Editor, Editors Everywhere


Don't Write LIke We TalkThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

Editor, like Publisher, has become a broader category than it once was in the past.  It used to be that the editor/writer relationship looked like a scene out of Spider-Man.  The Editor in charge wants a photo of Spiderman, and Peter Parker better get one or be fired.

Editors have evolved.

The best way to think of an editor is a good editor will prevent you from inadvertently upsetting your reader.

I was discussing the books of a very popular writer with another   NaNoWriMo writer who had just read the most recent publication.  My friend complained that some of the simplest continuity in the book failed. (And this is an author that attracts massive advances and has a phalanx of editors).   The sin is not the inconsistency itself, in this book the heroine runs out of butter in one paragraph, makes a big deal about not having any butter, then uses copious amounts of butter on the very next page.  As readers, we were not really concerned that the butter in question seemed to magically appear in the refrigerator, although that would be handy in real life, our complaint was that such a careless oversight succeeded in wrenching the reader (my friend) out of the literary fictional world and out on the cold street, now conscious she was holding a book of paper or electronic bits exclaiming, I thought she was OUT of butter!

You the author have a responsibility to maintain your contract with the reader.  The reader promises to suspend disbelief and you promise to not suddenly jerk them back to reality before they are ready.  The editor helps maintain this contract, because he or she is a reader, they can catch situations and discrepancies that you cannot see.  Don’t yell at them, be grateful.

An ACQUIRING EDITOR buys the book from an agent or author. When you attend conferences and talk with editors, you are most likely speaking with an acquiring editor.  Acquiring editors come in various shapes and sizes.  Blog editors are acquiring editors.  We are editors in the sense that we vet potential guests.

To be guest blogger, to see your work published in an anthology.  To become part of a publishing house collection, you are working directly with that acquiring editor.

Study the periodical, and /or develop a relationship with the blog editor, if you want to write for Newbie Writers, be nice to Damien and listen to the pod casts so you have an idea of what we’re about.  The more you know, the better you can tailor your work to what the editor wants and needs, the better your chances.

Always query an editor with your idea and don’t attach anything, attachments make editors break out into hives and that’s not an auspicious start to your relationship.   Queries should give the editor a complete picture of what your blog, article or idea is about. Include what they ask for. Don’t send anything they don’t ask to see.

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR.  This editor helps the author, if needed, with plot, structure, pacing, and writing style.  Coaches (like me) are essentially developmental editors.  We help with the structure of your book.  We walk you through the process of creating the book.

We will also help you polish the work before submitting your book to a publisher or agent.

Content and development editors are big picture experts with degrees in literature and/or creative writing.  They will find structural challenges in your story but likely they will not find typos, for that you need to hire a copy editor.

Copy editors are emergency response teams. These fearless editors are the people who can spot a typo at fifty paces and know how to resurrect a sentence.  You only need these experts in an emergency.  And the last round of edits for your book often seems like an emergency.

You will either get an assigned copy editor through your publisher (and this is not a suggestion) or you will hire a copy editor to save you from yourself before you publish your book yourself.

If you hire a freelance copy editor, find out what they usually look for, and add in what you want them to find.  Do you need to make sure the plot hangs together? Or do you just want to make sure the heroine’s eye color doesn’t change between chapter 2 and chapter 46.

Be specific, the more you want to be checked, the more expensive the work will be.  Which makes sense.

If you are assigned an editor by your publisher, he or she will check for grammar, punctuation, spelling and typos, all the usual stuff.  They will also make sure the book fits the publisher’s editorial style.

This where authors and editors come to blows.

You’ve heard authors say phrases like – editorial hell. Authors will lament that they are arguing with their editor.  They will claim that their editor knows nothing.  Or post on social media to not bother them, they are working on their damn edits for their book.   

When the edits for Future Girls (Eternal Press) were finally, finally, finally returned, I figured I would spend at least two or three weeks in editorial hell with the manuscript.

It wasn’t that bad.

And I credit a relatively easy final editing session to my Beta readers.  Making the edits the readers suggested before sending the manuscript to the publisher made all the difference.

But nothing is ever perfect. I still had work to do.

My book – Future Girls had to follow the editorial style that (the then)   Eternal Press books had to follow.  I was no different.

According to the editor, or in this case, the style guide she employed: “No beginning sentences with “And,” “Or,” or “But”.  Sigh. I start sentences with “And” all the time. And I because I start sentences with “and” I don’t penalize my students for doing the same. It was a tick I had learned to ignore.  So it was a foreign thing to hunt down those ands and change them all.  Pain in the ass.  (Running a search and replace for the word and is not an activity I recommend). But I did it.

“Em dashes. Our formatting program recognizes a double dash as an em-dash with no space before or after. Also, no spaces before or after an ellipsis.”  So I hunted down the damn spaces.  Picky picky.  But that’s the hell part.  Some authors, sorry, often new authors, will argue that they don’t want to change a single one of their sentences because it is part of their art – their style – their message.  That is silly.  Once you delivered your novel to a publisher, it’s now part of that publisher’s collection – they are responsible for the look and feel of their own products.  You can go along with this, or you can, like Virginia Woolf who never allowed anyone to edit her work – publish it yourself.

You’ll still need at least a copy editor.

Mark Twain suggested that every time you use “very” in a sentence, just change it to “damn” and the editor will subsequently remove all the damns and your sentences will be in good shape.

Editors are wonderful and important members of your team.  Be kind to your editor, keep him or her around.  I was thrilled when the editor of Future Girls came out of retirement to edit Future Gold.  She already knew the story; she knew my style – the editing went well.  I also attribute that to changing all the sentences starting with AND before I sent her the manuscript.

I can be taught.


Rewrite the end.

Have you ever been dissatisfied with the ending of a book?  Take the end, or the last chapter, and rewrite it.  This is of course, how fan fiction is created, but you don’t need to post it or do anything with it.  Just create an alternative ending and work from there.  You may well begin another story!

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon