I remember when I first starting listening to writers talk about The Business just after I made those first short story sales. I’d hang in the Green Room at local cons and listen to them talk about publishers, agents and…editors. I wasn’t paying too much attention because I really didn’t expect to write novels anytime soon. But I still heard tales from those further ahead of me on the trail.
There were a lot of not-so-good stories. There were some out and out terrible stories. And there were fewer great ones. I want to do my part to right that by talking about me and my editor.
I was in g-chat with my editor at Tor, Beth Meacham, this week. We were chatting about some changes I need to make at the front end of Requiem — changes I really have to make now in order to move forward with the book. Going down the wrong path is part of what’s slowed me down and my editor saw that. Fifteen minutes online, and I saw it, too. We kicked around some ideas. A day later, and I knew exactly how to fix it.
Of course, not all editors are alike. And not all writers are alike. But for all the scary writer/editor stories out there, I have an editor who I nicknamed “The Ken Whisperer” a while back because of how amazingly she works with me (she trains horses so it’s an apt nickname I think). I trust her eye on my books because she works out of vast experience with Story and I trust her eye on my process because of the sheer number of writers she’s worked with throughout her career.
When I’m stuck, she’s a sounding board and problem solver to help me work out whatever’s blocking me. And she does an excellent job of gauging what I need as a writer along with what the Story needs. Beth has never steered me wrong and her uncanny insight has been just right again and again.
In our particular arrangement, because I’m not married to my words, she edits me with a heavy hand (that never feels heavy-handed.) I don’t know if it’s just my process or a result of the crazy circumstances I’ve been writing under, but we’ve discovered I do best turning in my books one chapter at a time. It keeps her in the loop and — like this week — she can see what I’m up to at all stages of the book and can help me with course corrections along the way. This makes the revision process at the end pretty painless.
We were at a con together the week after my Dad died and her gentle wisdom has stayed with me. I was trying to push myself through Antiphon and she and I were talking about it over breakfast. “You can’t write now,” she said. “Don’t try to. Go read a book.” She knew the story and the writer were better served by taking the time to grieve and letting myself off the performance hook for the time it took to process the hardest bits of that loss.
When my babies were born, she knew the impact it would have on my production and told me up front how long it would be before I was back to work. I didn’t believe her. She was right, of course. That first year of twins, combined with some unpleasant health issues, took me out of the game for a bit after turning in the third book. And when the muse walked back on the job, Beth was ready to start getting her chapters again, reading along as I landed the words.
I trust Beth and I know she’s helping me become a better writer. I view our work together as a long term partnership and I value it. And though it’s absolutely a business relationship, I also consider her a friend. Even my children love her.
A lot of people would say I was lucky enough to win the editor lottery. The truth is, I think luck only played a part of in it all.
I’ve heard a lot about how writers choose agents but not so much on how they choose editors. We often view it as the editor choosing us. But the truth is, it’s a mutual choice or should be. A choice made proactively.
When I finished Lamentation I knew I wanted to land in the Tor stable. I’d met Beth a few times in passing at a few conventions and she edited my friend Jay. Good fortune did bring her to Seattle for Norwescon six months after I finished the book. But we did the rest of it ourselves. She’d heard through Jay that I had a book and she invited Jen and I to dinner. But before dinner happened, we were already in the bar drinking wine and talking.
We talked about influences. We talked about Story. We talked about our experiences (her’s were vast.) We didn’t talk about my book. We spent the weekend chatting here and there and over dinner and then she came to my reading to hear me read the short story Lamentation was based on. At the end of the con, I knew she would be a good editor for me and I remember telling someone that I thought she’d not only be good for the Story but also for me as I learned how to maximize my strengths and understand my opportunities for growth as a writer. I was right. Her wisdom, grace,insight and candor have been some of the best gifts I’ve had in my writing life.
When we shook hands and said goodbye, she told me to have my agent send the book over. Not long after, I had an offer for all five books and the best editor a boy could find in exactly the stable I wanted to be in.
So for those of you out there shopping books, pay attention to the editors you submit to. Find one that will work with you, that resonates with you. It makes all the difference.
Okay, I have some work to do. Beth wants chapters and her enthusiasm for the series and insight into both content and process makes me want to get them over to her.
Trailer Boy out.