A Conversation with my Editor

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A couple weeks ago my Del Rey editor called me up to talk about revisions for TRUTHSEEKER, the little paranormal romance I’d written for her. Now, my agent had mentioned a few days earlier that she’d talked with my editor, and that my editor had some concerns about the level of romance in the novel. I wasn’t, personally, absolutely certain that the romantic elements in the first several chapters really meshed with the rest of the book, so I was okay with that.

This is what my editor actually said, though: “I’m afraid the book might fall too perfectly between romance and fantasy, and therefore satisfy neither. Would you consider rewriting it to remove the hero’s point of view and strengthen the heroine’s?”

I said, “Er.” And then, “Er, my agent didn’t mention striking the hero’s point of view…”

My editor, somewhat wryly, said, “She was probably afraid to.”

Now, my editor made it very clear that this was a request to be considered, not an order from on high. She was even willing to give the book to one of the house’s romance editors, to see if they thought it might do better *as* a romance, which I thought was pretty cool of her. (Although it gets into a whole different set of complications, because I’d probably want to publish it under a different name, then, and…yeah, all sorts of things. Anyway.)

Obviously this is a bit of a shock, for a writer. The book is about 86,000 words, and the hero’s point of view is about 20K of that. My first thought (after “buh, uh, uh, um, uh, buh”) was, “Well, I can almost certainly *reduce* his point of view…” I told my editor that I’d have to re-read the book and see what I thought, but I’d certainly take the idea of cutting him entirely into consideration. She thanked me, and added that although she’d read the book twice, she still didn’t, in the end, really feel like she *knew* the heroine very well.

*Augh*. The book *definitely* needs revision, in that case. I sort of reeled and said, “Okay, that’s a really good thing to know, that’s very important,” and went to think and re-read and try to deal with that problem.

Clearly, reducing the hero’s point of view so I can get further into my heroine’s head and let the reading audience know her better is one way to deal with it. It’s not going to change the *story*, just the delivery of it. Right now, though, boy howdy does it feel stiff and awkward and unwieldy. I’m trying to remind myself that I really need more than two chapters of revisions to be able to say whether this will or won’t work.

The truth is, it probably will. Here’s a secret about editors: they’re usually right. Not always, but usually. And this kind of thing is part of the job. Most of the time you’re not asked to rewrite a third of the book, but sometimes it happens.

It behooves you not to throw a hissy fit. Even if in the end you decide your editor is wrong–and that *is* an option; if for some reason it turns out this just really is *not* working, I will be able to go back to my editor and say, “Look, I tried, it turned into a cludgy mess, how else can we approach this?”–you’re going to go a lot further on an attitude of, “Agh, okay, holy crap, let me step back and think about this,” than you are on “OH MY GOD YOU WANT ME TO EVISCERATE MY BOOK!?!” Ultimately, we’re *all* trying to get the most sell-able book on the shelves as is possible. My editor didn’t ask for these changes because she’s mean, or because she hates me, or because she hates my book or wants me to flounder in obscurity. She asked for them because, in fact, she’s trying to make sure the book hits solidly in the ranks of what people want, and so my sales numbers stay strong, and so I get to keep writing and publishing more.

We can’t know if it’ll work. We can do our best, and one of the things that’s part of *my* job as a writer is to understand that my editor has, y’know, a pretty good idea of what works within my genre and what doesn’t. (So does my agent, who liked the book as-is–but my agent also represents romance, whereas my editor is more like me (and many sf/f readers) in that she doesn’t read romance at *all*, and so the romantic elements of the book as it originally stands weren’t so much to her taste. If they weren’t to her taste, she figures there’s a big segment of the sf/f audience for whom they won’t be tasty, either.)

This is a bizarre job, guys. It’s hugely creative, but it’s also hugely commercial. Do I feel like I’m selling out, or selling short, by seeing if I can change the presentation of the book to make it more palatable to sf/f readers? Absolutely not. It’s my *job* to give people what they want, and if that means I have to take my ego off the plate (which to some degree, with this book, I do, because I was *proud* that I’d managed the romantic elements as well as I had!) and go back to the keyboard, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Which isn’t a very romantic, frothy, happy-bunnies way to look at it, I admit. But the business side of this is just as important to me as the creative side, so it’s a-revising I go.

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9 comments to A Conversation with my Editor

  • Christina

    Hmm, hate to hear that she wants the romantic elements out. I read in most every genre, and I enjoy finding romantic elements outside of a romance. Of course, I like romance fiction. S.L. Viehl pulled it off in her Star Doc books. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be done.

