The Blue Pencil Blues – Josh Lanyon

But by far the worst thing that editors do is to unleash those anonymous vandals known as copy-editors.

“Some Thoughts About Writing” by Thomas Sowell

When Wave broached the subject of editing (or lack therein) in m/m and gay romantic fiction—a subject dear to both our hearts—I quickly realized it was going to turn into a topic too complex to handle in one column.

I think it says a great deal about Wave and her team of reviewers that they understand that every book is a collaboration, and that to some extent the failure of a book is the failure of editor and publisher. It is only the self-published author who can take complete and utter responsibility for their work’s success. Or, less happily, failure.

At the same time, a work of fiction—even light and pulpy romantic fiction—is a deeply personal thing. It’s not like putting together a sales report. It’s not like writing any kind of non-fiction. It is the stuff of one’s dreams and fears and fantasies. This is why writers don’t react well to negative reviews. The reviewer may say that it’s nothing personal all she or he likes, but one’s fiction is the most personal thing out there.

This is why writers also don’t always respond well to the editing process although there is no greater gift to the professional writer than the opportunity to work with an editor.

When I use the term “editor” in this context, I mean a content editor and not a copyeditor. Good copyeditors are a necessary evil. In their own way, they’re priceless beyond pearls, and many of the problems that authors have with copyeditors are more accurately laid at the door of the publisher. A publisher who doesn’t place strict limitations on the authority of the house copyeditors is asking for trouble. And usually gets it.

Or, as Sowell put it:

In fact, what is surprising is that anyone would authorize people who are not writers, and who do not know the subject matter, to over-ride people who are writers and who do know the subject matter. Add to this the fact that a book may be written and rewritten over a period of years, while the copy-editor has at most only a few weeks in which to second-guess all the stylistic decisions that were made by the author after far more deliberation.

To define our terms for those unfamiliar with how most publishing houses work, a content editor is usually the editor who acquires the project (and usually the author and the author’s hang-ups with it) and then works with the author to develop the project to meet its maximum potential. In the early stages of a writer’s career, the editor fills much of the role of teacher and mentor. In the later stages, not so much, and yet in those later stages the editor will be the writer’s most trusted confidante and ally in the work.

Authors desperately need editors they can trust. Perhaps even more in the middle-age of their career than in the beginning. In the beginning you have no idea what you’re doing. You have nothing to lose. You’re willing to take chances, to gamble, to have unsafe se—well, anyway. It’s different. Later on…you do have something to lose, and offering a rough draft or first draft to a new editor is like having to get naked and stand there in a harsh, unyielding light, painfully aware that you’ve got laugh lines in places you don’t laugh. It’s so much easier if you’re disrobing in front of someone who you know loves you and respects you and cares about what’s best for you. You being the work you do.

Strictly speaking, copyeditors are responsible for catching typos, grammatical, and spelling errors, catching continuity errors, and fact-checking. Copyeditors are also responsible for making sure text conforms to the house style guide, assuming there is such an abomination.

Sowell again:

In all of this, the style manual is an instrument of power for the copy-editor, while engaging in a compulsive activity in which readers have long since been forgotten. There is nothing wrong with style manuals. But, as with so many other aspects of life, good principles can become terrible as fetishes—and fetishes are what the style manuals have become in the hands of copy-editors, who treat them as if they had come down from Mount Sinai on tablets of stone.

Cast in this role, style manuals have become anti-style manuals. Since style is a variation on a convention, rigid conformity is the antithesis of style. Ironically, the University of Chicago Manual of Style itself says: “Few of the rules contained in this book are inviolable.”

There is an increasing idea, in epublishing in particular, that copyeditors are responsible for “improving text” or — as I read on one site, “copy editors will make cuts to the text to improve it and make it more suitable for publishing.”

Excuse me while I have a stroke. All things pertaining to style and substance, are the realm of the content editor. Allowing copyeditors to supersede the authority of content editors is like allowing the janitorial staff in on the strategic planning sessions of a Fortune 500 company.

However, I’ll save the discussion of copyeditors and house style manuals for another post. There’s no question that editing in our genre is hit or miss, and the question of jurisdiction merely complicates the situation. Most indie and ebook publishers now grasp that readers do expect a book to be “edited,” and that generally translates into copyediting, which is something almost any reader can pick up on. Content editors are oddly undervalued these days — and not just in our little corner of the publishing world. Though there is no single other person more crucial to the development of a writer or the success of a book than the content editor, they’re almost treated like a disposable commodity.

For a truly eloquent essay on the subject, read “Black Day for the Blue Pencil” by Blake Morrison.

Writers have done little to clarify the role of editors, either. Where the experience of being edited goes well, they’re grateful, but the more publicised cases are when the experience is bad. Henry James called editing “the butcher’s trade”. Byron associated it with emasculation and, he said, would “have no gelding”. DH Lawrence compared it to trying “to clip my own nose into shape with scissors”. And John Updike says: “It’s a little like going to … the barber”, adding, “I have never liked haircuts.” Or listen to the condescension of Nabokov: “By editor I suppose you mean proofreader.” There are, of course, many different kinds of editor – from fact- checkers and OKers (as they’re known at the New Yorker), to line-editors and copy editors, to editors who grasp the big picture but skip the detail. But in popular mythology they’re lumped together as bullyboys, bouncers or, to quote Nabokov again, “pompous avuncular brutes”.

