Thursday, May 4, 2017

Be grateful for editors!


Yesterday, I got the phone call I was dreading – a call from my EDITOR.  I spent half an hour on the phone yesterday with the person in charge of editing my next children’s book, and I have to admit, I had been dreading her call for a while.

I got an email from her when the book was first accepted by the publisher (yay – details to come, I promise!) saying, basically, “We love your book, but naturally, we’re going to have to make some changes to the text.”  Which is their prerogative, right?  I can’t force them to publish my book as-is, no matter how much I love the text, so my best bet if I want to be published is to roll with things.

So.  I was prepared to roll with things.  But that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to her call, in which we would “discuss the changes.”

Ugh.  Did she not realize how much I’d sweated over every single word of that story?  Written, revised, erased, gotten it to the point where it was just about perfect?

Let me tell you – I didn’t feel particularly grateful about the spectre of her call.

When you read a commercially-published book, you’ll often see a bit at the beginning or the end where the author thanks her family, her agent, and then her editor (or editors).  I always took that part for granted until I started working as a novice journalist and working with editors who actually hacked and slashed and carved up my writing to find the most important points within it and bring those to the fore. 

And at first, dealing with those editors, what I felt was mostly ingratitude.  How dare they tell me how to write?  Isn’t writing supposed to be an art form?  And if so, would they swipe their red pens across a Degas or Van Gogh if they didn’t like what they saw on the canvas?

I was being – feel free to slap me now – frankly ridiculous.

Oh, I was gracious enough.  I wanted to keep making money and getting published, so I rolled with it, like I said, and even said “thank you.”  But I wasn’t feeling it.  Oh, boy, was I not.

But gradually,

something started to shift within me.  Maybe it was after the seventh phone call from one particular editor trying to organize the facts of a story that I’d handed in, a story that I now realize probably more closely resembled a pile of scrambled eggs than a nice, neat, orderly progression of ideas.

Editing, I realized, was hard work!  What I started to understand, someone within all those phone calls and emails and questions from this one very patient newspaper editor in particular, is that he was helping me make my writing better. 

That, in turn, changed the way I wrote.  I started thinking ahead of time of what questions he’d ask, mostly (at first) so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the phone calls after I turned in the story.

But, though I didn’t realize it at first, by anticipating his questions,  his objections (“is there another side to this story?”), and his changes (“I’ve moved the third paragraph up to the top and deleted the second”), I actually started writing better.

These days, I actually work as an editor quite a lot, sometimes on children’s books, sometimes not.  I’m also active in two children’s-writing critique groups, so I see a lot of stories. 

When I get a piece of writing that’s pretty good, it’s my job to pump it up so it’s terrific – not just grammar but the story itself (this is technically what’s known as developmental editing, but I blur the lines a little).  I may not adore every single article, book, story, or whatever, but to some extent, I always get invested

I always want to make the writing better.

For me, editing a story (or article, or anything) is like being an interior decorator.  I step inside your story, look around, carefully assess what the “bones” of the place are, its core strengths and weaknesses, and then what its potential could be.  I tidy up a little, fiddle with the colour scheme, and maybe even add some throw cushions here and there.

I’m pushing the metaphor a little, but I hope you understand. 

The important part of the image is this:  I am INSIDE your story.  I am here to HELP your story.  I don’t expect groveling and praise, but I do – go figure – expect something else:  gratitude.  (I also sometimes expect payment, but those are two separate things, in the same way that I both thank and tip waitresses!)

When I am inside your story, we are on a team, and that’s what I realized halfway through the dreaded EDITOR PHONE CALL yesterday.  She’s on my team.  She likes my story, and wants to make it as great as possible so that as many kids as possible can see it, read it, hear it, experience it.

And so, I admit, I felt grateful.  And to make sure she knew that, I sent off a quick email to thank her for her call.

Now, because she’s with a commercial publisher, I didn’t have to pay her to be on my team, but this is no less true if you’re paying an editor.  A good editor will be part of your team for the long haul:  not only swiping her way through your story with that proverbial red pencil, but will also be cheering you on long after you’ve sent payment and gone on to do whatever you’re going to do with the story.

I haven’t seen the changes this editor is going to make to my story.  Hopefully, she’ll send them to me next week.  I’m pretty sure we’re on the same wavelength with the story, so hopefully, I’ll love the changes and see how hard she’s worked to make my writing better. 

But either way, I know one thing:  I will be grateful.


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