Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Great Is my Editor

I asked for blog ideas and one came in from an undisclosed source, asking about how great my editor is. Might have been tongue in cheek, but if so she should know better. :)

Because I had published prior to having a book accepted by Deseret Book back in 2006, I thought I understood what an editor's job was. I thought they managed the production of the book and asked a couple of clarifying questions. At Deseret Book, however, it was very different. First off, I was assigned a Production Manager, this is the person who coordinates all the different aspects of my book--editing, cover, production schedule, marketing, etc. The remarkable Jana Erickson was the Production Manger assigned to me. Under her, I was assigned an editor whose job it was to make my book more awesome.

With my first book, the editor gave me a list of things I needed to fix. (I think my first editor was Emily Watts. I'll check when I get home or if someone has a copy of Unsung Lullaby hanging around, maybe you can check for me.) It was highly stressful and made me think my book must not have been that great. But they had accepted it, and I so wanted them to love me, and so I made most of the changes. I had one point I didn't agree with and I wrote a very long and involved explanation of why I couldn't change this one thing. They responded with "Good point. Leave it." Not too bad.

With my second book, I had a new editor, Jay Parry I think, and fully expected not to have any revisions. Surely the feedback I had with that first book was a fluke, right? And this book was perfect. In reality, I had three times the revisions for Sheep's Clothing to the point where I cried when I got the feedback, sure there was no way I could make it work. The things they wanted changed would change too much. I talked to Jana, she gave me some suggestions, I boo-hooed to my husband and friends and then I went in to make the changes. They didn't end up being as intense as I thought, I had to fix some motivations, add a few scenes and clarify some details. It did make some big changes to the book, but the book was much better for it.

My third book with Deseret Book (Her Good Name) was the first one I did with Lisa Mangum. I knew Lisa before this, she is a huge supporter of the Utah writing community and had been at several conferences I'd attended. She was the "face" of Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain that I knew when I was first accepted by them. Our paths had crossed, but she made me nervous. First, she's very tall--I am short--and tall people have always intimidated me. Second, she's very confident and while I second guess myself a lot, she never seemed to. Third, she's a smarty-pants--anyone who has a college degree directly tied to writing in some way, is a smarty-pants in my mind, it's not a derogatory term--and I am not. I am a "street" writer, you could say, and she is an educated, confident, tall woman. I had listened to her talk to other writers, listened to her presentations and though I liked her a lot and admired much about her, she still made me nervous. All that said, I was so excited to have her as my editor. Because I knew her and I knew she knew her stuff (edit that sentance, Lisa--3 knews!) I also knew (4!) that she would be good for me. And she was.

Intimidation aside, I had something different with Lisa than I'd had with my other editors. We were industy-friends and I trusted her expertise. Trust, within a publishing relationship is huge. Yes, there are contracts and legal assignments that it's good to have trust with, but the process of taking your brain child and building a body around that soul is big stuff, and trusting the people who are helping you make this creation is important. Not that I didn't trust my previous editors, but because I knew Lisa it was different. I know without a doubt that she is making my books, and in the process, me, better.

Over the last twelve books we've done together, our relationship has changed. I would dare say she is now a good friend of mine, even outside of our working together. We have traveled together, roomed together, met each others' husbands, and we both love our cats. I know a lot about her life and she knows a lot about mine which is why I have to keep being super nice to her  :-) Because of the relationship we have built, I know that when she makes a suggestion about my book, she's probably right and even if I don't agree at first, as I look into it, she almost always is (I say almost because while I can't think of a time she was wrong off the top of my head, for my own self-esteem I have to believe that I was right at least one time). On more than one occasion I have called her and brainstormed out plot issues--she is brilliant, truly. She can insert a new character or suggest a twist or lay out a new arrangement of information and it's as though the sun shines through the clouds. She has saved more than one book with her suggestions and because of her I have learned what an editor should be. Here's the basic job description:

Be a cheerleader with a deep well of information and an iron hand. Be confident and trustworthy, keeping the author's best interest at heart even if they don't believe it. Don't be afraid to point out weaknesses and suggest correction and if they balk, remember that, like a good parent, you are there to make them better. A good author will respect you for it and acknowledge your role.

Within my culinary series, she's been especially helpful because she knows Sadie and she knows my style. She can make changes that still sound like me, she can suggest things based on who my characters are because she knows them and knows how they will react. We talk about Sadie as though she's a real person--how many people can a writer do that with? It's amazing. And yet she gives me the hard truth. My last round of revisions had the line "I think Rocky Road is a solid B+ and with a little effort we can make it a solid A+ book." And I think we did--but only because she was willing to point out the confusing, missing, and understated elements of the book. AND I think she was kind in giving it a B+, once the changes were made I'm pretty sure it was more like a B- when I first sent it in.

People ask me all the time if I'm going to get into Indie publishing with my books, many previously-published authors are publishing in both industries and having a lot of success. I'm not ruling it out--who knows where the book industry is going--but for now, I can't imagine my books being the best they can be without an editorial process that helps me fix the book but also grow as an author. I have learned so much through the editing I've done per the revisions my editors give me. I can't imagine having the confidence in my product without it and though there's freelance editing and I have talented friends who give great feedback as well, there is something about the personal connection Lisa has to my books that makes a difference. An important difference.

I'm sure there are bad editors out there--I know a few people who have had really bad editors. I think most editors, however, are like Lisa. They love books, they love authors, they want to be a part of the process of making both of them great. I am very grateful to have had good ones and, because of that, expect that I will continue to have good editor relationships in the future. I think they are an essential part of my success and, Lisa, specifically, has made an impact on my career that I can't put a price on.

Beyond the editing, Lisa is a talented writer. You can read up about her books HERE.


Mindy Holt said...

Lisa is amazing, as are you! Great post.

Stephanie Black said...

A good editor is such a blessing! I'm so grateful for the editors I've been privileged to work with and for everything they do to make my work shine.

emilyf said...

I agree, Lisa is intimidating (even when I'M taller than she is!) because she's so smart, but once you learn how kind, helpful, and marvelously smart she is, intimidation melts to deep respect and admiration! And your books are great; I've enjoyed helping proofread a few of them as one of Lisa's interns!

Heather Moore said...

I agree 100% about every thing you said about Lisa... great editor, great writer, and I love just hanging out with her. We've never had a dull conversation. She's pretty much brilliant and I love to pick her brain.