But we’ve all got our thoughts and opinions on the subject, so I thought before we opened this up to the usual community discussion, it would be useful to hear what some actual editors have to say. I interviewed four of my own editors — I don’t pretend that this is a broad or statistically accurate survey. I do know that these four editors operate like the mainstream editors I’ve had the pleasure of working with, so traditional editing does exist within our genre, and a traditional approach to editing is what we writers should be looking for when the time comes to pick a publisher.

The majority of my m/m work has been edited by Judith David, Senior Editor of Loose Id Publishing and MLR Press. Judi has been an editor for over twenty years. I haven’t worked with her that long, but I have worked with her the longest of any of my editors. Our work together includes the Adrien English series and the Dangerous Ground series. Next to Judi, I’ve worked longest with Sasha Knight, Senior Editor of Samhain Publishing. Sasha has been editing for over five years. She edits the Holmes & Moriarity series and one of the novellas that I consider my best work, The Dickens With Love. Nicole Kimberling of Blind Eye Books edited Strange Fortune, which basically involved teaching a crash course in spec fiction. Nikki has been an editor for four years. She’s that rarity, a writer’s editor who is also an award-winning author in her own right. And last, but not least, is Deborah Nemeth, Freelance Developmental Editor for Carina Press. She’s been a content editor for five years. I’ve worked the shortest amount of time with Deb, and that book was the reissue of Snowball in Hell, but our interaction indicated to me that she exhibits all the qualities I look for in an editor. Blake Morrison puts it so perfectly; I certainly can’t say it better:

Perhaps I’ve been unusually lucky, but in my experience, editors, far from coercing and squashing writers, do exactly the opposite, elucidating them and drawing them out, or, when they’re exhausted and on the point of giving up (like marathon runners hitting the wall), coaxing them to go the extra mile.

I asked Judi, Sasha, Nikki, and Deb a variety of questions that arose from an earlier conversation with Wave, starting with their qualifications for the job:

Judi: The qualifications that got me my first editing position were twofold: I had specialized knowledge in a very particular field, and I had a track record in writing about that field. The publishers came to me with a proposal. No (I did not start as a copyeditor). I started as a writer and assignment editor, although I’ve since done copy editing.

Sasha: I graduated university with a BA in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on business and literature. Back in high school and college I edited various school journals. I’ve been a grammar geek for as long as I can remember and have studied (and in some cases dissected and written theses on) medieval literature up through contemporary works. I’m a lifelong romance and genre fiction reader. I considered moving to NY to pursue editing there, but with the growth of digital publishing in the early 2000s, I decided to put my knowledge to good use that way rather than moving across the country to try to break in to mainstream publishing. Even in the early 2000s I believed that digital publishing was the wave of the future, and I wanted to be a part of it and help it grow.

Nikki: I just perceived, through my writer’s group and through participating in writing workshops that I was good at reading what’s on the page and understanding what might be missing or going wrong and went for it. Content editing is highly instinctive. I think a person’s pretty much got to have the knack for it already and then hone those instincts via experience and self study. (I recommend Thomas McCormack’s book, The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist for a deeply philosophical perspective on the art.) I have never been a copyeditor. I don’t actually think I’d be very good at that. I don’t like rules that much.

Deb: My first editing jobs were for small epublishers where there was little-to-no training and not much expectation that we do more than correct spelling and punctuation, so I can tell you from experience that the quality of editing varies widely across digital publishers. At that time I had few qualifications beyond an English degree and a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, but I did a lot of studying on my own, taking classes and reading books on the craft of writing, to strengthen my understanding of the components of good fiction.

In 2007 I met Angela James at a conference and was so impressed, I immediately approached her about a job. I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of on-the-job training from her, first at Samhain Publishing and then at Carina Press, where she’s conducted training for all developmental editors.

Even though most of Carina Press’s developmental editors have previous experience with traditional NY pubs, Angie still oversees the process closely, checking edits, edit letters, rejection letters and revise-and-resubmit letters of each new editor until she’s comfortable with his or her style and skill level.

How many (rough estimate) editors are employed or freelance at your publishing house? How many copyeditors? Any editors pulling double duty?

Judi: Combined, about 35.

Sasha: 12 content editors. 15 copy editors.

Nikki: Blind Eye Books has one content editor, and works with a pool of about four freelance copyeditors. I pull double duty as managing editor and content editor.

Deb: Carina Press has 13 freelance development editors and 9 freelance copyeditors. None of us pull double duty.

What exactly do you do? What’s a typical day like for you?

Judi: I work on contract for a limited number of clients. Two of those clients are publishers. In a typical week, I evaluate one or two manuscripts or proposals for acceptance (including working with the author to develop the proposal or manuscript to the point that it’s acceptable), edit one or two stories depending on ms length, commission, write, develop or edit the content and do layout of a national nonprofit’s quarterly publication, develop or edit the content and do layout of a school board national nonprofit’s quarterly publication, advise authors who have question or issues with WIPs, and develop resources for editors.

