This is a topic that I see a great deal of discussion about in various groups. Often, it becomes a very tense and disagreeable subject, especially to those who feel they don’t need an editor’s hand touching their prose. I tend to remain quiet, because I’m not interested in going to war with anyone’s ego.
For me, the discovery of good editors versus bad ones has been a long and winding road at the best of times. In recent years, I’ve gotten lucky and found out what a good editor really is, and how invaluable their presence is to making a good story into a much better one. The amazing lady who taught me that also introduced me to change and growth as a storyteller.
Most of the people who follow me already know that I began writing in fan fiction and developed my first audience of readers through that media connection. I was one of the writers who was lucky, people loved my stories pretty much consistently. I grew, learned, and had a great time. When I went “pro” with it all, I had a new world to learn in. I thought I was doing fine when the first reviews were stellar! However, I was about to take a journey I would never have anticipated, and at times the road would twist more than Rapunzel’s braid…
I settled in with my first publisher and planned to stay with them. I was happy, my editor told me she loved my stories, my style, etc., and it was a comfortable and friendly company. I’ve learned since not everything easy is necessarily good, of course. The one thing I will always thank my first editor for is the lesson in head-hopping, or point of view shifting every other paragraph. I used to do that so consistently, and so smoothly in many cases, it was almost alien for me to not do it. I approached the story with the idea that I was the director, so I needed to be in everyone’s head, and choose which POV was most relevant to making the story clear for the reader. Hell, it was ages before I realized I needed to be the actor/character, not the director working outside everyone. My appreciation all these years later is still sincere, but only for that one point of creative correction. Things happened with that editor/publishing house that also piss me off to this day. Being told I was “labour intensive” to my editor, by another member of the house, alerted me to behind the scenes gossip and practices that made me wonder just what the hell was going on. I was also told that this editor I trusted handed out one of my stories to the rest of the staff, also a group of writers, and told them if they wanted to write vampire stories, they really needed to read my story… Hmmm…. No one asked if I’d mind… Am I the only one who thinks this shows a total lack of respect, never mind a questionable professional ethic? Never mind, loads more happened and was said there, and I was happy to leave at that stage.
So, over the coming years, I continued to write, continued to have easy editors for the most part, and was pretty confident. Then I decided to answer a submissions call from a new publishing house, and they accepted the first story I sent. That’s when I met Penny Barber, sort of… In those early days, I saw the edits, but had no real contact with the editor. My first look at edits from Penny were like a bucket of ice being dumped on me… I could have just panicked, but as I read the comments, I saw quickly how much sense she made, and how easy I’d had it up to then. I dug in, and I worked. For the next three stories with that publishing house, she made me work hard, and I was utterly convinced she hated to see my name on a manuscript because it meant heavy work for her to get the story into decent, marketable shape. (I was remembering that shot about being labour intensive, and figured editors hated it when they had to spend that much time on anything. I was wrong about that, by the way.) Anyway, as it happens, Penny said something to me about my use of words that was actually very flattering, and I remarked on it on my Facebook page, with the observation that I thought she hated my writing. I was surprised when she hopped onto the thread and asked me if I really thought that… it began a dialogue that became a friendship and my total dedication to being the writer she believes I can be.
Penny Barber is easily the very best editor I have ever encountered and worked with, she’s knowledgeable and intuitive, and she does make you work, but in the end, it’s so worth it. I could have been an arrogant ass and not accepted her suggestions, and I’d still be a struggling hack making the same mistakes over and over. But, she believed I could do better than that. She’s the first editor to not only listen to my ideas, she actively helps me sort them out and turn them into tight, active prose. She cares about the authors who place their work in her hands. She gave me my first writing guide/craft book, paid for by her as a gift, because she thought it was something I could use. The door opened to the classroom and I didn’t walk in, I ran! Eager was a mild word for it, really. I have spent the past two years reading, studying, learning, and relearning. With Penny’s help, I not only began to understand why I hated my work so much, but how it happened over time, and with a little help from other editors who took more from the vision than they ever contributed.
So, to those of you who think you know it all, trust me–you don’t know even a tiny portion of it. Writing is not just words on a page, it’s a vision, a dedication, and a joy in crafting the best damn story you can. Professionals embrace the people who can help make their visions come to life for readers, and readers love those authors who draw them in and fire their imaginations. Good editors are vital, though I’ve learned they’re as rare as genuinely talented writers. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three out of the many I’ve worked with, Penny Barber is the top of the list, followed by Rachel Landis, and Jillian Bell. These ladies made me work and drew out the story I wanted to showcase each time I worked with them. Thank you, to each of you, for your patience and talent, because editing–good editing–is as much a talent as good writing is.
I’m going to close this now with the simple truth of my personal journey this past year. I would not be writing now if it wasn’t for the faith Penny had/has in me. Being who I am, I want to be worthy of her time, her belief in my talent, and take what she’s given me and show her it wasn’t a waste of her valuable time. That’s half the reason I’m still here. The other half is me. Now that I’ve let go of what was making everything stall for me, and learned to get to the core of what I want to share with readers, I know I have some spectacular books in me that I want to write for everyone who wants to read them. I know there will be dark days, and times when I’m sure I’m still doing it all wrong, but…that’s part of the process of creativity, I believe. Professionals care about making the story sing for readers. It’s about craft, excellence, and hard work. If you can’t bear the idea of editing or editors, you’re leading with your ego anyway. The world is filled with egos, you’re not special. Editors are a good writer’s best friend because good writers understand the editor is not hacking their work apart, but helping to polish it until it’s the best gem of a tale it can possibly be. Learn that lesson, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to hold that best-seller in your hand one day.
P.S. Every single title Penny has edited for me is a best-seller, on ARe Romance Books, Publisher sites, and even Amazon. That’s no accident, I’m sure.