Thursday, March 17, 2011

Working With Your Editor

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some really excellent editors. After the last round of edits I went through, I started to wonder what’s it’s like for them to work with us. What makes a writer someone they enjoy working with, and what are their pet peeves? So I asked three of my editors for their input and they graciously replied.
Jude Glad is an editor with Uncial Press and has edited three of my books. Sarah Hanson edits the Faery Rose line for The Wild Rose Press, and Nan Swanson edits the Vintage Line, also with The Wild Rose Press. All three have helped bring out the best writer in me. I started out by asking them a few questions:
Jana: Talk about the ideal author to work with. What sort of qualities would he/she have?
Jude Glad: First of all, a great story teller. Small writing problems can be fixed, but if a story isn't a grabber, there's not much you can do about it. Someone with a good handle on the language (it would be nice if she knew what a past participle is, for instance), and a large vocabulary (there are lots of better words than 'looked'). A nitpicker, who catches inconsistencies before she sends in her manuscript. And finally, someone who thinks we are the best publisher in the world.

Sara Hanson: I prefer an open relationship with an author. I like to keep the line of communication open. Be willing to ask questions and make comments. I don't bite, really! Every author has their quirks, but it is nice when they are willing to compromise and keep their sense of humor.

Nan Swanson: LOL. The ideal author would submit a perfectly crafted, spell-checked, grammatically correct manuscript, of course! Aside from that, he/she would pleasantly agree to whatever changes or corrections the editor, the copy editor, or the publishing company would require, happily accept the cover provided, and refrain from asking to have the release date set at a certain time in order to meet requirements for a contest or award. Naturally, all the authors I’ve worked with have had these qualities, you understand.

Jana: Have you ever turned down an author because they were too difficult to work with? Has an author ever refused to do requested revisions?

Jude Glad: So far we've not encountered anyone too difficult to work with (knock wood).
We've been extraordinarily fortunate in our authors, who are all wonderful.
I've heard horror stories... Yes, one author did refuse to make revisions, and we released her from her contract.

Sarah Hanson: Not solely on the basis of being too difficult. Certainly, it makes me think twice. The manuscript had better be darn near perfect, because I would rather not deal with tantrums. I get enough of that at home! As for refusing to do requested revisions, not after contract. If there are major revisions, I usually make myself clear and ask for those prior to contracting. It's a way to see how willing that author will be to work with me and help me perfect their product. I have made suggested revisions prior to contract and had them refuse. And that's okay, hopefully someone else's vision will match theirs.

Nan Swanson: Whether an author is difficult to work with is (a) not immediately apparent, and (b) not a criteria in evaluating his/her manuscript. I’ve never had an author refuse to do requested revisions, but some don’t seem to read my comments and suggestions thoroughly and do only a partial job, or they will apply what I’ve said to only the first part of the manuscript and leave the last half full of the same errors as before. However, an author is free to use my suggestions or improve upon them, or to keep their writing as it was originally—the work is the author’s and my job is simply to help polish, to point out possible ways to better the writing and make the story ready to hit the reader as the best she’s ever experienced.

Jana: What's your biggest pet peeve about authors?
Jude Glad: Pretty much my biggest pet peeve about anyone who emails me with silly questions instead of looking the answers up herself.

Sarah Hanson: Not listening or making an attempt to understand. I spend a lot of time explaining and showing what needs to be done, and if you send me something back that doesn't reflect that, it makes me feel as if you are wasting everyone's time. As I said earlier: if you don't get it, ask. I am always willing to explain further. Talk to me!

Nan Swanson: My biggest pet peeve about authors? Hmm. That they are so doggone likable it’s hard to tell them we are not able to accept their manuscripts for whatever reasons! About their work, probably it’s misuse of words and language, whether malaprops or homonyms or current slang given to characters of a hundred years ago.

Jana: If you had one piece of advice for authors on how to successfully work with their editor, what would it be?

Jude Glad: Meet deadlines. Ours do (knocking wood again), but I worked for another publisher a few years ago. There was this author who not only didn't meet her deadlines, she would go for weeks without checking her email. I'm a finisher-ahead-of-time, so people who put off until the last minute and apologize for being late make me crazy.

Sarah Hanson: Be flexible. Sometimes what you want won't work, and sometimes what I want won't either, but together we may craft a solution that is even better.