Sasha: I get up around 7am. First thing I do is a run through my email. This can take me anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours or more, depending on what I need to take care of. I handle the more administrative duties at this time—I go over blurb forms, tip sheets, cover art forms. I look over final line edits. I send out rejection letters or contract offers. I look over digital ARCs to make sure the final product is perfect.

Once my inbox is empty and all outstanding administrative duties are complete, I start my editing day. Keep in mind that by now I’ve been working for 2-5 hours. I try to put in a minimum of 6-8 hours of editing a day. This is strictly editing time, not any of the administrative duties I mentioned above. I do two to three detailed rounds of edits on every book I contract. The first round I focus on the bigger story issues. Pacing. Plotting. Character and story arcs. Timelines. The second and third rounds I focus on making sure the previous content edits flow correctly and address any additional issues that crop up, while also focusing on line edits.

When I’ve accomplished my editing goal for the day, I switch to reading submissions. This takes me up to bedtime. And then the next day I start all over again.

Nikki: On a day that I am managing editor, I check and respond to email, check out google alerts on our company and authors, check sales and stock levels at the both the print and digital distributors, write checks, pay bills, fulfill any orders that have come in via our website, arrange guest blogs, giveaways and other promotions for the company, coordinate contacts between the illustrator and the production department, the copyeditor and the author, check the timelines for projects, talk to the interns, go to the bank, go to the shipping office—things like that. Essentially, I do business.

On days that I am editing a MS I turn off the email, put on a playlist that I have made that matches the feel of the MS I am editing and go at it for between six and fourteen hours. I stop when either I’m too hungry to continue or I come to some point in the MS that I need to contact the author about.

Deb: I usually start my day with email—answering author questions, communicating pub dates, routing cover copy. This morning I made an offer of publication to one of my authors. The bulk of my workday is spent editing, either developmental or line edits.

If I’m doing developmental edits, I examine all aspects of the story, from character development to structure, pacing, viewpoint and plot, with an eye to giving our readers the most riveting, emotionally satisfying read possible. I may ask an author to write a new beginning or ending, or consider changing the viewpoint in certain scenes, or conflate characters, or cut exposition.

If I’m line editing I focus on clarity and style and grammar. Other tasks I might spend time on include reviewing copyedits that have been returned from the copyeditor. Evenings and weekends I often read submissions and prepare reader reports, maybe writing a revise-and-resubmit letter for a submission that’s promising but not yet ready for publication.

How are you paid? Meaning are you paid a salary or are you paid by project or in books or bonuses or both?

(I asked the above question because I do firmly believe that investing in people, i.e., paying them a decent wage and seeing that they’re trained is the biggest favor a company can do itself.)

Judi: Paid in different ways: piecework plus bonus, or royalty.

Sasha: I’m paid per project.

Nikki: I’m paid a royalty on net sales.

Deb: The freelance content editors for Carina Press are paid a flat fee per job. Once we turn in a final edited ms to production, we invoice Harlequin a set amount depending on word count. We also get paid to read and report on batches of submissions, write revise-and-resubmit letters and judge contests.

How much autonomy do you have in your job? For example, are your decisions on acquisitions determined by an editorial board or the marketing department? Are your editorial decisions second-guessed by — as at one publishing house — copyeditors?

Judi: In one house, recommendations must be confirmed by an editorial board that sometimes reverses editors’ recommendations. In another house, I make the case for acceptance, and I’m part of the editorial board making the final decision.

Sasha: I choose what books I’m going to contract based on what I like, what’s well-written, what I believe in, what I think will sell, etc. Various factors play into my decision as to what to contract, more than I could possibly list here. But the decision as to what I edit is mine alone.

Nikki: I am fairly autonomous, but I do a lot of negotiating.

Negotiating is probably the most difficult thing an editor does. It starts with acquisition. I have known editors who have literally gone down on their knees and begged for permission to give an author a contract. While I’ve never had to bust out the knee pads, I have actually wept in order to get that same permission. And after the contract is signed, there is more negotiation. An editor makes sure that the publisher’s needs are met, especially in terms of deadlines because there are huge monetary penalties involved (at least if you’re talking about printed books with national distribution) in delivering product late or, god forbid, actually canceling a book. Simultaneously, the editor is assisting the author through the sometimes painful process of transforming a private creative work into a commercial product, which can require a lot of conversation, depending on the experience level of and artistic investment of the author.

The third and final point of negotiation is between the author and the perceived reader, who is embodied by editor herself. The editor looks at the piece from the POV of the reader and gives feedback: I found this section slow. I am confused by the timeline here. I don’t understand the need to include so many goats, can you tell my why you find them necessary?

The editor asks the author to show the reader a little mercy and makes suggestions: could you please explain what happened in between the visit to the outhouse and the debutante ball? It would be easier for me to keep track of this timeline if it were in chronological order, then I could spend my time enjoying the immediate scenes instead of doing a lot of mental math. Please don’t hold out on me regarding the main character’s feelings about fruitcake, seeing as how his mother choked to death on a piece of it when he was 12. Can the main character be allowed to be the real hero in this scene, instead of a bystander?

Deb: Carina Press’s editors review all submissions but don’t make the final acquisition decisions. When we fall in love with a ms, we write up a detailed reader’s report describing the project, the author’s credentials, and our assessment of the title’s strengths, marketability and editorial needs. A member (or members) of the Carina Press acquisition team, which is comprised of Harlequin digital employees, will do a second read. Only when a submission gets two editorial recommendations will the team consider acquisition.

