Recently, I had a great exchange on Facebook with author George Pearson. An author of two books and currently working on a third book, his books are written for the Christian market. However, the criteria George and I discussed for finding the right editor for his work is applicable for authors of various genres and topics.
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It may come as a surprise, but it is not always easy for editors to give critical feedback on manuscripts. While I believe the editorial mind is geared toward quickly noticing what's missing, wrong, or out of place, there's also a human on the other side of that mind who knows what it is like to receive criticism on creative work.
Not too long ago, I was editing a book in which I chose to use the words enslaved people instead of slaves. A person reading over the material asked, “Why not just say ‘slaves’?” I thought it was a good question, though I didn't imagine being asked about it. I know why I chose it. It was not a second thought to me. I also understood why the person asked, and it was completely innocent. But it got me thinking about how some people would actually take issue with the word choice—enslaved people—thinking, "Here we go with all this political correctness."
The move from twelve years in adult Christian publishing to mainstream children's book publishing was pretty monumental. The only place I've left after years and years of being there was home. Oh and when I moved away from the town I grew up in to come to Florida for the job I held for twelve years then left for this new thing at Scholastic. Yeah, pretty monumental for a tiny person like me. What may seem like everyday, noneventful occurrences not worth talking about are quite the opposite for me.
December 1, 2013 marked for me a completion of ten years in book publishing. I have learned so much these last ten years. But it seems that most of the real, life-changing lessons have happened in the last three or four years. It hasn't not been easy at all (mostly personally), but it has been good.
As an independent author, you need to fully consider how much money to budget to get an industry-competitive book product to properly represent you and your message. This post will give you an idea of what to expect from the beginning and will help you navigate the best and most financially appropriate direction for publishing your book.
The standard word count on a typical nonfiction trade book is between 40,000 and 60,000 words. Have you written much more than this? Well, I have been known to take 100,000-word books and cut them down to 60,000 words without affecting the punch, author voice, or quality of information it contains. So let me help you meet your goal of writing a concise, well-developed nonfiction book that will keep your readers' interest and give them just the right amount of content they need to take what you have to offer and build on it themselves for their own lives.
Are you working toward a word count and it seems like an impossible goal because you are running out of things to say? Well, let me help you. I have been known to take an author’s manuscript that was half the word count it was supposed to be and double it with these cool tricks that do not water down the content at all.
Though a career expert could answer this better and every editor has a different story on how they came upon their current job, I will still share my story. And feel free to leave questions in the comments.
My purpose for blogging is to share and learn ways to be successful in the publishing industry. In maintaining this goal, I like to share encouragement and tools that help me. These prayers came out of a day when I was facing an uphill climb of completing a massive edit in a short period of time and I thought, “I bet there are others out there who may be struggling with projects of their own. Maybe as I pray, I can share my prayers and maybe they will help them too.”
- I am editing another author's book.
- I am editing another author's back cover copy.
- I am doing some online super-sleuthing for new authors.
- I just got off a long conference call with another author or an agent.
- I am responding to a long emailed list of contract revisions from an agent or another author.
- I am writing an edit letter to another author.
- I am preparing proposals for an upcoming acquisitions meeting.
- I am preparing a monthly activity report.
- I am on my way to a meeting.
- I am just getting back from a meeting and I am trying to figure out where I left off in my work.
- I am taking action on the action steps from a meeting I just attended.
- I am honing my telepathy skills when I have no idea what another author is talking about in the book I am editing.
- I am trying to decode a cryptic request from someone who just stopped by my desk and asked me to do something for them.
- I am making a desperate attempt to create a to-do list so I don't forget anything that has to do with the thirty to fifty projects I have in the pipeline.
- I am conceptualizing a best seller (yes, it pays to speak positively).
- I am shutting down my computer and on my way home for the evening.
Today I am working on an extensive edit, where I am having to fill in large portions of text. And I have actually been battling what I call editor's block. Being a developmental editor, it is my job--and really it's a gift--to be able to see how a theme or topic can germinate into a full-fledged trade book. Basically this is called conceptualization. That part came pretty easily to me for this particular project. But somewhere between the conception and the development, I lost my train of thought a bit.
Now I am knee-deep into my edit and the deadline is encroaching upon, creeping into, or threatening to cramp my creative space.
However, what inspiration I thought I lost has returned full force. Want to know how? I began listening to the author speak on a similar topic. Having CDs or DVDs of my authors speaking or doing media interviews is really a point of inspiration for me when I begin to conceptualize or edit their work. I get fired up about their project just by hearing or seeing their passion about whatever it is they are talking about. I get a better sense of their voice, their mannerisms, their coined words or phrases, and other things that connect them so well with their audience. It helps me to be able to take those unique and identifiable traits and add them to the work I am conceptualizing or developing for them. I think adding those elements strengthens the impact of their book as well.
