The Manuscript, Edit Letters, & Deadlines: Thoughts from an Author/Editor

I originally wrote this post for Adventures in YA Publishing as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes–and just in case it’s useful to my readers here.

Across the Desk: Thoughts from An Author-Editor by Kate Brauning

Hello, Adventurers! It’s Kate Brauning here, and I’m finding myself in an interesting position this year. I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as a freelance editor and an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But just this past November, my debut novel released. I’ve been working toward being an author since I was a teen, so this is really a dream come true for me—but it also means I’m on the receiving end of what I’ve been handing out to my clients. Because I’m getting to see across the desk a bit, I’m here to chat about how editors and authors see the same issues.

The Manuscript:

Author:  When my agent first offered me representation, and when the offer for How We Fall came through, I was so nervous. What if they didn’t love my book as much as they said? What if they liked my book, but not me? And what if later on, my book got lost in the shuffle? Of course, I worried through all these things with my critique partners (and my poor agent), and I’ve seen the same fears go around in the writing community. They’re pretty normal concerns—and it’s great for authors when an editor recognizes that and reaches out to help stabilize those concerns. My own editor has made a point to congratulate me on good news and keep up with issues, even though we’re long past edits, and it really helps assure me that they still love my book and they’re working hard to make sure it does the best it can.

Editor: In my experience, an editor will almost never acquire a book he or she doesn’t love. Publishing is a business, but it’s a business that requires passion. We have to advocate so hard and so long for our books, and even read them 6+ times, that it’s not smart business to acquire a book we don’t genuinely love. And it’s not smart business to work with an author we can’t work with, either. We love you and your book, and even if we have other books and authors on our lists, working hard for your book is what we signed up for.

Editorial Letters:

Author: Getting your editorial letter can be exciting and terrifying. It can be tough to hear what needs to be improved in our books—chances are we’ve been through multiple heavy rounds of revisions already. We may even be working a newer project that has grabbed us. Switching back and forth between projects can be tough, and along with handling the editorial letter itself and knowing how to apply the changes our editor is asking for, comes the insecurity of wondering how much our editor could really love the book if it has all these flaws. Positive comments and support are really helpful to us, both in the edit letter and in general, even just to help us know that yes, this part works. (If my editor sends me an encouraging note or tells me something she loves about my book, it makes my day.) Editorial letters can even be confusing, or contain notes that we might agree with, but can’t see how to apply. When revising How We Fall, I had notes I knew how to apply, but it meant I had to make other changes I didn’t know if my editor would like. Beyond being stressful, those edits can raise a lot of questions and tough issues.

Editor: A good editor breaks down both what works and what needs to be sharper in a manuscript. I want my clients to know the positives in the story so they can see why I love it, to help them see the book in a balanced manner, and to help offset how tough it can be to hear what needs to change. But it’s also the editor’s job to point out what needs cleaning up and sharpening. A heavy edit doesn’t mean we don’t like the book or that we think you did a lousy job revising. We’re working hard on your book because we love it. We’re helping you figure out how to get your vision on the page. It’s tough to see your own work objectively—we know that. It can be hard to see your own way out of plot or character issues. And we know you’ve been over this book many times, and it gets harder and harder to tell what’s working and what isn’t. Our focus is on balancing all that out and helping you make this book the best it can be. Because we love it. We’d be doing our jobs poorly and harming both the book and your career if we weren’t honest, so believe the compliments we give you, because we mean them! And if you need clarification or want to discuss ideas, let your editor know. We actually prefer it! We don’t want you floundering and confused. Definitely reply to the edit letter, after you’ve had the chance to think about it. We want to know what you’re thinking about the notes, and if you have questions or if the notes bring up other issues. We’re doing this with you.

Deadlines:

Author: Sometimes I need a good, tight deadline to really make me tackle revisions. If I can dabble at it, it probably won’t get done. My revision rounds for How We Fall were incredibly tight timing, and I basically lived in my book until they were done. And my critique partners and writer friends went through the same thing when their edits came. Sometimes it went just fine and we tackled those revisions and got them sent off on time. But sometimes the deadlines went over a child or spouse’s birthday, or we got sick, or had crises at day jobs. Even more often, we floundered with how to apply the editorial notes, or discovered more that needed to be revised once we dug in. A caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived stupor doesn’t make for smart, thorough revisions. But can you tell an editor that? Can you ask for an extension, or does that make you a “difficult author”? Should we tough it out, or talk to our editor?

Editor: Deadlines are a necessary part of the publication process, and it can cause problems with production and vendors if we have to move them around too much. However, we know you’re human, and life happens. I don’t know of anyone who would label an author “difficult” if a problem crops up during edits. The earlier you let us know, the better. It’s much easier to adjust earlier on than a few days before your deadline. Honest, upfront communication with your editor is always best. Of course, your editor may say, “sorry, there’s a big immovable reason we need it by X date,” but we’ll usually try to work with you! Rushed edits from a stressed author usually aren’t the author’s best work, and we want those revisions to be solid. The key is to communicate with us. We’ll try to reply in kind, and work out the issue together. It’s what we’re here for!

Communication, really, is one of the biggest things I’ve learned from seeing both sides of the desk. Honest, open communication. Be respectful of your editor’s time, of course, and realize they have other clients they need to be fair to, too, but communicate. Ask the questions you have. Editors sometimes don’t realize what it is you might not know. Get clarification on edits—they’re trusting that if you’re confused, you’ll come back to them. They want you to! Great books take collaboration, and both the author and the editor are in this together, to make that book the best it can be and to help it reach its audience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s