We get feedback on the project from the team, which we take into account when we do developmental edits. Other than that, and guidance from our Executive Editor, no one second-guesses our editorial decisions. Our projects are copyedited but no changes are made to the text that aren’t reviewed by the editor and author.

Does your publishing house have a House Style guide? Is it written on a stone tablet?

Judi: Yes. In one instance, it’s rigid. In the other, it’s thorough, but it’s not rigid.

Sasha: Samhain has a House Style guide, but there is flexibility to it. Some rules are more strict than others, but I work with individual authors to maintain their writing style while following Samhain’s style guide as well.

Nikki: Not really. I like fewer commas. We use CMOS, but just as a guideline, not as if it were handed down by Moses. Style sheets and standard rules of grammar are only useful if they work in the service of the story and the prose as a whole. So if an author wants to use sentence fragments, capitalize unusual stuff or start sentences with numerals, and it works, there is no reason to demand a change in order to conform to the style sheet and the rules of grammar. I mean, passive voice is a huge problem for new authors but it’s perfectly correct grammar-wise.

(Passive voice is the use of the word “was” when a stronger verb could be used such as: “He was reading his book aloud.” Vs. “He read his book aloud.” Or “He stood, reading his book aloud.”)

I would never allow a copyeditor’s authority to exceed an author’s. The copyeditor’s name does not appear on the cover of the book. Ultimately, readers will not hold the content editor, copyeditor, cover artist, typesetter, or even publisher responsible for a piece of fiction. The success or failure of the book will be, in the minds of most readers, solely attributed to the author. I think it’s important to never forget that.

Language is a fluid, living thing that is highly variable between classes, regions, ethnicities—even nations who share a common tongue. Ignoring the fact that demanding conformity of language between all these disparate groups, and the authors from which they arise, could be seen as a form of linguistic imperialism, the fact remains that fighting an author over the elements of style that create their own unique voice is just not going to solve the problem of a failing MS.

At worst, losing 100 tiny battles can cause an author to lose their sense of ownership of a piece. Once that is gone, an author’s interest in promoting said piece can be forever lost. In the worst case scenario, being forced to give up too much of their voice to a stylesheet in exchange for publication can damage an author’s ability to write—sometimes for years. It’s just not worth it to me to crush a person’s confidence over disagreements about how to hyphenate a made-up word or the author’s use of dialogue tags.

I think that sometimes people doing editorial reads will sense a structural problem in the story and not really knowing what the exact problem is or how to fix it, they will focus on correcting the much more straightforward problem of making the prose style conform to a style sheet. However, when you get down to brass tacks, if the story itself isn’t functioning, no amount of grammar correction is going to make it work. Removing or changing superficial stuff (like culling extraneous “thats”) cannot and will not solve deeper, deal-breaking problems, like uneven pacing or lack of character development. As an editor, I’d rather save my mental energy for addressing flaws that will make a reader stop caring about the story. That’s the most important thing for me.

Deb: Yes, we have a house style guide. While we generally adhere to it for consistency, exceptions can be made to suit a certain story or author’s style. Some technical things may be non-negotiable, for instance things that affect ebook formatting.

What are some of the misconceptions the rest of the book world holds about your job?

Judi: Some good writers — who could be very good if they let go of their fears — are afraid of story editors. Some writers and some publishers believe that the editor’s role as the author’s advocate is mutually exclusive with the editor’s role as the publisher’s representative; I see them as mutually productive.

Sasha: That editors skim over a book once, change a couple commas, fix typos, and then they’re done. Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, that they rewrite an author’s book to fix their vision of the story. While I’m not naive and know that both of these things can and do happen, that’s not how I edit, or how any of the editors I know and admire edit. I work 12-16 hours a day. I love the written word. I love helping put out the best stories possible. I get as excited as my authors when readers love a book I’ve worked on. I do this job because I want to give readers escapism. I want people to get lost in the stories I work on, to be able to escape the daily grind for just a little while. Editing is my career, yes, and I take it very seriously, but I also love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.

Nikki: That editors enjoy making authors cry. For the record, we don’t enjoy it, we just know that it’s sometimes necessary.

Also, there’s this truly weird notion that editors can tell authors what to write. Oh, would that that were the case! Would that I had the power to order up a story like it was a gourmet cheeseburger. “I’d like a cyborg with a side of military intrigue and benevolent aliens please. Hold the Gay For You.”

Even if by some weird miracle I found an author who would agree to made-to-order stories, authors can only write what they can write. Even if I were to teach an author how to write a story I picked out and send them a point-by-point outline, they would still only be able to produce scenes and characters within their range. You can’t ask a baritone to sing soprano. It just won’t sound good, even if he tries his hardest. All an editor can do is try to help an author reach beyond their comfort range—to try a new, or more complex form, to take their story one step further…and maybe to help sort out that whole timeline problem.

Deb: Some people think it’s an easy job, basically just fixing punctuation, but there’s a lot more involved than that. It’s also not an 8-5 job. Nor is it glamorous or well-paid. Another downside to editing is rejection, which might surprise some people. I find it hard to reject a ms from one of my authors, or a ms I loved but the acquisition team didn’t. And we lose projects too—an author might get multiple offers and go with another house.

