An author and editor chat

Like any relationship, the one between an author and his or her editor is nuanced and complex. We work in an industry that has a great deal of turnover on the editorial side and there are times when a multi-published author might have several editors within a house during their tenure. I actually have a client on my list that has done three books, and has had five editors!

So when I saw this interview on Slate with author Sarah Dessen and her longtime editor Regina Hayes (eleven books and counting), I thought it was pretty cool and worth sharing. I like Hayes’s thought on her role in the editing process: “To provide a fresh eye on the overarching story and to ask a lot of questions.” Since writing is a solo sport, it can become challenging to keep perspective on your work, and having another reader can be a really important part of the process. It doesn’t have to be a professional editor, although certainly if there is that opportunity it can be advantageous, but any number of beta readers who are good at reading and responding with constructive criticism can be helpful.

I also appreciated Dessen’s simple but important advice about writing: “Cutting is easy. Stretching is really hard. And just a bit of backstory can change everything.” In particular I’m in agreement on the part about backstory. You never want to be stuck asking why a character is motivated to act a certain way because something from their past has been left out of the story.

I’ve had the same intern the last few summers, and learned early  on in our working together that although she’s young, she has a good critical eye for material. Finding someone whose taste you can trust is a priceless commodity, and a good productive author/editor relationship is one to cherish. We’d like to hear your own stories of working with an editor and what that experience was like for you. Please share!

5 Responses to An author and editor chat

  1. I have been with my publisher for a little over a year, and I have been lucky enough to work with the same in-house editor for both of my books. However, for my latest novel, Burning Blue, which is set for official release November 4th of this year, I worked with my own editor first, before working with my publisher’s editor, to gain some outside perspective. My editor was very helpful in shedding light on some of the characters in the story who had too much dialog, or in some cases not enough. The in-house editor found a point of view slip and suggested some clarification of some of the police jargon I used — which I thought I had already wrote rather generically. It is good to be able to use the same editor consistently, but sometimes another set of eyes is a great help. However, the high turnover rate of editors suggested here could add confusion to the editing process.

  2. D. C. DaCosta says:

    That’s an intriguing interview. Being unpublished myself, I’m intrigued by the idea that neither party felt her first copy was “done”. I guess there’s hope.

    I am envious of their working relationship. Having a true partner in your profession is a joyous thing.

  3. Bethany Neal says:

    I totally agree about the fresh eyes thing. Sometimes it can get hard to see the trees through the forest when writing. My editor is great about asking really simple questions that pinpoint exactly what I was struggling to achieve in the story and allows me to fix it. So is my agent for that matter! Thanks Stacey. 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    Most, maybe ever writer, needs an editor. Simply because what we meant to say becomes what we mean to say when it’s refined through a critical eye. From the perspective of an unpublished writer, I’ve learned only writers who don’t truly believe in their work send it off raw. If we believe in our words, we send them off to fellow writers and editors we meet through networking (something that doesn’t come easy for many of us).

    We await their constructive feedback, which can sting at first, mostly because we have no idea how to answer their observant questions, troubleshoot the holes they’ve found in our plot or nix a whole chapter. But given time, the answers come, we rewrite, and if nothing else we have a more complete work.

    If the bones of the book are in the first draft, the soul of the story is in the editing.

  5. Stacey says:

    Thanks to all for your comments, and a shout out to Beth Neal, a client of mine whose first YA novel, MY LAST KISS, will be published next spring by FSG!

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