Vitamin E: in praise of good editors



Now that's what I call editing! But editing a book is another animal. In addition to tech prowess, the skill set has to include artistic instinct balanced by business savvy and steel-ball candor tempered with wet nurse gentleness.

I woke up at 4 AM on Wednesday, thinking, "I sure hope there's a hatchet sticking out of my back because if there isn't, I have another kidney infection." I've been plagued with the drat bastard things ever since chemo. Usually I can fight them down with cranberry juice, water, and naturopathic remedies, but on a breakneck toboggan track of a deadline, I'd been swilling Diet Coke and coffee instead. My doc hustled me in for a power course of antibiotics, but I had to turn down the prescription for painkillers. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist them if I had them, and on this deadline, I had to keep my head straight and keep working.

Thursday afternoon, I hit SEND and met my deadline for first chapter and detailed chapter by chapter synopsis, then fell asleep on the couch and didn't face the world much until Friday noon. Getting up the stairs was tough so I officed on the patio with my laptop until three when an automatic text message alerted me I'd missed a call from my editor. Crap. I figured she wouldn't be calling unless there was a problem.

"I just had to pick up the phone," the voicemail started...and went on to say I'd knocked it out of the park. But do they do that? Editors? Call just to tell you that you did something right? Isn't her job to tell me what I'm doing wrong?

I haven't had a chance to really get to know this editor -- the project is pretty fresh -- but I already love her. I discovered right away that I could count on her for straight shooting advice; she calls it as she sees it when I'm off track. But she feels equally compelled to tell me when I'm doing something right. At a moment when I was deeply exhausted, she offered me that needed shot of Vitamin E.

My career has been blessed with a parade of excellent editors. The guy who pulled me out of the slush pile and mentored me through my first novel literally saved my life. I was an emotional jellyfish, just coming out of chemo, knew nothing -- no thing -- about the publishing biz, and showed up on his figurative doorstep with a horse-choking 800 pg manuscript. He somehow made a tight 365 pg book out of that mess and made an author out of me.

The editor of my second novel was a relentlessly smart English teacher type who held my feet to the fire on the motivation behind every scene, the backstory on every character quirk, the subtext beneath every turn of phrase. The editor who did my third novel (and my memoir and an anthology I participated in) is the most surgically insightful editor I've worked with. She knows the industry like no one else I've ever met. She educated me on the business of writing, challenged me to think in terms of career, and tough loved the "orphan in the storm" tendencies out of me.

My first editor taught me the art of fiction, my second ed taught me the craft of writing, my third ed taught me the business of publishing. Every ed I've worked with has left me with a lovely parting gift of some kind -- a new way of thinking, a better way of processing. I consider myself ridiculously blessed and lucky to have had my ass kicked by the best.

Comments

What a fun video! And a great tribute to past editors.

My first editor was incredibly patient and taught me an amazing amount as well. Authors don't realize that editors who buy the manuscripts of newbies (or agents who take them on) put in so much time teaching, hand-holding, and all that jazz. It's a time-intensive undertaking for the publishing pro.

Since then, I've had several more editors: good ones, not-so-good-ones (or maybe we just didn't click as well), and then finally one I adore for her tendency to call 'em as she she's 'em and her willingness, like your new ed., to take the time to let me know what I'm doing right. Editors are so often ridiculously overworked that not many of them take a few minutes to give positive strokes. It makes a lot of difference to the author, though, when you don't just hear from the person when there's bad news.

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