My Editor & Me
The relationship between an author and editor is a vital to your success. We talk to some of our writers about that very special bond...
Janice Maynard: A Marriage Made in Heaven
I met my husband in high school and married him when I was nineteen and he was twenty. He’s my best friend, my cheerleader, and the person who makes life fun. BUT… I’m here today to talk about another very important person in my life… My wonderful editor, Stacy Boyd! She and I have worked with each other since 2010, and I have honestly lost track of how many books we have tackled together.
By way of preface, I have to tell you that it took me a long time to get published. Since that first book hit the shelves, I have been contracted with four mainstream publishers and have collaborated with at least ten editors.
Why so many you may ask? It’s the nature of the business. Editors, especially ones in the early years of their careers, tend to move from publishing house to publishing house. Or one editor decides to stay home and be a full-time mom for a few years. Maybe a spouse gets transferred to the west coast. You get the idea.
Sometimes—and this is the worst—you may even face losing an editor in the middle of the book process. That’s truly painful, but fortunately rare in my case. Continuity is so important.
I could honestly write this article about several stellar editors with whom I have worked. I’ve been very lucky in that regard. But today I want to share with you why Stacy Boyd (Senior Editor Harlequin Desire) and I are a marriage made in heaven.
Unlike many authors, I am not part of a critique group. My editor is the first and only person who reads my work. The single exception to that statement is how I brainstorm with my agent. If we are in the process of pitching for a new contract, particularly a different kind of work, my agent and I work closely together to prepare a submission. But once the books are contracted, the working relationship shifts to my editor.
You’ve probably heard more than one person say how important it is to guard your voice. If you’re lucky, you have an editor who understands and wants to preserve that individual storytelling style as much as you do.
When I get revision notes back from my editor, they usually appear in two parts: big picture and smaller fixes. Thanks to the wonder that is Track Changes, my editor is able to write notes in the margin, so I don’t have to wonder where she wants my input.
Stacy never makes me guess. She is able to articulate exactly what she wants. Believe me, that kind of clarity is a huge benefit to a writer. Instead of saying “I don’t like how Chapter Three ends…”, Stacy pinpoints the places that need to be tweaked slightly or rewritten entirely.
Often, these changes relate to a character’s motivation. A particular line of thought may be crystal clear in my head. But perhaps I haven’t connected all the dots for the reader. Stacy has a knack for pointing out the moments when I need to give the reader more.
Over the years, you learn to trust yourself. If I read something I’ve written and wonder if it’s exactly right, you can bet that’s a spot my editor will point to as a section that needs work.
Stacy’s goals and mine are the same… To write a story that keeps the reader turning pages until well into the night. We want the book to be compelling and, as one reader called it, “un-put-downable”. If that’s not a real word, it probably should be!
Another reason a good editor is so valuable is because it’s hard to step back from your own work, particularly when you are in the midst of creating it. It’s very easy to lose track of a story thread. When you read your own book cold, maybe six months later, you, too, can find many of the same things the editor sees. But when the words on the page are so new, it’s invaluable to have a clear-eyed editor evaluate and offer input.
This author/editor process is integral to making a book shine. Only an insecure or inexperienced author will balk or feel threatened. Doing revisions is part of the writer’s job, and an editor’s comments are not meant be negative criticism. Although I can’t say that I always enjoy making changes, I undertake that process with the confidence of knowing my editor is in my corner.
To sum up, Stacy Boyd is the best! Anytime we get ready to sign a new contract, I make her swear she won’t leave me. Ha! We work together well.
So that’s it for now. If you read one of my books, give a shout out to the editor who helped make the story sing.
Lara Temple: Editors Make Dreams Come True
Years and years ago, during my last term at university, I was waiting for two very different answers. One was from Wall Street and one was from the editors at Harlequin. My family knew about my first vigil—coming from a poor but over-educated family full of artists I decided young that I’ll be different; I’ll not depend on anyone. Hence, Wall Street.