You may be reading this and thinking that writers have to come up with all their own ideas. That is definitely and hugely helpful and most generally preferred. Then there are times when someone who has adoring fans and incredible insights who needs that extra hand putting an actual book together that strings all of their appeal together into one place and on a solid, salable concept. That is where I come in.
So just a little tip: inspire your editor by sending them a CD or DVD of you communicating your heart to a large audience. It doesn't necessarily have to be about the subject at hand, although it really helps if it is.
If you are editing or writing for someone else, what are some tangible things that inspire you?
Just the other day someone asked me what don't I like about my job as a book editor. I must have been going on and on about what I do like and they must have been like, "C'mon, there's got to something you don't like. It can't be all that." I promise you, I tried very hard to think of what I don't like. I was actually at a loss for words. I just kept thinking, "What don't I like about my job? My day-to-day duties? The authors? My coworkers? Freelancers? Agents? Books? Deadlines? Hmm..." I ran and reran the list.
I still don't know. The core of this job is dreamy. I get to utilize every corner, extreme, middle, and far left of my personality traits and natural skills in this job. I can be creative. I can be logical. I can be an introvert. I can be an extrovert. I can be strategic. I can be spontaneous. I can be OCD. I can be willy-nilly--authors can make you willy-nilly. Trust me. If they push hard enough, you'll catch your hard-and-fast wall of preferences come crumbling down, and from some place far away, outside your gut and core intentions, you'll hear your mouth say, "Aw... what the heck?" Ha! After a while, some things really don't matter.
I can be restrained, and I can be flexible. I have to be flexible.
What's not to like about being an editor?
- Bad manuscripts? No. You just fix 'em or reject 'em. Done.
- Difficult authors? No. You read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and follow the steps in part 3. Done.
- Impossible deadlines? Not here. Speak your mind and say, "That's not going to get done in that kind of time." OR... Adjust your thinking. There's always a way to get it done, yes? Plus, it's good to get the blood flowing every now and then. Done.
- Small cubie? Salary? Really? YOU'RE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE and you are influencing culture. I mean, honestly, you can't fake it. You're either really here or not. Another truth: you are always in a meeting, traveling, on the phone, or glaring so deeply into your computer screen that you can't see anything else anyway. Done.
Not sure exactly why this year is so significant to me. I've had seven others and truthfully none have felt so exciting. All year I've been waiting for today so that I could somehow, somewhere mark this auspicious occasion [stilted language--for no apparent reason]. I do realize that the number eight is not so significant when it comes to celebrating any life event or milestone. Most people look forward to the fives--five years, ten years, fifteen years, and so on.
Eight is significant because for me it confirms a new beginning of sorts. The interesting thing about reaching eight is that you don't start all the way over. You tend to begin again with a fresh and new perspective of all you've learned, struggle through, and experienced in the previous years.
One reason I say this with such confidence is because I saw this happen in my marriage. It was like my husband and I recycled into markedly new people after eight years but still had the awareness and consciousness of our life together during the previous years. It was lovely rediscovering who we were at that time. Arguments that used to be so intense suddenly became complete hilarity. Things we thought we knew so well about the other became times of reexploration. We had a new flow, and it just felt right.
The other thing is my instinct: I just sense something new is in the air--a shift. Out with the old; in with the new. Everything fresh.
Now obviously I am not a numerologist, and I would not put myself in a class with the prophets. Still, I know for certain the best is yet to come. I believe that today begins the fulfillment of all the expectations I have held for the last seven anniversaries. I have a stronger sense than when I started in this business, right out of college, that this is where I am supposed to be. I feel at home. I feel like I am growing into my best self. I have a surer sense of what I want, yet I expect to receive it with every bit of childlike wonder and surprise I can express.
If you asked me how I felt about things two-and-a-half years in, you may have caught me looking for the escape hatch. Everything was so quiet, then, you could hear a neuron drop. "Shh, editors at work." I was really questioning how I would fit. But, man, I really had no clue! Real publishing, when you're really in it, is like totally not quiet AT ALL! I'm so glad I stayed. You've got to give high-quality things time to age and settle. Like fine wine or great cheese or my grandma (she's still a hot mama at seventy-six and just getting hotter)...
I am so humbled God has been gracious and patient with me over these years. I wanted things He held back. I resisted things He gently nudged me into. Then I was overwhelmed when what good things I didn't ask for, He showered on me with lavish love and amazing favor. I am so grateful for all of it. Where would I be if it had not been for His grace? Most times, I am thankful that He really does know best and has the wisdom to ignore some of my prayers. Again, where would I be had He granted all of my early, not-too-bright, I'm-still-wet-behind-the-ears-but-think-I-know-something requests?