Once upon a time editors and writers used to form partnerships and editors worked to develop talent within their publishing houses. Given the current publishing climate is that a realistic or practical expectation now days?

Judi: Of course it’s possible. Loose Id is doing that right now with its authors development program, overseen by Christy Lockhart. Both houses with which I work offer constructive comment to authors submitting to them for the first time, even when the publisher declines to contract the manuscript. Many editors work informally with promising new authors to help ready manuscripts for their first acceptance.

For my part, I try to be available to established authors who work best with editors who are involved in the development of stories from the first idea to the final release.

I really do believe that the editor should be invisible to the reader and in the manuscript, but the author–editor collaboration should be a partnership.

Sasha: This is something I absolutely believe in, although it doesn’t work with everyone. As with all relationships, it depends on how well both parties mesh and how well they trust each other and if they have the same goals. I have a handful of authors who I work with very closely and who I’ve striven to develop. We trust each other to put out the best book every single time. So yes, I do think this can work well, but not with everyone.

Nikki: Probably not for big houses, but I’ve found that it works for me.

I can see that it would be very difficult to commit to working for weeks and weeks developing an author knowing that there’s a high chance that the author will simply take themselves to a larger/ more prestigious/ more lucrative house once they’ve learned all they can from you. That’s a lot of time wasted for the editor. It’s kind of like dating somebody who you know is only dating you to meet your hotter friend. You’re not going to put your whole heart into making that relationship work out long term.

In partnerships like these, the relationship between the author and editor blurs the line between business and friendship. As far as I can tell, it can only be maintained between individuals who are not highly emotionally volatile, who also have the capacity to trust one another. Because each partner has to advocate for themselves and their own goals and needs while understanding that the other partner has equally valid goals and needs. Sometimes these needs will come into conflict and compromise will be necessary. Sometimes one or the other of you will have to apologize or to forgive. In short, emotional maturity is critical.

As important is a clear definition of what the goal of the partnership is. And this goal must be mutually advantageous to both parties with a high degree of reciprocity. What I mean is, that if you’re dating me to meet my hotter friend, you’d better take me out to some really great restaurants during the ephemeral time that we are together. And maybe introduce me to YOUR hotter friend before dumping me. Quid pro quo, baby. It makes the business world go round.

Deb: Despite the challenges of the current publishing climate, I consider developing talent to be part of my job, and an aspect of it that I really focus on and take pride in. I write a lot of revise-and-resubmit letters, and on one or two occasions I’ve even done two for the same book.

I’ve acquired projects that need extra work in the hopes that the author will learn through the editing process and produce future mss that are more polished and/or better structured. It doesn’t always work, but the extra time investment pays off often enough.

I do consider myself an author’s partner even if he or she writes for multiple houses. And many authors seem to enjoy having a close relationship with their editor, someone they can talk to about their career. And while this may sound self-congratulatory, I was pleased when quite a few of my authors followed me when I came to Carina. It also means a lot to me when I get direct submissions via a referral from one of my authors.

We often read editors commenting on problems with the submissions they receive. What problems do you see in published manuscripts you’ve read within our genre? Any thoughts (avoiding names and specific publishing houses) on what might be happening from an editorial standpoint with some of the less competent work out there?

Judi: A sameness. Willingness to accept cliché. An apparent lack of research and authenticity.

Sasha: There are some books being published that, simply put, should never have been published. It’s a cold, hard truth, but not everything ever written and submitted should be put out for public consumption. And not everyone who claims to be an editor can actually edit or even knows what a good editor can and should do.

I can’t speak as to how other publishing companies run their business, but from what I’ve seen and read and heard from other readers, some publishing houses aren’t quite as stringent with their quality. While I agree that a story that doesn’t work for me may work quite well for someone else (and I’m not suggesting that every story I’ve rejected should never be published), that doesn’t excuse publishing any story just because it fits a niche audience. Just because a book has a good idea, does not mean it’s well-executed. Just because someone can spin a story, doesn’t mean they have the necessary writing skills to execute it properly. Just because an author is writing in a genre that readers glom to, does not mean that every story written in that genre should be published.

I also believe that some publishing houses may not have a quality editorial department. Whether it’s due to lack of training, or lack of autonomy, I don’t know. Some publishing houses don’t pay their editors. If you don’t pay, how can you expect to draw quality editing? And without quality editing, the quality of the releases will be sketchy.

Nikki: Poor logic.

Poor cause and effect relationships resulting from poor, or missing logic.

Lackluster endings resulting from poor cause and effect relationships.

Minimal takeaway from novel resulting from lackluster ending.

Basic forgetability, resulting from minimal takeaway.

Also:

No real antagonist.

No dramatic tension resulting from a lack of meaningful opposition to the main character’s goals.

No feeling of progress or escalation because the character’s main goals are under-defined due to a lack of meaningful opposition.

Lackluster or baffling ending resulting from under-defined character goals.

Minimal takeaway.

Third:

Profound passivity in the main character, resulting in very contrived plots.

And last:

Fundamental sameness to too many other books already existing in the field that results in titles being somewhat interchangeable.