I didn’t tell anyone about sending in a manuscript to Harlequin. This was something I did for only for me—for pure pleasure, not duty or fiscal responsibility. It was a historical romance called The Pearl of the Caribbean (dumb title, I know). And as I sent out my job applications I also sent my manuscript to Harlequin. I didn’t expect much, but I was still so proud of myself—I finished a book and submitted it.
And then, on the same day I get the call from a Wall Street bank offering me a job in London, a letter shows up in my mailbox. I was already a basket case from my offer, but I admit my hands were shaking pretty badly as I opened that letter on the bus on my way to class, angling my body away from the passenger sitting next to me. It was long and detailed and very lovely and I almost missed my stop. The editor, Tracey Farrell, commended my style and the story, and went into detail as to what needed changing (more internal conflict). I can still remember her voice as I read the letter—warm and humorous and full of encouragement. I also remember getting off at Harvard Square and standing there thinking—they liked my story and they’re being kind, but it wasn’t good enough. In my critical little world I misread that request for revisions letter as a very kind, beautifully written rejection. And that was that. A month later I packed up for Wall Street and began my new life.
I don’t think I would have chosen differently, even had I realized that letter was an invitation to learn, to grow as a writer; that that's the essence of communication with editors. I was set down a path already. But because that strange interlude occurred, when I enter the SYTYCW contest at Harlequin four years ago I thought of that moment and I told myself—If I’m lucky enough to get editorial feedback I’m going to treat it not as a criticism but as an invitation to grow.
So when the marvelous editors at Harlequin Mills & Boon told me I made the top ten and that they were interested in my manuscript, but that I needed to make changes I listened. For four year now I’ve been listening, and growing and, I hope, improving.
Since then every book I’ve written has two stages—before and after the revisions. It might sound weird but I look forward to the letter from my amazing editor, Nic Caws. Not because it’s full of praise—though she’s a master at that, too, as I always feel valued and encouraged after reading her letters—but because I know she sees what I’m trying to achieve and more importantly, where I’m falling short. I’m constantly amazed that she can signpost the precise points I swerve from the high road and start going downhill—and I always wish she would tell me how to get them back on piste, but she doesn’t because the battle is what makes the end product powerful. And that battle is mine—in that sense she’s the general and I’m the foot soldier, but it’s our work together that wins the battle.
Even on those books where I was so off piste I was practically underwater, her revision letters were full or praise, encouragement, and—thank the heavens—focus. I completed a graduate degree in diplomacy but I have no idea where she (and I know this is true of other editors at M&B) learned such diplomatic skills.
What I do know—and didn’t before I began this amazing journey as a published author—is that the relationship between author and editor is an integral part of the creative process. Authors do not write in an attic room, separate from the world. We are part of a community on so many levels—author groups, social media, the publishing world, and many other facets. And a key, key part of being an author is the relationship with an editor. I keep telling my editor, Nic, to be brutal with me because through her I’ve learned so much about my strengths and weaknesses, as well as keep improving. I love and learn from feedback from readers, but my editor is part of my individual writing process—she’s part of the creative voices inside my head. Let’s face it, the relationship with an editor is one of the most significant relationships in the writer’s life!
So when Nic told me the last book I sent in actually made her cry... Well, that’s a pop-the-champagne moment.
Sorry, Nic, but making you cry is one of my objects in life. Just as making me the best author I can be is one of yours. I hope we both succeed.
Patricia Sargeant: Keep the Romance in Romance
I was first published in romantic suspense. I had my heroine’s conflict, my hero’s conflict and a murder to solve. I was in my element. Then my publisher told me the bottom had dropped on the romantic suspense industry and they wanted me to switch to contemporary romance. I’ll admit, without a dead body in the plot, I had a little trouble finding my rhythm. Enter my then-new-to-me editor, Selena James. (Note: Selena, who’s now an executive editor with Kensington Publishing Corp., is no longer my editor.)
