As of about two weeks ago, I have a new editor. The reasons for the change are not a topic I’m prepared to discuss, except to say that it was not a change I sought, nor a circumstance over which I had any control. But the upshot was that at some point, around the time Thieves’ Quarry was released, I found myself in need of a different editor at Tor Books. And my agent and I have found someone who I think will be great — her name is Stacy Hague-Hill.
But as excited as I am to work with Stacy, this has been a wrenching change.
I have worked with the same book editor my entire career. I have worked with others on short fiction (including our own Edmund Schubert, who is as fine an editor as I have ever met), but when it comes to novels, I have only worked with one person. And so, on the one hand, I face this change with a bit of trepidation. What if my new editor hates the way I write? What if this person likes my work but wants to take me in a different direction? What if all the things I’ve gotten in the habit of doing out of anticipation of my old editor’s comments, are not at all what my new editor wants me to do? What if we simply don’t get along?
These are all legitimate concerns. They are all meaningless.
Let me say first that professional writers work with different editors all the time. It’s part of the job. Sometimes we develop friendships with our editors, sometimes we don’t. Chances are, if we work with, say, half a dozen editors over the course of our careers (some of us will work with far more than that, some won’t) we are going to encounter at least one or two who we don’t like, or who don’t like us. That’s too bad. We still have to work with that person; we still have to respond professionally to their criticisms and suggestions. Again, that is part of being a writer. Now, that said, I don’t think I will have any problems of this sort with my new editor. Far from it. But it’s important to recognize that there are no guarantees that this most crucial relationship will always go smoothly.
When I was first assigned to my old editor, I had no idea what it would be like to work with him. I didn’t know if we would get along or work well together. I had some sense that he liked my work, because he had decided to buy my first book. But other than that, I had no idea what to expect. And neither do most writers when they are assigned to an editor. It’s actually highly unusual for a writer to remain with one editor for as long as I did. The relationship between a writer and an agent tends to last for many years; but writers move from editor to editor (and publisher to publisher) with some frequency. My situation is pretty rare. I’ve been lucky.
Sort of. Because while working with the one editor has been very comfortable, it also has, quite possibly, held me back. As I said before, for years now I have been able to anticipate my old editor’s comments. I mean, after more than a dozen novels, I SHOULD be able to anticipate them, right? I can almost hear his voice as I write saying “You don’t want to do that,” or “That’s one of those words you use way too much.” And for the most part anticipating and avoiding those mistakes improves my writing.
But my old editor is only going to catch so much, and the problems he finds in my work will always tend to be of a certain sort. Working with someone new, someone who will approach my work with fresh eyes and who will bring to my work a different set of concerns and insights, could be incredibly helpful to me. She will undoubtedly find problems with my work that my old editor missed, and that I have not even considered. And that is a good thing.
We want to be comfortable with our work. We want to be comfortable with out beta readers. Sharing our work with someone new — even with a professional editor — can be intimidating. But the fact is, the more people who look at our writing, and offer opinions on how we might improve our craft and our storytelling, the better our work is bound to be.
And so, as I contemplate this new professional relationship, I find myself looking past the trepidation and the sense of intimidation, to something else: I’m excited. I am looking forward to learning from a new editor, to improving my manuscripts in new ways. I am grateful to my former editor for all that he did for me over the past seventeen years. But this change is going to be good for me. The lessons I learned from my old editor have long since been ingrained. Now it’s time for me to learn from someone new.
Consider this the next time you’re done the a manuscript and ready to send it out to your beta readers. You will certainly still benefit from the feedback your regular readers give you. But it’s possible that a new reader, one you’ve not turned to before, could give you advice that will change the way you think about your writing, and that will make you see your work in a new light. Think about it.David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net
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