Deb: GLBT fiction has been a hot subgenre these past few years, and some books have been published that I don’t feel should have been, probably to capitalize on that trend. I read some books a few years ago that were little more than man-porn—sloppily written, with almost nonexistent character development, and thin plots stringing together a series of sex scenes. It really surprised me because most of the other GLBT books that particular house was releasing were really good.

I’ve also read some good stories recently that could have been great. I’ll give you one example. I received a submission for a m/m steampunk ms with terrific characters and world-building but no conflict between the heroes. The love affair between these two interesting characters unfolds against this nifty backdrop, and it’s all very pretty but not compelling or memorable.

I did a revise-and-resubmit letter but the author decided to accept another offer, from an editor who wasn’t asking for changes. The author admitted that although some changes might strengthen the story, he didn’t want to take the time because he was busy writing his next book.

Very soon after that conversation the book was for sale…and I lamented a missed opportunity to give the readers something greater.

Any other comments or thoughts on editing in this genre from an editors viewpoint?

Judi: Houses that do little more than a spell check on manuscripts do their authors and readers a real disservice. I’ll repeat: The editor should be invisible to the reader and in the manuscript, but the author–editor collaboration should be a partnership.

Nikki: Ha! What? Six pages of rambling answers isn’t enough? Oh, wait—I do have one more thing to add. I don’t know if you’re going to use that “make me a better storyteller” line from the intro on this sheet, but I’d just like to mention that writing prose and storytelling are two different skill sets. If she wants to be a better storyteller she should watch Iron Giant and then listen to it with Brad Bird’s director’s commentary on. There are huge storytelling lessons in that.

Alternately, she could enroll in an oral storytelling class. That’ll teach her more about dramatic storytelling than any number of books ever could.

Oh, and because of your questionnaire I was thinking about editing in general and I think it might be 50% Black Ops assassin and 50% Mom. If either profession is successful, nobody knows they were exactly there. It’s only when they fail to cover their tracks, or just fail, that they become visible.

Deb: I enjoy GLBT stories and am actively seeking more. And I’m interested in all GLBT fiction, not just romances, and they don’t need to contain explicit content. But I want to work with authors who are willing to invest the time it takes to polish a story until it’s the best it can be. After all, isn’t that what loyal GLBT readers deserve?

I hope the above interview will serve as the opening gambit to greater discussion on the topic. We all complain about the “lack of editing” within our industry, but what does that really mean? It should be clear from the above that for Judi, Sasha, Nikki, and Deb, editing is a vocation and not just a job, that they take great pride in their work, that they’ve cared enough to fill in the gaps of their professional training. I suspect that they are overworked and undercompensated, though they certainly haven’t said so. I know they’re underappreciated, because when they successfully do their job it is, by its very nature, invisible.

My question is: are they typical of editors within our industry?

The other question is what do the writers amongst us expect from an editor, and is that expectation communicated when you’re choosing a publisher? Is the editorial philosophy of a publishing house something you even stop to consider when you’re submitting a project? If not, it should be. When the time comes to pick a publishing partner, there is no single more important consideration than the editor you’ll be working with.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information

email: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net

website: http://www.joshlanyon.com/

126 comments

  • Okay, I’m also super late and I haven’t read all the other comments (these week is WAY too busy for me, ugh), but I just want to say Sasha Knight is my Samhain editor as well and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She’s taught me SO much about writing, and that’s such a gift. Plus she totally gets my style and my voice 🙂 And, yeah, she has an eye for copy editing.

    Speaking of, copyeditors are extemely valuable. Someone has to be the detail person, because man, it ain’t me. LOL. But I know all the copy editors must hate me because I reject roughly half their edits. I rarely take dialogue edits, because most of my characters do not speak in a grammatically correct way and I refuse to edit them to talk that way. Sasha understands this about me. The poor copy editors don’t always know that! LOL.

    Reply
  • Very late to the party, but thank you Josh for such an informative and interesting piece!

    For the last eight or so months, my life has been blessed with a wonderful friend and beta reader who’s day job is copy editing. She is my angel. Short story? No problem. Novel? No problem! She fact checks my historical work, line edits my abominably huge drafts, and both holds my hand and brings me down to earth on my content issues. Though I still cringe when I see how I’ve mangle the english language yet again, she really is my beacon in the storm. She’s given me a human face to an invaluable part of the publishing process.

    So another thanks Josh,since this article made me treasure her all the more!

    Reply
  • Here’s how it works for me: I talk to the author, with whom I have formed a relationship of mutual respect. (We both understand that this isn’t my book. My job is to remove any obstacle that may keep the reader from making a full connection with the prose, not to impose my style.)

    Absolutely. And this is what the smart author wants too. It’s no use preserving the integrity of the prose if the prose doesn’t make sense to anyone but the author.


    However, there are copyeditors who simply have to be right at all costs. These are the rigid copyeditors whose queries are adversarial and breathtakingly rude and for whom copyediting is of the slash and burn variety.

    Yes. These are the ones who give the others (probably the majority) a bad rep. The control freaks. The ones for whom it is the letter of the law whether the law makes sense or not, whether the strict interpretation of the law violates the basic rules of good writing and storytelling. The ones for whom every misplaced comma is a chance to impose their will on someone else.