  • No happy-bunnies, no. And OMG what an awful rewrite. But what a wonderful editor to show you a way to make it work. Of course, you may find another way while you are writing, Catie. You are just that good!

    On a panel at ConCarolinas, I mentioned that a fav writer of mine posted a note to his fans (in the front) and bragged that his editor said he was such a good writer that he no longer needed editing. The editor lied like a dog. It was awful. It *needed* editing in the worst way. (grins) I’ll never read another of his books.

    We writers all need editing. You have an amazing attitude. I’d have cried and wailed for a couple days before diving in. Good for you!

  • Yeah, Catie, I’m with Faith on this one. The response on the phone I could have pulled off. I’ve learned to keep my rants to myself. But a rewrite of that magnitude would have thrown me into despair for a couple of days, at least. A week, maybe? I already admired your talent and your ability to produce. Now we can add to that your resilience and strength. I think I’m starting not to like you….. πŸ˜‰

    Good luck with the revisions. Hope you find a way to make it work that YOU can live with.

  • CJ

    That is one of the most useful posts on writing I’ve read anywhere. It really shows just what a close relationship the editor, author and the agent have.

    For the benefit of relative newbies, who pays whom? (if you don’t mind the personal question). I understand that this varies from author to author and contractual relationship to relationship, but is your editor working directly for you, your agent, or the prospective publisher?

    Those of us who try to “self edit” (and oftentimes fail) need to know a bit more about this relationship. We all know that it’s usually ill advised to pay an agent up front, but what about the really VITAL link in the chain – the editor? Who employs (pays) him or her?

  • Susan James

    Very interesting. Being unpublished, I suppose I speak as the market in this case and I have to agree with Christina. I read so much that I am rarely get suprised anymore. I’m good at picking up the hints. I think its great that you’ve tried something new and I’m sorry that they simply want you to cut it.

    I’ve been told that I change POV too much and as a novice I recognize that I need skill to do that well and haven’t gotten there yet; but my favorite books have always been ones with more than one POV. (For that reason, I often get weary of books written in the first person.)

  • Christina, Susan: it’s not that she wants the romantic elements *out*, but rather re-arranged. Right now the beginning of the book, particularly, is very romance-novelish, with alternating POV between hero & heroine, and it comes out of the gate kind of hitting you over the head with the Instant Attraction. My editor would like the relationship to develop a little more slowly, with its weight starting to come later in the book, rather than right out of the gate. Trust me, if she was asking for the romance to be removed it wouldn’t be a discussion on the table. She’s just asking for a different approach.

    Faith, David: y’know, I really didn’t feel like she was asking for something huge. Maybe because I wasn’t comfortable with how the beginning of the book fit with the rest of it, so I really didn’t get thrown into despair (though revision letters usually send me into a days-long sulk). I was pretty shocked at the suggestion of removing the hero’s POV, though. Holy beans. πŸ™‚

    CJ: that’s a very, very good question and I’ll go into it in depth next week in a post! But the short answer is this: a publishing house–Del Rey, in this case–pays/employs the editor. The writer does not. A writer should never, ever pay *anyone* in a legitimate publication scheme. The money flows toward the writer; that’s all you ever need to remember as a rule of thumb.

  • Thank you for this post. I’m actually in the middle of a third edit of one of my books. As a yet unpublished author, I understand the importance of editing and re-editing. However, there are times when I just want to say, “To heck with it!” and see what happens when I send it on it’s way.

    Thank you for reiterating the importance of heading sage advice even when it’s the last thing we want to hear. I have three dear friends who read my work and comment, honestly, brutally, on where I need to revise. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes they’re wrong, but more often than not, they are spot on and I take out the old correction pen.

    I look forward to the writer/agent/editor realtionship and will remember this post when that day comes. The best way to handle things is to take a step back, see it from the other person’s (editor’s) point of view, and do all you can to make it work. We are, after all, writing to be read and if those reading it have concerns, perhaps we should heed those and see if there is truth in them. Thanks again! Back to editing I go!

  • Thanks for the informative post, Catie!

    I could barely fathom such a slash and burn to a book of mine. Yet as you say, it might make it turn out better, but that would still not keep me from wailing and gnashing teeth while I did it.

    Have you (or any other authors out there) ever gotten such a request and you have kept a copy of the book as you originally envisioned in your files at home? Almost like a “Director’s Cut” of your book?

  • oh, I always keep the early versions of my books, but they’re never as good as what hits the shelves. Terry Pratchett apparently deletes everything once the book is out, which is another way of going about it. πŸ™‚