Selena called me to discuss the proposal for my then-upcoming contemporary romance. She liked the proposal. The characters seemed realistic. The heroine’s conflict was good. The hero’s conflict was equally strong. But she couldn’t see how it was a romance.
I know. I gasped, too. But Selena continued as though she hadn’t just removed the floor from beneath my feet, hurling my body into a bottomless abyss of professional insecurity.
Beyond their mutual physical attraction, she asked, what is it that keeps pulling these two characters to each other? Why do they need each other? How do they complete each other? It’s not enough for the lead characters to be forced into a situation in which they have to work together; nor is it enough for the lead characters to just be hot for each other. There has to be a deeper internal connection that compels them to remain connected even after their external conflict is resolved and their physical attraction is ... well, ... You know. Wink. Nudge.
I went back to my proposal and, of course, realized that Selena was right. I’d been so focused on my characters’ external conflicts and what was keeping them apart, that I’d overlooked their internal conflicts and what was drawing them together. (At the time, I was mortified, but I can laugh about it now. Ha!)
That’s when I remembered the Character Diamond. Have you heard of the Character Diamond? It’s now one of my very favorite character development tools. It asks you to identify your character’s four main internal traits:
* Primary: Your character’s main characteristic.
* Shadow: Your character’s secret desire.
* Supporting: Enhances your character’s main characteristic.
* Fatal Flaw: Prevents your character from realizing her secret desire trait.
This chart helps you focus on your characters’ internal development. Where is your character now? Where does she want to be? And, if you set up your heroine’s and hero’s charts to contrast each other, you can see where they will ultimately complement each other so that at the end of your romance, you’ll have your Jerry McGuire moment: You complete me.
For an example of how this works, let’s look at the 1984 romantic adventure/comedy film Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. This is the example the workshop presenter offered.
Kathleen Turner’s character, Joan Wilder
* Primary: Home body
* Shadow: Adventurer
* Supporting: Introvert
* Fatal Flaw: Cautious
Michael Douglas’s character, Jack Colton
* Primary: Adventurer
* Shadow: Home body
* Supporting: Extrovert
* Fatal Flaw: Reckless
Do you see how the two characters perfectly contrast? They’re mirror images of each other. They each have what the other wants and, when they come together, they complete each other perfectly. They make each other better people. It’s very exciting. I recommend you rent Romancing the Stone from the library to see how the writers made this work.
So now you know why the Character Diamond is a required part of my plotting process. It helps me keep the romance in my romance novels; and it's all down to that one conversation with my editor!
Joss Wood: Editors Past and Present
“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.” Stephen King
To me, having an editor is like having someone in that bathtub with you or, at the very least, having someone in a motorized boat powering along next to you, warning you of big waves, telling you when to bail and of icebergs ahead. And they are the people who tell you when you’ve hit the shore and you can ditch your leaky bathtub.
Then, weeks later, they encourage you to climb back into that rickety vessel and do it all again. It’s a special type of insanity.
I’ve been lucky to have a handful of amazing editors over the course of my short career (plus or minus seven years) and every one of them has taught me something, made me a better writer. I once listened to a talk on self-publishing and one of the speaker's reasons for going the self-publishing route— please note: I absolutely respect authors who’ve chosen indie publishing over traditional—was because editors at traditionally published houses made writers change their stories on a routine and on-going basis. That has never, ever happened to me. In fact, I’ve had so much room to move it’s ridiculous. I’ve often sent my editors an email saying “Um, you know that proposal I sent you? Well, I haven’t really stuck to it…”
Because I think that good editors understand that the story is the story and sometimes the characters go off in different directions, that the writer finds a stream of gold and that they need to mine it. Or, to go back to the rowing a bathtub analogy, they understand that writers are sometimes blown off course but they are wise enough to trust their writer’s talent or intuition, to navigate their characters safely to their happy-ever-after.
I was recently able to meet some of my editors—past and present—at the Romance Writer’s of America conference in Denver and I am so grateful I was able to. I live in a small time in rural South Africa and it’s easy to feel isolated and very alone. Discussing stories and future plans was really special and getting to know the people who make my books better, every single time, is a memory I will treasure forever.