    A good copyeditor is like a low-impact camper who leaves no visible traces of his or her passage. A good copyeditor reads the book once for context before beginning the line edit. A good copyeditor asks politely if an edit has changed the intended meaning, tactfully indicates that the character had blue eyes in chapter 2 and brown eyes in chapter 6,

    😛

    Or changed names!

    and asks the in-house editor if it is really necessary to stick to the in-house style in this particular instance because, damn, this prose is beautiful! Josh Lanyon, I’m looking at you.

    And here’s looking right back at you because you are the kind of copyeditor who provides the safety net for the acrobats who occasionally go a little too far out on that limb or don’t notice the high wire is coming apart.

    Authors, if you have a good experience with a copyeditor, request that person for your next book, whoever your publisher. Most publishers are pleased to accommodate you. I sometimes get e-mail reserving my services 6 months out. Writers should be writing, not fighting with someone over commas and dialogue tags!

    Well, and here’s the proof of you learn something every day because it had never occurred to me to request a particular copyeditor. Half the time I think their names are hidden from us to protect them from wrathful authors. 😀

    Oh, and if a publisher asked me to cut text, I would refuse. I’m a copyeditor, not a content editor. Apple, meet orange.

    THANK YOU!

    Reply
  • I’ve been a copyeditor for over 30 years. Copyeditors get their instructions from the publisher, sometimes in the form of multiple-page memos regarding what is and is not acceptable regarding the manuscript/file to be edited. And sometimes those instructions are just ridiculous. If an author sees a query that begins “according to the publisher” or “the publisher has requested” or “the publisher has asked,” this is copyeditor code for “I don’t agree, but these are my instructions.”

    If the copyeditor is experienced and trusted by the publisher, there is usually wiggle room regarding style. Here’s how it works for me: I talk to the author, with whom I have formed a relationship of mutual respect. (We both understand that this isn’t my book. My job is to remove any obstacle that may keep the reader from making a full connection with the prose, not to impose my style.) The author explains why this particular style should not apply. Discussions ensue. If I agree with the author’s objection, I will argue with the publisher for the author’s point of view. I win most, but I lose some.

    However, there are copyeditors who simply have to be right at all costs. These are the rigid copyeditors whose queries are adversarial and breathtakingly rude and for whom copyediting is of the slash and burn variety. A good copyeditor is like a low-impact camper who leaves no visible traces of his or her passage. A good copyeditor reads the book once for context before beginning the line edit. A good copyeditor asks politely if an edit has changed the intended meaning, tactfully indicates that the character had blue eyes in chapter 2 and brown eyes in chapter 6, and asks the in-house editor if it is really necessary to stick to the in-house style in this particular instance because, damn, this prose is beautiful! Josh Lanyon, I’m looking at you.

    Authors, if you have a good experience with a copyeditor, request that person for your next book, whoever your publisher. Most publishers are pleased to accommodate you. I sometimes get e-mail reserving my services 6 months out. Writers should be writing, not fighting with someone over commas and dialogue tags!

    Oh, and if a publisher asked me to cut text, I would refuse. I’m a copyeditor, not a content editor. Apple, meet orange.

    Reply
  • ‘Evening.

    This column has been extremely interesting. As I read, I’ve continued to think about how absolutely lucky I am to have been assigned to my editor. She has taught me an incredible amount, about publishing in general and certainly about my writing, in sometimes excruciating detail. *g*

    I shudder to think that I’d be turning out pulpy schmaltz without her guidance, direction and baseball bat. I’m very new to the publishing game but I’ve already learned to appreciate the skills my editor has.

    It can’t be easy for any editor to have to tiptoe around the author’s baby, while cracking the whip to get the job done.

    Thanks for a great post, Josh.

    Reply
    • Hi there, JM.

      For the smart writer, the chance to work with a good editor is worth a lot of bullshit.

      I’d like to think the horror stories were few and far between, and I think they mostly are. Obviously there are some creative partnerships that just don’t work and sometimes that’s a clash of personalities.

      You do have to be able to trust your editor, and part of that trust begins by believing that your editor wants a good book more than your editor wants to be “right.”

      Reply
      • When I entered this business, you were kind enough to answer my email asking about working with more than one publisher. You told me then, that having a great relationship with people you could trust was worth a great deal. You were, of course, correct and I can appreciate that now more than ever.

        Thank you again.

        Reply
  • I too admire :god: a talented editor! I know NK has a web site that we can see her work-looked it up after her fab post. Do editors have sites that promote their work?

    I do not begrudge $$ spent on a quality story whether I end up liking the plot or not. :bravo: Whatever it takes to get there I admire the product and don’t mind the investment.

    The hard part of buying e-books is not beinging able to see the difference in the good, bad, and the ugly at full price!

    If someone wants to make a line of books with proven story tellers and editors- style not important- GO FOR IT! WE WILL COME!

    I just had a HORRIBLE experience buying a new, to me,author from respected publisher AND editor (that’s why I risked it). I paid $8 for it.:wallbash: Ack! Ack! It was not ready forprimetime :grumble:
    Experiences like this leave the buying public floundering. We don’t know who to support for quality work (I don’t mean perfection but story telling!

