March 9, 2015

Guest Post ~ Lisa Dunn - What Your Editor Will Ask You To Do, Why You Should Listen, and When You Should Talk Back

Hey guys! I'd like to welcome Lisa Dunn to the blog, author of the fabulous Grit of Berth and Stone which is available for pre-order now. And at last, here she is!

What Your Editor Will Ask You To Do, Why You Should Listen, and When You Should Talk Back

When Laura offered to host me on her blog, we immediately thought of writing about the author/editor relationship. A lot of authors send manuscripts to their editors and sit back, biting their nails, terrified of how their editor will tear their beloved manuscript to shreds.

Thankfully, I have a fantastic editor and I love being pushed to the limits in my writing.

Laura found me in a Twitter pitch contest and quickly requested the full manuscript. In another contest, not long after, she chimed in to tell me she was still looking at GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE, and wrote “I really love Grit.” We talked on the phone before I signed with Anaiah, and it was clear she got the story. When I asked what revisions she’d ask me to do (which you should do before signing with anyone!), she responded with, “No sweeping changes. Mainly amping up what’s already there.”

(I should note that on the advice of a few people who read the full manuscript prior to and during the query process, I had already made “sweeping changes” to GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE, so if an editor suggests sweeping changes, that should by no means be a deal breaker!)

My whole point here is you want an editor who loves your story and is upfront about the sort of changes she’ll ask for. Don’t settle for less.

But what sort of changes will she ask for, specifically? For GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE, Laura asked me to amp up the tension, speed up the pace, and add a few scenes to bring some subplots a little more into the light. She also told me to adjust the narrative voice to a YA audience by making it less florid, more straightforward, saving the more formal language for dialogue. We also did a bit of cutting and pasting to adjust chapter lengths. In our second book together, HEIR OF KORADIN, Laura asked me to flip two entire chapters. Laura also pointed out overused words and phrases.

Why should you listen to your editor? When your editor reads your manuscript, especially the first time through, she’s looking at it as a reader. She’s able to detect plot holes and inconsistencies better than you are. Knowing the story as intimately as an author must, you may fill in blanks with information that never actually made it onto the page. Your editor can point this out and tell you how to fix it. She can also tell you when things sound awkward. Reader’s eyes versus author’s eyes.

By the time you’ve been through a few edits together (and you will go through a few edits, no matter how shiny you think your manuscript is), your editor knows your story and your style well enough to suggest changes that honor your work in that her suggestions feel as natural and obvious as if you’d simply forgotten that was how it was supposed to be. Once, in GRIT, I copied and pasted a sentence Laura suggested, leaving a comment for her, “I couldn’t have said it better!”

Your editor also knows what sells and has a vested interest in making your book sell. It is, after all, her job to make your book marketable. And if she’s chosen your story, it’s because she loves it. That love should translate into a desire to put this book on everyone’s “favorite books” list. Your editor is on your side, and she won’t intentionally steer you wrong.

When should you talk back? While you have to loosen your hold on the pronoun “I” when you sign with a publisher, the editing process should remain a partnership with mutual respect between the author and editor. Some edits are easy to accept, but others are open for discussion. For me, I must have a good reason to object to an edit, and then I must object politely with clearly stated reasons. The two times I would object to an edit are when an editor asks me to cut something crucial to the story, but which may not be obviously crucial (e.g. when something alludes to events that will take place later in the story), or when a suggested edit goes against the heart of the story. In such cases, an editor should be able to hear your concerns and work with you to find a way to make it work, possibly by setting the material in question in a different context. Laura and I did this in HEIR OF KORADIN, actually. She asked me to cut a scene because we had too many conversations right on top of each other. I came back with, “What if we put it here instead?” We were able to rework it so the conversation, which I felt bolstered one of my characters, took place in a different chapter, and I think it worked quite well in the end, much better than it would have if we’d left it in its original place.

In short, you and your editor are a team, working together to turn your manuscript into the best book it can possibly be. If you think you can do that on your own and are determined to change nothing, you should probably self-publish. But if you want a champion at your side, find an editor who shares your vision and be willing to be pushed to the limit. When your editor says, “Go deeper,” be wiling to plunge to the ocean depths.

And of course, if you need an editor, I know a great one…


  1. Replies
    1. I bet you'd have some things to say too! There was quite a bit of re-arranging in The Last Stored :-) (which is awesome and people should buy, so here's the link)