Flo Nicoll, Senior Editor at Harlequin’s London office, was an assistant editor when a story I wrote landed on her desk. It was an entry into a Mills and Boon sponsored competition here in South Africa and I’ll never forget how I felt receiving her email asking me to develop the story into a book. She worked with me and I learned more from Flo in those months than I did from countless writing courses and years of research into the craft of writing. Then she called me and offered me a two-book contract writing for Harlequin’s Kiss/Modern Tempted line.
I worked with Flo for a few books and then I was transferred to another editor and then, a few books later, to someone else. Editors move within the organization, or they move on. Yeah, losing your editor is unsettling, but its part of being a traditionally published writer. And someone new brings a fresh pair of eyes to your work which is not a bad thing.
An editor's job is to make your book better, more sell-able, to reach the widest readership by making it as good as possible. I approach editor’s notes with a totally open mind and, after thirty-four books, have realized that criticism is not personal. There have been times when I’ve disagreed with my editors and we’ve worked it out, calmly and respectfully. And, for me, that’s what its about: mutual respect. I respect, and like, the hell out of the people I work with.
So, to my editors, past and present, a huge thank you for making me a better writer. And I look forward to making more beautiful book-babies with you.
Avril Tremayne: Bringing Out the Best in My Work
I’m a solo flying author—I don’t have critique partners, beta readers, or an agent (must get me one of those). I may send sections of my manuscript to experts for fact checking/sensitivity reading/foreign language translation, but the first person (aside from me!) to read it in full is my editor.
And that’s when the story stops being ‘mine’ and stars being ‘ours’.
I’m not one of those lucky authors who’s never asked to revise a manuscript. No matter how fabulous I think my plot is, or how perfect I think my characters are, or how polished I think my prose is, my editor inevitably finds weak spots and gives me suggestions for fixing them.
Do I ever ignore the feedback? Hell, no—because almost without exception, I’ve ended up with a better, stronger book because of it.
I’ve had fabulous editors at all three of my publishers, but with my most recent experience, writing three DARE novels, I feel the need to give a special shout out to my Harlequin Mills & Boon editor, Bryony Green.
Bryony kick-started my career when I was a Top Ten finalist in Harlequin’s 2013 So You Think You Can Write competition with Here Comes the Bridesmaid, which became my first published novel. Amazingly, the only revision I was tasked with for that book was to pare back some of the banter in one section to move the story forward—a recurring fault of mine, and one I doubt I’ll ever offload.
But if I thought things would be that easy forever…? Well, Bryony soon burst my bubble. My second book, a medical romance called From Fling to Forever, went through much more extensive revisions —including one particular non-medical suggestion: that I include an extra scene to bring the hero into the action when the heroine’s pregnant sister gives birth. Cue a precipitate labour, a clueless guy out of his depth but trying to help the in-control heroine, vulnerability galore—and lo and behold, that scene became the best scene in the book! It tipped the hero and heroine into a new understanding of each other that made their relationship a thousand per cent more powerful.
I’ve trusted Bryony to bring out the best in my work ever since, and she’s now done it with seven books across three Harlequin Mills & Boon lines—Harlequin Kiss, Harlequin Medical, and Harlequin DARE.
Without going into every trial and travail, over the years I’ve been asked to rethink character motivations, remove scenes, add scenes, shift the focus of scenes, change point-of-view, stop being stingy with emotions, finesse characters… You get the idea.
If you’ve read my first DARE, Getting Lucky, you may be surprised to know it bears little resemblance to the first manuscript I submitted, because I ended up completely rewriting it twice! And you know what? It’s a great book—but it wouldn’t have been, without Bryony kicking my arse. Ditto books two and three.
Moreover, it’s thanks to Bryony that Kiss Don’t Tell and The Dating Game found a home. At 95,000 words each with pure romantic comedy plots, they were never going to fit into a Harlequin series, but in true partnership spirit, I asked her opinion anyway, and that’s how they landed happily at HQ Digital.
