Editors: Making the most of an all-important relationship

Deb author photo~ By Deborah Blake 

No matter what kind of writing you do, at some point or another you will probably work with an editor. Over the course of a long career, you will probably work with quite a few. There will be editors who make you look good, by catching every mistake you make…and editors that don’t. Most of the time you don’t have much choice in the matter; the editor who picks your book is the one you end up working with. At worst, this can be frustrating. At best, they will be enthusiastic about your writing and a joy to work with. [If you are self-publishing, you won’t have a traditional editor, but you are still going to want at least a copy editor to double check your work.]

I’m lucky—I’ve got the best editors in the world, both at Llewellyn with my nonfiction books and now at Berkley with my novels.

Unlike fiction books, where the person who buys the book is also the person who is your primary editor for the entire process, in non-fiction (or at least at Llewellyn, where I have all my experience) there are two main editors involved: the Acquisitions Editor and the Production Editor. At Berkley, I have a terrific editor named Leis Pederson who shepherds the books through the start to finish, along with a copy editor (different ones for the novella and the two novels I’ve done so far, and I don’t even know their names).

The Acquisitions Editor is the person you submit the book to in the first place. She reads the proposal you send, and your sample chapters, and if she likes it, she’ll ask for the rest of the book. If she REALLY likes it, she’ll then take it to an acquisitions meeting and pitch it to the rest of the team. If everyone REALLY likes it, she then offers a contract. And paperwork ensues. This is essentially the same for both nonfiction publishers and fiction house.

For some Acquisitions Editors at Llewellyn, the job is more or less over once the contract is signed, and from then on you deal with the production editor. But Elysia tends to be more hands on, and frequently offers in-depth feedback and suggestions for the scope, direction, and content of the books. Some authors don’t like this in an AE—but I love it. I want to turn in the best possible book, in a form that is going to make all those higher up on the food chain at Llewellyn happy. Working closely with Elysia helps me to do this. She makes me look good.

Once Elysia and I deem the book finished (a process that usually takes about three months from the time I start writing to the time I finish—almost always well ahead of my official deadline), it gets sent on to the Production Editor. There are a number of PE’s at Llewellyn, but on all but the first book, I have been lucky enough to be paired with Becky Zins. Becky rocks, too.

The PE helps to polish the book. She goes through it word by word and (hopefully) finds anything I screwed up or left out. Eventually, she contacts me via email with her biggest questions, and we usually have a few days of “is this really what you wanted to say?” and “would you mind if I changed this?” exchanges. When she’s done, she sends me the final proofs and it is my job to make sure that it all turned out right.

At Berkley, the copy editor does the same job as the production editor at Llewellyn does, but all my feedback about the book goes through Leis. I’m sent a copy of the manuscript with notes in it first from Leis for big picture stuff and then a second round from the copy editor for specific small things, and I make the changes I agree with and fix any issues to the best of my ability. Only rarely do I say, “No, I’m sorry, but this has to stay the way I had it in the first place.” I find it is best to only pick the few places where I believe a change would interfere with the story or the way I need to tell it—with editors, you definitely want to pick your battles, and make them as few as possible. (But do stick to your guns if something is important. Just make sure you do it politely.)

Like Elysia and Becky, Leis has been a joy to work with. Her vision of the books has always matched mine EXACTLY; something which is a minor miracle in publishing and for which I thank the gods daily.

I have been really fortunate in my editors so far, and hope that this good fortune will continue as I continue my journey into the fiction world. But it isn’t all luck—I also work hard to be as good an author for them to collaborate with as I can be. I want them to be singing my praises as loudly as I sing theirs.

Here’s a few basic ways to be an editor’s dream writer:

Always be polite and cooperative. (Yes, that should go without saying—but it doesn’t.) If you have to disagree over something, don’t get defensive; after all, your editor has the same goal you do—to make your book the best it can be.

Always meet or beat your deadlines. Much of publishing takes a long time, and then you get two days to do the next step. The more lead time you can give an editor, the easier their job is.

Submit the cleanest copy you can. Just because it is an editor’s job to clean up your manuscript doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to find all the typos and other errors yourself. Becky has said she loves to see one of my books land on her desk, because she knows that there will be very little for her to do. That’s what you want to hear!

Say “thank you” often and loudly. Editing is one of the behind-the-scenes jobs, and it can be pretty thankless. It never hurts to tell your editor how much you appreciate all the work they put in to make you, the person everyone associates with your book, look good.

With three books and a novella out last year (one book from Llewellyn and the others in my new Baba Yaga series for Berkley), I have spent more time than usual dealing with editors. Which only makes me even more grateful than usual to have three such wonderful ones to work with. If I look good, it is all due to them.

Deborah Blake is the author of the Baba Yaga paranormal romance series, including Wickedly Magical, Wickedly Dangerous and Wickedly Wonderful (Berkley) as well as eight books on modern witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide. She has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans Magazine and was featured in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction. She can be found at www.deborahblakeauthor.com.

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