Nan Swanson: Consider every suggestion and every correction, even when you disagree with it, as something done to help you have a better manuscript, as a gift toward polishing your work to perfection.
Jana: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jude Glad: One more thing. Each house has certain styles, and sometimes ours will not agree with what an author learned elsewhere. We are fairly strict about certain things, but open to discussion about pretty much everything else. When an author disagrees with me, I ask her to tell me why, because it's her story, not mine. "I wrote it that way and I like it that way" isn't a good enough reason, but "I want to create a certain mood, and using those words will help" is.

Jana: Thanks ladies! I appreciate you stopping by and telling us a little about what’s it’s like to be an editor.
The editors promised to stop by and answer any questions you may have so ask away.


  1. What an interesting blog and such good advice from the Editors. Thank you, Jana for getting these people together.

    I can't understand anyone who would argue with an editor, I always have a smashing relationship with an editor. They have a clear eye and only want the very best for you, the author.

  2. I totally agree, Margaret. My editors have shone a light on things I couldn't see in the writing process. They've forced me to dig deep. Working with all my editors has helped make my work better.

    There have been a few times when I might have disagreed on a word choice or something else they suggested, but most of the time I have to shake my head and say, "Damn, she's right again." Writers have to remember that this is a business as much as it an art. We have to deliver a product and our editor's job is to make that product as good as it can be. We shouldn't get too precious about it.


  3. Great post, Jana - and very enlightening :) It's always interesting to peak behind the scenes, into the publishing world. As a writer (and reader), I sometimes forget about the other aspects of getting a great story into the readers' hands.

  4. It was nice to get the answers from different editors. I have been with Uncial for several years with my romance novel, and Jude has been great to work with. I do try to look things up and not bug her with questions. LOL

  5. Wasn't talking about you, Maryann (;-) But it has happened, particularly when I was working for another house. There was this one author who would email me for a definition or a synonym, rather than finding them for herself. Arrgghhh!


  6. Hi Janet,
    Yes, there are a lot of people whose work goes into the production of a book. From a writer's perspective, when you know the people you're working with want the book to succeed as much as you do, it's a very rewarding and enjoyable experience.


  7. Hi Maryann,
    Thanks for stopping by. Jude is a great editor to work with, not to mention a lovely person. We love you, Jude!


  8. Jude, thanks for dropping by. I know you have a meeting to attend this afternoon, but if you get a chance to drop by tomorrow, I have a couple of questions for you and the other editors.

    Is there anything in particular that you're looking for now?

    What genre/sub-genre (either in romance, or in other genres in Jude's case) do you think will be hot in the next year? Or do you think it's a mistake to try to follow trends?

    What can unpublished writers do to increase their chances of making a sale?

    What can published writers do to try to increase sales?

    I'd love for any readers out there to pose a question or two to the editors.


  9. Thanks for this infomative post, Jana. I have a question for the editors. If you read a manuscript that is well written, but the style doesn't rock your world, would you pass it along to another editor in your company who might find it a better fit? I know from personal experience that some editors love my work, and some - not so much! Just wondering.

  10. Hi Jana,

    Thanks to you and the editors for the inside look.

  11. Great post and great insights into working with an editor, Jana. I'll take the advice to heart when I find myself lucky enough to be dealing with one!

    I have an question: Are you seeing any interesting trends in contemporary romance?

  12. Very interesting post, Jana. Thanks for putting it together. And thanks to Jude, Nan, and Sara for being so candid about their side of the business. All the epub editors I've worked with have been wonderful and I consider them friends. (11 so far with 7 publishers.) I've had to rip out almost half of two books to satisfy my eds and it was like ripping off my arms. I couldn't have done it unless they'd been really nice people. Funny thing about this? Both were books published by Kensington "as is" (or "was") but didn't fit the epubs' guidelines. Linda

  13. Thanks for your question, Jannine. I'm curious to hear the answer myself.

    Gail, thanks for stopping by.

    Karyn, I have a good feeling that you'll soon be hearing from an editor. I'm crossing my fingers. Thanks for your question.

    Linda, how funny that books that fit Kensington needed such extensive reworking to fit your epub. People who think that the writing for an epub is a piece of cake need to think again. I've had to work hard to get my books published and I'm sure you feel the same way.


  14. Hi Jana,
    Thank you so much for having the editors visit, I found their comments very interesting. Have to admit here that Nan Swanson has edited several of my books for the Vintage line at TWRP, and she is a delight to work with.



  15. Hi, Jana,

    To Margaret re Nan Swanson: I adore Nan. I work with her frequently and she is one of my very favorite people!

