There are a few things people think of when they hear the word editor.
A smart person dressed in business suits with glasses who reads manuscripts all day.
A mysterious figure who takes you to lunch, and decides whether or not she likes your next book pitch and whether to shower you with money or make you starve.
A terrifying presence who can make you cry with one ruthless phrase written on the sidelines of your manuscript.
For example, This Sucks.
I’ve held these images in my head when I was a young writer making my way up the ranks. Now, I look at editors with a completely different vision. These are the things I now see:
A person who suggests critical changes and rewrites of the book while relaying positivity and showering compliments to the crying writer on the other end of the email/phone.
A person who not only needs to balance the story ARCS and details but be true to the author’s voice and vision, while always keeping the reader in mind. In other words, a proficient juggler.
A person who knows every author’s hidden secret. Like an author’s favorite words used over, and over, and over…and over… Or the tendencies to use a phrase so much, it becomes overkill, and said editor would like to poke her eyes out with a stick.
A person who must deal with an author’s insistence that a reader will “get it” and there’s no need to tweak the scene to be clearer.
How about patiently suffering through an author’s secret passions for certain television shows, or products that are snuck into every book –Hello, Game of Thrones that is now officially over! Hello, baby Yoda who will now be mentioned in the next four books before the trend fades away?
This person needs to ask hard questions that an author doesn’t care about when being creative. Such as when the hero throws the heroine on the desk and rips off her clothes and he’s her boss and she’s an intern – does this scream #METOO movement?
She must ask if your beloved hero is too much of an asshole to deal with. Or if the heroine is too wishy-washy and will piss off your audience.
She is paid to whip your ass when you are lazy. I cannot tell you how many times I was exhausted and irritated with a manuscript and stuck something in there because I didn’t care anymore, never thinking that the editor will actually question me about such a tiny little thing.
But she did. Every. Single. Time. And yeah, it’s annoying Every. Single. Time.
Later, reading my completed book, I’m so damn happy she was mean to me.
Bottom line? Editors are critical to getting a book from rough draft to polished perfection. It is the editor that truly sees the diamond in the rough, and works tirelessly to polish it until the layers of the story are revealed and told in the best way possible.
You see, my peeps, writing a book starts with you. It’s a story. It belongs to you. It is your precious. But an editor’s job is to strip it down and bring the light into the darkness, to question, assess, and judge. She is a cheerleader, a therapist, a grammarian, a teacher.
She is a writer’s best friend.
Some books are gifts. Some are hell on earth. I’ve gotten both and learned to appreciate it all—even the books in between.
I think one of the things I remember most about my editor is during the time when my father died. I’d given myself a period off from writing, but I had to get back to it at some point. I remember every day facing that page and needing 2K. It was torturous and painful. Sometimes I’d be in my office till ten pm at night getting those words.
And there were many revisions. My editor held my hand through each re-write, pushing me closer to the finish line, and though my emotions were so raw I had trouble truly seeing the whole of the book, she did. It took 4-5 rewrites to get the story the way I’d originally imagined it. I’m so grateful for her help and vision.
Writers need to learn the best way to work with editors. It’s a process and a journey. You learn about each other’s hot buttons, likes and dislikes, and what is best for the book.
A bad editor can make the process an ordeal and have you question your talent and your voice.
A good editor can take your writing to the next level without having you “sell” out.
I’m in re-writes now. For the next few weeks, I’ll be polishing to get to the gold, and each time it’s both exciting and nerve-wracking for me. Then it will be time to let the book out into the world, where it no longer belongs to me.
But for a little while longer, the book belongs to both of us.