So thanks, Bryony! I suspect you may have wanted to wring my neck a time or two, but it’s been a blast.
Jane Godman: My Best Editor
The relationship between author and editor is a unique one. We are working together to create something magical from words. At least, that’s the plan. And that’s what happens when it goes well.
I’ve worked with a number of editors. Seventeen of them, to be precise. That’s a lot of different relationships. While each editor has his, or her, own style, some are easier to adapt to than others.
For me, writing is the phase of the book when I am in complete control. Editing is the opposite. It can feel like something that is being done to me. It’s forced upon me. Like scrubbing the floor, or cleaning the oven, it’s one of those essential tasks that, if I’m honest, I’d rather put off for another day.
My feelings when an email arrives from an editor are usually mixed. The closest description I can offer is a combination of trepidation and excitement. Because, no matter how much I dislike this stage, I know it’s the point where my writing becomes a book.
Every story I write is an act of love. When I share it with an editor, I give that person permission to criticize my hopes and dreams for the characters and their journey. It’s a very personal moment.
I understand that an editor will not be my uncritical friend. Their role is to be an advocate for future readers. They look critically at a book in order to find ways to improve the reading experience.
What I’ve learned over time is that editing is not an add-on that happens at the end of my writing. It is part of the process. To be a good writer, I’ve had to learn to embrace editing. To put it simply, what happened when I was alone with my laptop and my ideas was for me. After that, I’m working with a partner, getting my writing ready to be seen by the world.
The best editors I’ve worked with—some of whom I still work with—are masters of their craft, aspiring with me to polish my story and make my voice shine. Among those, one person stands out.
Lauren Plude and I worked together when she was a freelance editor for Carina Press. I wrote two erotic novellas (The Seduction Squad series) under my Amanda Stewart pen name and was fortunate to be assigned Lauren as my editor.
I’ve tried to analyze what Lauren did differently, so I can summarize it here. Another editor might read this post and think “I do that!”. All I can say in response is that the difference must have been about her delivery, or the way our styles meshed. Whatever it was about working with Lauren, I felt she brought a new synergy to the role. I even looked forward to her edits!
From our first conversations, Lauren’s sensitivity shone through. She understood and shared my connection to, and passion for, my characters and their stories. She was an honest guide, holding my hand when I needed it, but stepping back and letting me navigate on my own when she knew I could do it. The most important thing was her respect for my voice.
Two key quotes (direct from the lady herself) that sum up her style were “Editing and revising is an extremely collaborative process for me and I don't want you to ever feel that any suggestion that I've made is a directive” and “I want you to feel confident about every single word of the book”.
Looking back at Lauren’s edits as I’m writing this post, one of the most striking things is how brief they were. Brief and incisive. They got straight to the point and enabled me to view key parts of my writing in a different way. It was as if she’d used a magic highlighter and enabled me to dig deeper and instantly know how to improve the story.
Lauren (who knows I am writing this post!) is now Acquiring Editor at Amazon Montlake. You can find her on Twitter: @laurenplude
One of the wisest things I’ve heard is that editing takes a black-and-white manuscript and makes it technicolor. I think she went a step further and added some special effects.
Clearly, I’m not about to name any editors I believe were less effective. Let’s just say they relied too heavily on their own “rules”. Luckily, I haven’t encountered many of those. There has only been one time when I got a bad feeling as I read an edited text. It felt like I’d lost my voice. And that’s about the worst thing anyone can do to an author.
To finish, I’d like to say a thank you to the editors who’ve helped me on my writing journey. They are often the unsung heroes of the publishing process and, as with many professions, now and then, a superhero emerges.
What's been the best thing about working with your editor? Are you broken hearted when one moves on? How did you adjust when you moved from one editor to the next or has yours been a career-long relationship? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or join the discussion on Social Media using #MyEditor&Me.
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