Sunday, October 5, 2008

Evil Editors: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors,

I've met a couple of editors in real life. They seem nice enough. And I spend a bunch of time online with editors. Not once have they given me anything to fear. However, when I start to picture my manuscript ending up on an editor's desk at a publishing house, my imagination runs away with me...

I see an enormous dragon shimmering in the torchlight. Her purple and black scales glitter as she tilts her head from side to side, regarding the several large slush piles on her desk. She cackles and lets out a whip of fire from her jaws, engulfing several stacks of precious manuscripts in flames. Next, she picks a document from the pile and glances at it.

"'It was a bright day in June...' Passive voice in the first sentence? You'd better give up your publication dreams, because you're hopeless. Mwahahaha!"

With two chomps of her sharp teeth, the manuscript disappears. She turns the heap of paper over to a pack of interns and tells her minions to dispose of it as they will. Then she leans back in her chair, picks her teeth with an aspiring author's leg bone, and wonders whether or not Susie Famous, her star author, is ready to publish again.

Phew! What I'm trying to say is, editors scare me! I know they receive large quantities of manuscripts, and they're super busy. I hope that a little insight into the true lives of editors will soothe my quaking heart.

Signed, Please Don't Munch Me!

Maryann: Gosh, Emma, stop watching me while I work.

Seriously, though, we editors are not wicked beasts. Well, maybe a few are, but not the majority. Most of us are just regular people who have learned how to go through a story and a manuscript and spot weak points or areas that could use some improvement. We are not saying what the author wrote was bad or awful. Well, maybe sometimes. But for the most part what we are saying is that the story is good. It could just be so much better if some of the "crafting" mistakes were fixed, like passive writing, cliches, stereotyping characters, flat dialogue.

So, please don't be afraid of us. Look to us for help, and we can be your friend.

Libby: Oh, please don't be "scared" of editors. Most of us are there to make a story glow and sparkle. To me, it's so satisfying to take a good story and watch it become even better as the author and I work together. I'm thrilled when one of "my" authors wins a contest or prize.

And I love watching an author grow in her/his abilities, which also makes my job easier.

I'm lucky, though, in that much of my work goes thru an acquisitions editor first, so I have large work piles, but not large slush piles to face.

Elle: Actually, Emma, you should be imagining a skinny, moth-eaten little mouse slaving over the slush pile, rather than a fire-breathing dragon. The dragon comes later. Often, the person given the nasty chore of clearing the slush pile is an intern, or perhaps even a temp. Your manuscript is looked at by someone who is probably dog-tired and sick of the sight of double-spaced 12 point printing, and who may have a limit on how many of the manuscripts she can pass up the line per day. She has to choose carefully, but she also has to be quick because the pile is added to every day.

Anything you can do to make the process easier will help a tiny amount. In other words, you don't want to seal your submission so tightly that she gets a paper cut trying to open it. Or have any staples or sharp clips that she's not expecting. Fonts that are too small, or too big, or a funny colour are more difficult to read when your brain has become tuned in to exactly 12 point. 1.5 line spacing is glaringly obvious to her, as well, even if it looks the same as double-spacing to you.

So, the slush pile reader is not to be feared - she's very human.

Emma Larkins has a dream: to make a living as a published author. Her publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine, In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects website. For more information, check out her blog and her website.


  1. All I see in an editor is someone who is paid well to tell me, honestly, if my literary slip is showing. I don't fear good editors - I LOVE them.

    How embarrassing is it to fly without an editorial net and land on your face - only to find out a million copies later!? (Yes, it's happened. To me. When I didn't have an editor. Somewhere, in print, are instructions for replacing a 5.5" diskette drive. I know that the omission of a "2" after the decimal seems a small thing to most people, but it has haunted me for over a decade. A good editor would have caught that.)

    Love the red pen and the person wielding it - they will save you from public humiliation.

  2. The nicest people I ever met at a writers conference were editors and agents. Both exist to help you. Have no fear!


  3. I agree. I also have yet to meet a mean editor. However, the process of having a manuscript edited can be heart wrenching. I know the editors don't try to be cruel, and most of the time I agree with what they say, but sometimes I think to myself "I know! I know it's bad! I just couldn't think of another way to put it!"


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