The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor (a guest post from LJ Cohen)

I’m delighted to host Lisa Cohen today. She’s one of my regular clients, and she’s the author of both the CHANGELING’S CHOICE and HALCYONE SPACE series, among other titles.

We’re doing a giveaway in conjunction with this post. To qualify, simply leave a comment here on the blog. (Tweets and comments on G+ do not qualify. The comment must be here on the blog.) At the end of one week, starting today, one winner will be chosen at random. The winner can select any one title from all of Lisa’s ebooks, in whatever format they prefer.

Without more prattling from me, here’s Lisa.

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The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor

I like to think of myself as a writer with thick skin. I’ve been writing novels for almost twelve years, publishing for over four. When I made the shift from writing as a hobby to writing as a profession, I knew I needed to separate my work from my ego. And that meant learning to deal with feedback.

For the most part, I’m fairly adept at accepting feedback. I’ve worked with writing critique groups for years, some more successfully than others. I’ve also cultivated a group of beta readers who are willing to take an unpolished manuscript and offer big picture/story-level feedback before I dive in to the work of revisions. It’s always interesting to see how I feel about critical comments. While I won’t lie and say they don’t hurt, once that initial pang is gone, I actually love to dig into why something didn’t work for someone.

I had a recent experience where a beta reader kept apologizing to me for not liking a short story I had sent him to read. In the end, I found his critical comments far more valuable than several other readers who were simply complimentary. Other people’s mileage may vary, but I don’t learn as much from what people like as from what doesn’t work for them.

But that earlier level of feedback is quite different from working with a professional editor. Dreadnought and Shuttle is the third novel Karen has edited for me. I think we have a solid working relationship. My job is to give her the cleanest manuscript I can write, making sure the errors she has helped me see so clearly in prior projects are not peppering the current one. Her job is to find all the new and different kinds of errors I have injected into the work.

What I love about how we work together is how much of a teacher and a coach Karen is. Even when I explain that my brain will never ever truly grasp the proper use of the subjunctive or the distinction among lie, lay, laying, and lying, she insists on trying to help me understand. I love her optimism in the face of my limitations.

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I also rely on her to see the blind spots that I cannot in my own writing. In an earlier project, Karen found a pattern of sentence rhythm that wasn’t wrong, per se, only overused. She named the pattern ‘wildebeests’. (Note, I also love Karen’s sense of humor.) One or two might not be noticeable, but an entire herd of them rampaging across the page was a definite problem.

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Once she pointed it out to me, I was able to internalize and eliminate the habitual pattern. (In my own defense, much of what I’ve internalized about grammar comes from decades of reading and writing poetry, where the rules are a lot more fluid.)

But as much as I’d like to think I can completely separate my emotions from my work, that just isn’t possible. Part of the baggage of being an artist is needing your work to be liked. Karen represents a critical reader that I want to please. I know she has a work flow that includes an initial read not as an editor, but as a reader. She (with my permission) shares her reactions during this read on twitter and google plus. Until I see her first excited reaction, I’m typically an anxious mess, refreshing my computer screen, looking for that validation.

Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part of the editing process for me. The actual work on the marked-up manuscript is fun. It’s when I take the story and give it its final polishing. There are types of corrections that I know I will simply accept and move on, there are others that I will consider and ultimately decide not to change. There are few of the latter and they are always instances where I learn something about my writing and my process.

Even if I dread seeing my manuscript full of comments, suggestions, and corrections, I actually do love the revision and editing process, especially when I get to work with an editor who is such a consummate professional like Karen. Knowing that her ultimate goal is to make me look good makes it easier to open that file with the track changes on and get to work.

14 thoughts on “The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor (a guest post from LJ Cohen)

  1. Repetitive sentence structure can be a real pain. I once served as a beta reader for a novelist that wrote her book almost entirely in compound-complex sentences, and it wasn’t that they weren’t grammatically correct, it just seemed to give the story a complete lack of sophistication. Perhaps if it were sing-songy or experimental it may have worked but . . .

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    1. I’ve become a proponent of reading my work aloud, at least portions of it so my ear can hear what my eye glosses over. It’s amazing how much you don’t see of your own patterns.

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  2. The smack-in-the-gob effect of a professional edit – even from someone you trust – is always a slight surprise to me.

    Having argued cases in court for years, having people challenge my blog articles or social media posts barely makes me blink; but having someone suggest I restructure even a single sentence of my fiction always brings a moment of wondering whether I or the world is mad.

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      1. For me the process is closer to:

        How can they not love it? > I wonder why criticism of my prose hits me in a way other criticisms don’t > I wonder if the impact is proportional or inversely proportional to how good I unconsciously thought the prose was > Maybe there’s a study > damn you, curiosity! > Start incorporating changes.

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  3. My wife and I are voracious readers (close to 10k books on our Android tablets) and we both have issues with errors in spelling and grammar. Once in a while we encounter books that we just can’t finish. For some reason there are a lot of writers who don’t use editors and a few seem to not even have literate beta readers. If we like the story we’ll try to contact the author with notes about the worst mistakes. Authors whom we’ve contacted have mostly thanked us but I’m sure that, sooner or later, we’ll connect with one who’s going to “go off” on us. 🙂

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  4. I’m glad you found her, Lisa. Keep her name on your Roladex! I was happy to find that another author I love has been enlisting her aid. It really makes for an even better reader experience.

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  5. I am a beta reader for a couple of authors, and I have to be very circumspect about how I criticize their work. I would like to give my blunt opinion but have found that is not conducive to a good relationship with someone whose writing I want to read.

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    1. Clearly you haven’t beta read for me. 😉 I pretty much love blunt and honest feedback, but I may be an exception. Though I get mad at the same kind of feedback from my hubby when he beta reads. I don’t get defensive with any other readers. LOL.

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  6. Congratulations, Don! You’re the winner of the free ebook. Email me (karen@grammargeddon.com) with your contact into, and I’ll pass it along to Lisa. Well done, you!

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