    Thanks to Wave:biglove: and her team willing to shovel through… some of these talented teams are identified and I can buy them!

    I am glad to hear Josh say that this phase shall pass! I love the creativity the indie presses provide. Thanks for the post. Sorry for the rant :blush:

    Reply
    • I too admire a talented editor! I know NK has a web site that we can see her work-looked it up after her fab post. Do editors have sites that promote their work?

      Probably not. I think that’s what makes the editor’s job difficult. How do you prove what a great editor you are when your goal is to be essentially invisible? 😀

      Basically you can show the list of who you edit, and hopefully that counts for something.

      Yes. I like to give Wave a hard time now and again, but she’s worked very hard to turn this site into premier reference source.

      Reply
      • Josh

        Yes. I like to give Wave a hard time now and again, but she’s worked very hard to turn this site into premier reference source.

        I’m sending you Irish coffees for that nod. 😯

        These green balls of Christian’s are addictive. 😎

        Reply
  • I should really be in bed by now, but I just had to read this first.

    Great article.
    Very informative, very helpful.
    I have a new appreciation for editors.

    Thank you, Josh, and of course, Deborah, Nicole, Sasha and Judith for giving us this peek into the daily life of an editor 🙂

    Reply
  • Nolagal

    I believe there are many new authors who do not know the information you provided, and I hope that they can learn to expect more from the editing process.

    One of the reasons for Josh writing these articles is to provide this type of information to authors – new or more experienced. Knowledge is power.

    Some of these posts are directly in response to questions asked by authors.

    Reply
  • Allow me to say that not all ebook publishers have qualified editors or writers for that matter. A lot of what is being put out there in this genre right now is pig swill.
    On the other hand, there are excellent authors who are completely frustrated from publishing anything when they come up against an “editor” who thinks he/she has the right to completely rewrite the author’s work “to suit their own taste.” They do this without the author’s permission, without any feedback/compromise with the author. 😯 Any author facing this should run, fast and far.

    Authors should never give a publisher a “rough draft” Josh. It should be polished to near perfection to begin with…of perhaps I am just a perfectionist.
    Grammar and comma usage is one thing, trying to completely rewrite an author’s work is another. I am a professional author with fifteen years of experience and many mainstream novels. I am not a novice by any means. To have that “editor” attempt to rewrite my novel without my input or permission infuriated me beyond belief! A knockdown dragout ensued after which I yanked my manuscript away from them. Needless to say, I will NEVER go back to that publisher again.
    Being a polished, well known author does not always help you in getting a real editor or any respect from a so-called “publisher.”
    First tell a great story, with beautiful language and believable characters. Make it long enough to actually be called a novel. Polish your words and your sword because you will probably need both when dealing with ebook “editors.” Good luck.

    Reply
    • Maris

      First tell a great story, with beautiful language and believable characters. Make it long enough to actually be called a novel. Polish your words and your sword because you will probably need both when dealing with ebook “editors.” Good luck.

      I love this. The first part is what all readers want and hope to get every time we open a new book.

      As for the second part, I broke up laughing. 😯 There will probably be a huge run on swords after your comment.

      Reply
    • Authors should never give a publisher a “rough draft” Josh. It should be polished to near perfection to begin with…of perhaps I am just a perfectionist.

      An idealist, perhaps. Actually, most of the time you do turn in a rough draft to your editor — in an on-going editorial relationship. This is a good thing and the right mindset to have because it means you’re open to and prepared for the changes that must and will come.

      Sending in what you consider to be a final draft to your editor is bound to result in shock when the editor returns it with requested changes and suggestions.

      That said, at this point I’m generally startled if I get much more than a request to flesh out and develop (and it’s rare that I don’t know exactly where I’m going to be asked for that to happen).

      But the final drafts I was turning in by the end of last year were not my typical final draft. We’ll leave it at that. ;-D

      Then there’s also the recent case where I sent the WRONG draft, but let’s not talk about that either.


      Grammar and comma usage is one thing, trying to completely rewrite an author’s work is another. I am a professional author with fifteen years of experience and many mainstream novels. I am not a novice by any means. To have that “editor” attempt to rewrite my novel without my input or permission infuriated me beyond belief! A knockdown dragout ensued after which I yanked my manuscript away from them. Needless to say, I will NEVER go back to that publisher again.

      One of the big attractions in epubbing IS the relative creative freedom. But at the same time there’s the balance between the needs of the publisher and the needs of the author.

      This starts to get into that philosophical approach of “publishing partners.” Not every house takes that view.

      The fact is for every Josh Lanyon or Maris, there are ten new eager authors who won’t say boo and will write perfectly competent, perfectly entertaining, and perfectly commercial (in the grand scheme of publishing) manuscripts for any given publisher.

      For some publishers *we* are a disposable commodity — let alone editors!


      Being a polished, well known author does not always help you in getting a real editor or any respect from a so-called “publisher.”

      Without dating myself, I feel your pain.


      First tell a great story, with beautiful language and believable characters. Make it long enough to actually be called a novel.

      Unless you’re writing novellas! ;-D

      Polish your words and your sword because you will probably need both when dealing with ebook “editors.” Good luck.

      I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience with epubs. I hope you gave it more than one shot because they aren’t, by any means, all the same here.

      Reply

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