    To Linda: It's always difficult requesting extensive revisions for me as an editor. The author has listened to the story their characters are trying to tell and then the editor sees it an entirely different way. I know how hard authors work and how personal this journey is. For me, I am only wanting the story to be the best it can be, and sometimes what I envision is different than the author. Matter of opinions.

    As for trends, I don't work a lot with contemporary, so I am not the editor to ask. But I know paranormal has seen a lot of vamps with a conscious, ghosts, and angels. Marketability is important, so if they are selling, excellent. But I refuse to contract a manuscript if it's not quality even to satisfy the trend. I would rather contract the offbeat, unique, well-written story. And then tell the author to promote the daylights out of it! :)

  16. And I clearly meant vamps with a conscience.

  17. Janine: Yes, absolutely. I don't read a lot of scifi, but one of the other editors really enjoys it. If I end up with something really good but not something I can identify with and appreciate, I will pass it over. The editor who enjoys that style will do a better job of editing it.

  18. Jana's questions (sorry for so many posts): steampunk seems to be an up-and-coming trend. It's been around for a long time, but it is gaining momentum. Cindy Spencer Pape with Carina has written a couple of steampunk romances that are worth dipping your toes in the water for.

    As for increasing your chances of getting published, I can probably only repeat what you have already heard. Read the publisher's guidelines (we do like to follow them), keep honing your story, and be open to constructive criticism. Writing groups and critique partners can pick flaws out of your story that your eyes miss.

    Increasing sales: always promote, of course. Do local signings, get the attention of your local newspaper. Social network. Keep talking it up: be a shameless self-promoter!

  19. Thanks for your answer, Sarah. Good to know!

  20. Well, I wrote a nice long answer and it got eaten before I could post it. Let's see if I can recall what I said. Maybe if I break it into pieces, it will work better.

    We are always looking for Regency romance at Uncial Press. Contemporary romance, particularly in a lighter vein is another genre we're on the lookout for. While angst-ridden romance has a following, it's really depressing to edit.


  21. Trends... Since it's anyone's guess what will be hot next year, we tend not to worry about them. Instead we look for really good stories that captivate us. If we like them, we're pretty sure our readers will.

    Right now we're seeing increased interest in both romantic suspense and paranormal suspense, and we believe those sub-genres will always sell steadily, if not spectacularly. Regencies are popular, perhaps because our readers know we're really choosy about which ones we take on. Straight fantasy has seemed to be more popular recently, but our sample size is small, so again, it could be the titles we offer, rather than a trend.

    What'll be hot next year is books that will keep your readers turning e-pages, missing meals or staying awake until they've reached THE END. Those are always popular.

  22. How can unpublished author increase their chances? I have a standard answer here. Learn to write tight, well-paced, vivid stories that give readers good visuals, that keep the action on stage instead of in the characters' thoughts, and that involve the reader in characters' emotional states. Most of all, learn to tell a story.

    Start telling your story on page one. I see far too many submissions that waste half the first chapter with backstory. Frankly, if you haven't elicited my sympathy for your protagonist/hero by page 2, I'm probably not going to want to read on. The best advice I ever got, when I was learning to write, was 'Start when something changes and go on from there. You can tell why it changed later in the book.'

    Show, don't tell. We hear that again and again, and we still--all of us--slip into the telling mode. Learn to recognize it and work to conquer the tendency.

    Most of all, have a story to tell. The Evangeline paradigm (she loved him, she lost him, she found him, she kissed him, he died), with or without the last step, only works if it has a rich tapestry around it.

  23. How to increase sales if you're published. Promote. It's as simple as that, and none of us do enough of it. A popular NY author once told me that she spends 20 percent of her working time promoting. I wish I could make myself do that, but alas, life gets in the way. Every time I make an extra effort, I see a little blip in sales.

    If you're talking about selling your books to publishers, read what I said to the unpublished authors. We still, unfortunately, get really poorly written stuff from authors who should know better. Quality will sell, sooner or later. All you have to do is find the right publisher.

  24. My last word (unless someone else has a question). We're always looking for great stories at Uncial Press. And remember, we do consider submissions as short as 5,000 words.

    We'd rather not see non-fiction unless it's humorous. And please, no dark, hopeless books. We like happy endings--or at least satisfying ones.


  25. Jude and Sarah, thanks so much for dropping by.

    And Jude, I just knew you were going to say the best way to sell books is to promote the heck out of them. Sigh.