given are brilliant and well worthwhile for anyone who is writing to take note of. I find it amazing how my eye slides over things that, after they're pointed out to me, are so obvious! Those extra pairs of eyes combing through manuscripts are just wonderful!


Donnell said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for stopping by, and special thanks to my guests, Anne Marie Becker, Julie Rowe, and Maryn Sinclair for sharing what they've learned.

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Hi, Donnell! Thanks for bringing Anne Marie (waving madly!), Julie and Maryn along to share their fantastic tips. Such good timing for me as I tackle two very big revisions.

Anne Marie, your tip about RUE is an excellent one. Overexplaining things really drags down the pace. Trust the reader to fill in the gaps.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Hi, Jane... regarding em-dashes — on my keyboard, there's an "option" button (it's with the "alt" button here), so creating a dash is basically pressing a combination of those three buttons simultaneously.

Hope this helps! :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Vanessa!! (*waving back*) So nice to see you here! :)

Robin Weaver said...

Great stuff. Thanks for sharing this!

Edie Ramer said...

On Cattitude, my first published book, I had 6 beta readers, plus I read it about 5 times after I thought it was finished. Yet I still had about 14 mistakes that a reader caught. Luckily I could change it, but OUCH!

Donnell said...

Your eyes fly right over mistakes. Proofreaders are invaluable. One story that comes to mind, Edie, is when I worked for The Colorado Springs Business Journal. Our weekly broke a story before the daily and we were thrilled. Proofed and proofed that sucker and when I left for the day, I was confident we had it perfect. The editor misspelled the company name in the headline! Arrrrggh :)

kakiwarner said...

Another great post, Donnell. And thanks to Vince and the other authors for their wonderful insights.

As for editoral revisions (as opposed to copy editing changes), I've been fairly lucky. My editor didn't ask for revisions on my debut novel, PIECES OF SKY, so it went directly to copy editing. The second book of that trilogy required an added prologue. Book 3 went directly to copy-editing. So far, so good.

Then the second trilogy. Mm...not so good. Book 1 required a prologue AND enlarged ending. (I tend to rush my openings and endings).

Book 2. This time I got crafty and put in the prologue BEFORE sending it to my agent (who was also an editor at one time). Her advice? Throw it all out (135 pages!!!) and start over. Took me a month to recover from that email. After much deliberation, I threw out 5 pages, and sent it back. Result? "The best so far!" Go figure.

Convinced it was perfect, I sent it on to my editor. Result? Prologue too long. Apparently, I still don't have it right. HA!

But so far, what I've learned is: It's your story. Do the best you can--fight for what you believe in--then give in gracefully. Same goes for covers. They have the power, and hopefully the experience, and they might actually be right. Or not.

Oh, yeah. And don't rush your openings and endings.

Donnell said...

Kaki, I love this advice.... I must be confused... 135 page prologue ;) I wonder if the earth's orbit or mood has anything to do with how an agent decides at times.

But your advice is well taken. I tend to be so anxious to finish the book, my endings are always too short.

I can't wait to take your workshop at Crested Butte regarding character. Counting the days. Thanks for stopping by.

kakiwarner said...

The prologue was 10 pages, later shortened to 5. The rest of it was the first 6 chapters. ARRG. Sometimes it's a few simple word choices that make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Mimi Barbour said...

Great Post. I bet every author has good stories about her edit woes...
I love the crying one! And I'll remember it the next time my wussy heroine starts tearing up!