The truth about evil editors

I’ve noticed that when I talk about writing with people who aren’t writers, many ask about the role of editors in the book-making process.

“Doesn’t it upset you when an editor wants you to change something in your book?”

Sometimes, when I say no, people say, “Hmph.”  Like I’m lying, afraid the evil editors will find out if I tell the truth.  I think they’re picturing editors as power-hungry monsters, waiting for unsuspecting manuscripts with red eyes and red pens.  But I haven’t met any editors like that.

This weekend, I’ve been revising two picture books with feedback from two really smart editors.  One is my picture book that’s under contract with Chronicle, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW.  The other is a new book that’s out on submission now, and an editor has suggested some revisions so she can decide if she’d like to move forward with it.

In both cases, I’ve been amazed at the depth of the feedback in those editorial letters – feedback designed to strengthen the heart of the story rather than change it.  This weekend, I’ll be:

  • Cutting bits of dialogue – and a handful of proposed spreads – that aren’t absolutely essential to the heart of the story.
  • Streamlining a plot so it doesn’t meander.
  • Adding more evocative, sensory language to one particularly vivid scene.
  • Switching two spreads to better foreshadow a coming event.
  • Researching some more to add new details.
  • Changing an ending to make it more organic to the story.
  • Looking for a new title. (It probably seems like I’m always looking for a new title, but that’s a post for another day.)

Interestingly enough, both editors appreciated connections in the text that I made subconsciously while writing but hadn’t thought to develop . I love it when that happens, and I’ll be building on those connections, too. 

So does it upset me when an editor wants to change something in my book?

Nope. It thrills me that someone cares about it enough to want to make it stronger. And while a book may start out as mine, by the time it’s been helped along the way by a village of loving literary aunts and uncles like writer friends and agents and editors, it’s not just my book any more.  It’s our book.

The editors I’ve been fortunate enough to work with don’t have red eyes, and they use email attachments more often than red pens.  They don’t say, “What you’ve done here is all wrong.”  They say, “Look what you’ve done here that’s so right.  Build upon it.  Finish it.  Make it shine.”

24 Replies on “The truth about evil editors

  1. you’ve totally hit the nail on the head here, kate…and lisa, too…i get sad if 20 pages go by without marks…what do you MEAN you can’t think of a way to change it???

  2. I have met fan writers so fond of their own words that any criticism at all is taken as an insult. So, I know from whence this idea of editors being evil springs. So, it is a delight to read authors happy for help, suggestions, and criticism! You are professionals, dedicated to excellence rather than to ego! Yay yous!

    (I am not an editor, I just find it easier to edit than to write, generally. But I tread lightly around those who cannot see past their own noses. 🙂 It’s a safety feature.)

  3. feedback designed to strengthen the heart of the story rather than change it.

    Amen, sister! That’s why I love my agent. That is exactly what she does for my writing. And that’s what good editors do.

    Shine on Kate!

  4. Lovely post, Kate. And lovely editors, too. I hope that the 2nd pb is a yes after all your work, but if not, it will be a still better ms once you’re done with it, I’m certain!

  5. I would add … the editor doesn’t want to change something in my book. The editor wants to know if I’m willing to change something in my book, because she sees a way to make it better.

  6. Thanks for your comment. Reading it, I decided that every writer probably goes through that stage of not wanting to be critiqued. I never knew, growing up, that all my favorite authors were writing ten and twelve drafts of the books I loved and making LOTS of changes. Knowing that makes it easier to be open-minded.

  7. Interesting

    I loved what you had to say about this. I’ve always wondered what an editor may write for revisions. But I wasn’t sure what you meant by switching two spreads to foreshadow an event.


  8. Re: Interesting

    Hi, Christy! Sorry I didn’t explain that more clearly. This particular picture book is a bit further along and has already been divided into spreads, meaning the parts of text that will appear on each two-page spread. That has to happen before the illustrator gets to work.

    OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW is about a girl who goes cross-country skiing and discovers all the activity of animals under the snow in winter, and at one point, she mentions her stomach rumbling. Later, she has dinner at a bonfire, and my editor suggested moving that first spread (the text about her rumbing tummy) a bit closer to the actual dinner scene. Does that make sense? Thanks for the question!

  9. Every writer probably goes through that stage, certainly. I just know a couple who resist the exit, and so cannot move into real writing – editing relationships. It is, I think, a form of self-obsession, among other baggage, and it will prevent them from ever going pro. Ah well, luckily there are many fine professional writers for us to enjoy!!


  10. Hm…I’ve been trying to publish something, but every company I find is a subsidy publisher, and I can’t afford that. It’s really frustrating when I have a piece that I know could be wonderful if it could just get out there, and then I see what crap is already on the market… *Stephanie Meyer*ahem*

  11. I hear you… It took me the better part of seven years (and a pile of rejection letters) to find a publisher for my first book. Are you a member of any of the online writers’ communities like Verla Kay’s message boards? You’ll find loads of information there about how to query traditional publishers. It takes time and patience, but traditional publishers pay YOU for your work – not the other way around, and the books are generally of better quality and far more widely distributed. I’m going to include a link to the page for writers on my website, where you can find some more information about getting published if you’d like.

    Best of luck finding the right home for your project!