I suppose I could reflect on all the books I've edited, the authors I've acquired, the company I work for, or the respect I've garnered, but this isn't one of the fives. Eight causes me to step back and have a moment of self-reflection and God appreciation for what was and what is on the way. I absolutely adore my authors and am beyond moved by my coworkers' support and commitment, but what good could I really do them without my own confidence and awareness of who I am, where I am, where I want to go, how I plan to get there, and then a clear view--from my current vantage point--of how all of that works with the bigger picture of publishing? I'm not one to just put my head down and work. I like to look up from time to time to take in my surroundings--see where I'm at and who I'm there with. It is important for me to assess what I know and what I don't know--and learn it--before, I attempt lead, coach, or partner and build relationships with authors, other publishing professionals, and my coworkers.
I think these eight years have just helped me to not only recognize what I don't know, but I've also learned how to ask the right questions to learn what I need to learn. Wait a minute. Isn't that what I learned in college? Dang it! I thought I was on to something. Ah, well...
Here's to the eight gone by and the eight still to come!
I've heard something about most editors being failed writers. Of course I have no idea how true that superlative is. Did someone take a survey? I don't know. But what seems to be more congruent is that a true editor does not envy a writer or the writing process. A true editor is passionate about editing--providing publishing oversight, literary structure, encouragement, and support to writers as they pour out what has been placed in them.
Occasionally, I have been placed in the category of writer and frequently have been asked to write various types of pieces. I am a pretty honest person, so when asked about writing, I admit that I really don't like the writing process itself. I enjoy the research and the thrill of the chase, but then to sit down and pull all of that together is so hard! I have said this before on this blog: I admire writers. I'm in awe of them, even. Don't want their job. It's haunting. Or did I mean daunting?
Many of those who have asked me to write for them think it's strange that I don't like to do it--unless of course it's stream of consciousness like blogging or journaling. They say (don't know how truthfully), "But you do it so well." Um... Yeah...
At times I have felt misguided or even perhaps lazy because I haven't, won't, or don't further develop this "thing" that I do "well" but am not fond of. Then I stumbled upon a kindred spirit in the words of this interview with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb. You've probably already read it, but it was so well matched with how I feel I thought I would capture it and archive it on my blog. You'll notice I'll do this here from time to time like with the video interview with editor Karen Thomas.
Robert speaks my heart so perfectly when he said, "I don't like writing -- it's so difficult to say what you mean. It's much easier to edit other people's writing and help them say what they mean." He went on to say, "I'm utterly happy when I'm sitting and reading through 12 gigantic volumes of Dickens' correspondence. Making notes, underlining -- it's thrilling! When that's all done, and I've had the satisfaction of taking all this stuff in, then unfortunately comes the moment of horror when I have to digest all of it and figure out a way to start writing." Yes! So very true for me too!
Robert has an enviable resume, yet he still so delicately handles the creative renderings of hard-at-work writers. He advises other editors to do the same: "Your job...is to be in sympathy with what the writer is doing and to try to help her or him make it better of what it is, not to make it into something else." Yes, this is all I want to do.
You should read this whole article and experience the heart of this legendary editor.
What are your thoughts about editors and writing? As a writer, have you experienced Robert's kind of purity displayed in an editor you've worked with?
There is so much that goes into publishing a book, and the first phase involving editing and production carries some of the most challenging circumstances, obstacles, and distractions.
- Pray that your editor is able to focus.
- Pray that your editor will have positive interactions with their team members.
- Pray that your editor will have peaceful and quality interactions with their family and friends.
- Pray that your editor is inspired with the same passion you had as you wrote your piece.
- Pray that your editor will have limited distractions—both technological and mental.
- Pray that your editor’s financial needs are met.
- Pray that your editor will have success in other editorial or acquisition endeavors.
- Pray that your editor will have open doors and ears when they go to bat for you on key issues. They are your in-house advocates.
What are some other ways to circulate positive synergy in the author-editor relationship?
While there are rules for grammar and usage, language is so fluid that many times content editing can be subjective. With subjectivity, comes room for argument or disagreement. In all these years of editing, I have had opportunities to consult with authors about edits I've made that they weren't particularly fond of. Here's how I resolve them.
Are there any questions from the audience?
One day in preparation to train a new editor, I wrote down my process for editing a nonfiction manuscript. If you want to know what to expect when working with me as an author, or if you are an aspiring editor interested in my process, here it is. Check it out. See what you think.