Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fun Times with Editors

In 35 years of writing, I've dealt with quite a few editors, even if you don't count the ones who only sent rejections--as I'd much rather not.


My first editor, Fredda Isaacson at Warner Books, bought my first Regency, Toblethorpe Manor. She then told me it was about 20,000 words too long for their format and would have to be cut. (Writing longhand and then typing, I hadn't a clue how long it was: 96,000 words, apparently.)

If I hadn't been totally ignorant of the publishing business, I'd have replied that I'd see what I could do. As it was, I left it to her. It turned out to be a good thing. Goodness knows what sort of a mess I'd have made of it, whereas she got back to me some time later to say she had been able to cut only about a page and half. The story was so tightly woven any more would have wrecked it. Warner published it at $1 more than their usual price!


My second editor was Ruth Cavin, later doyenne of mystery editors at St. Martin's. An amazing lady, she went on working into her 90s and still remembered having helped my early career. As Regency editor at Walker & Co., she bought my 3rd and 4th Regencies, skipping the second, which naturally did not please me. then taking it later, along with several others. In retrospect, she was right. Lavender Lady is a stronger book and remains just about every month the best seller of all my Regency e-books. Sometimes I wonder whether it hasn't by now been read by every Regency reader in existence.

In case you're wondering, I'm not conceding editors are always right.

Ruth moved on after buying Miss Hartwell's Dilemma. I didn't get on so well with her successor, who, on taking over production of that title, addressed me as Dear Author. When you've sold eight books, you kind of expect your editor to know your name—or at least to look it up before writing to you. It did not augur well for our relationship.

Fortunately, she lasted for only one more book. I won't go into painful details, just say that it was the first and last time any editor has ever asked me to rewrite more than a scene or two, and I had to rewrite twice.

She'd asked for an adventure story, then wanted less adventure. My heroine, growing up in Costa Rica, had a pet monkey and a pet parrot. The editor thought that made it seem like a children's book. They were quite important to my story. I took out the monkey but fought for the parrot. Worst of all, to my terse last sentence: At last their lips met she added a long coda—in the sweetest kiss that ever was in all the five continents and seven seas they would travel in their future life together. So-o-o not me. I told my agent I'd put up with all the rest if she left that off.

Though the published result was a choppy mess, at least it didn't end with that soppy sentimental slush.

Before it came out as an e-book, I rewrote for the third time, attempting to restore the original. But that's another story.

How about you? Share some interesting stories about editors in the comments! 

Part Two of this post is here.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

18 comments :

  1. Ugh - "Dear Author"? How arrogant and unprofessional.

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  2. Finding an agent is like a round of speed dating, b ut at least you have some control over whether you see them again or not. The editor is like a blind date you didn't set up and can't control the length of the date. I'm my own editor, so I can never get away from the ... witch. :)

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    1. We are a bit "witchy" about our own work, aren't we?" :-)

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  3. As those who are familiar with my comments know, I have nothing but respect for editors ... and the ones who maintain this venue are the 'doyennes' of the written word (what a classy blog this is).

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    1. Thanks so much, Christopher. And the readers help make the blog so interesting, too. :-)

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    2. Yes, thank you Christopher. What a nice thing to say!

      Carola, thanks for sharing your experiences. So far, I've had good experiences with editors...keeping my fingers crossed!

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  4. Sounds like your experiences with various editors were adventures in themselves. This article certainly makes the point that all editors are not created equal. It also exemplifies that editors should be partners with writers, not dictators lording it over those with whom they work. This statement isn't intended to suggest that rewrites are not needed — of course they are. However, these changes should never change a writer's style or voice.

    As a freelance editor who has never been on the receiving end of a full-blown edit, I can't speak from experience on that score. However, I have worked with numerous writers and have almost always had a good working relationship with those whose works were at the mercy of my "red pencil." We talked scenes through and discussed relevancy and impact. We addressed character development, flow, dialogue, etc., etc., etc. I loved being an editor, and now I will love once more being a writer. My interaction with an editor of my own still lies ahead of me.

    Love this post, Carola. It gives us editors great food for thought about the way we deal with writers and how we encourage them to refine their work. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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    1. Linda, I've never worked with a freelance editor. I imagine the "balance of power" between them and an author is very different from that between the author and a publisher's editor.

      Possibly a question for someone with experience of both to discuss?

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    2. Good idea, Carola. We likely have some onboard who have gone both routes. Let's run it by Dani.

      Because I also have a publishing company, I do serve in the capacity of in-house editor on the manuscripts I publish. My relationship with those writers is a bit different than when I work with someone who is self-publishing or already has a publisher. My contract even states that the publisher has the final word on a disputed matter in the book — although I've never had to invoke that clause.

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  5. I have been so lucky with the editors I have worked with. For the most part it has been a relationship with mutual respect and a lot of give and take. The only problem I ever had was with the editor who wanted my characters in One Small Victory to do more than have the one kiss that is in the story. The editor wanted me to beef up the romance, but there were so many reasons why the characters could not take the mutual interest any further. Trying to add more was really forcing something that wasn't right for the story or the characters, and thankfully, the editor finally agreed.

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  6. Joan Heelan HadacApril 9, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    I have been a writer and editor (journalism). Some of the editors I've worked with have helped enormously, while others have hacked at and ruined the story completely. Usually in journalism you don't discuss why something should remain in a story, you just see the published results. As an editor I've worked with writers who were wonderful and those who would complain if you removed one word of their sacred document.
    Carola, it sounds like you've worked with both kinds. I hope all your present and future editors are a joy to work with.

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    1. Thank you, Joan. I'll be continuing the saga next month.

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  7. As I was writing about editors who bought my work, I didn't mention the most unkindest cut of all--the editor who bought ?serial rights to Lavender Lady for an Australian women's magazine. She (he?) pared it down by about 2/3, in the process dropping huge chunks of the plot so that it made no sense at all. Fortunate, perhaps, that I never had any direct contact.

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    1. That must be how some authors feel when they give away rights to a book for a movie, which turns out way different than the book itself.

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    2. They say authors should NEVER watch movies/TV shows "based on" their books.

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  8. Lavender Lady was the first Regency book I read, ever! Even before Heyer, *and* Austen.

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    1. Happy to think I turned you on to Austen!

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    2. "Completely hooked me" is more the word! Thank you!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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