Editorial Input

When I first got my agent, and spent days gushing about him, a writer friend told me that wonderful though an agent is, the relationship a writer has with her editor is equally (or more) important. She confided that she maybe spoke to her agent twice a year- once when she submitted a new book, and the second when(hopefully) agent sold said book. Even though they both spend a lot of time in the same city, they met for lunch or a drink maybe every two years or so. Note: that sort of blew a lot of my pre-conceived notions about long, languid lunches with cocktails and conversation revolving around my particular brilliance. But, she continued, I talk to my editor pretty often and see her far more. Ok, plug clever, amusing, chic, or attractively worn editor into my daydream instead of agent, and it still works. My first editor was located in another country, so all of our correspondence was via email or very occasionally telephone. Lots of word docs shooting back and forth with blue and red notes inserted on every page. It felt like being in the middle of a whirlwind. At the time I was working two jobs and had a 3 year old. I remember having nightmares that all the changes I’d made were lost through one mis-keyed computer command. I obsessively emailed the manuscript every evening to my beta reader with instructions to guard it with her life. At the end I was hollow-eyed, sleep -deprived and completely unable to speak in full sentences. What got me through it? My editor who was precise, relentless and completely professional which allowed me to fall apart all over the place. Over at Justine Larbalestier’s blog, guest blogger and Little Brown editor Alvina Ling gave us all some insight into the crazy number of hours and work an editor puts into a book. It is obvious that some editors (the good ones) are as passionate about our books as we writers are. Sometimes more, since they seem to be able to sustain enthusiasm through numerous re-readings, re-edits and all the convolutions of the publishing industry. There is such a personal and lengthy attachment that if the editor leaves the house, the book often founders without them. Another writer friend of mine just had an awful experience with the new editor at the small indie which publishes her. Her previous editor was on maternity leave and they had hired someone eager but inexperienced. There was criminal thesaurus abuse and many passages were changed or altered. Eventually the author put her foot down, saying that the tone and feel of the book was no longer her own and that she refused to see it published. They let her change all the passages back to the original content. I know this is unusual. Both the ingenue clueless editor part, and the publisher conceding completely to the author’s wishes. Famously F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor (whose name escapes me) obsessively examined each and every word and line in The Great Gatsby, and I believe thought he should get equal billing at the end of it. That might be excessive, and perhaps a clear indication that he should have been writing his own damn books. A good editor is an enthused, level-headed reader with the ability to look at your book with more clarity than you might have. They understand what it is you are trying, sometimes incomprehensibly, to say and they help you get your words to the point where the reader understands too. The difference between the book I sold to the publisher and the book which was published was immense, astounding, and unexpected (given that I was a zombie for most of the time I was revising it). Most writers would never show anyone their first draft. Philip Pullman doesn’t. Why? Because all first drafts are crap. The much-edited (and polished, vetted by agent) version which makes it onto the editor’s desk may no longer be crap, but I have never read or written a book which has not benefitted from the hand of an editor who knows what they are doing.