Dear Editor Please Note : Sophie Weston reprise

Dear Readers: Sophie is still not up to typing a whole blog so we’re taking this opportunity of republishing her case-study-cum-love-letter to Dear Editor from back in 2016. (The blog was mentioned in Joanna’s cautionary tales blog last week). Even if you’ve read it before, it’s well worth rereading. And for any editors out there, we’d say it’s a must. But, being authors, we would say that, wouldn’t we?
hand writing a letter to editor with a goose feather

Dear Editor . . .

Whoever you are, wherever you are, Dear Editor, this blog is for you. You’ll find it’s somewhere between a  human resources case study and a love letter.

I’ve been writing most of my life. I’ve moved from “Not a semi colon goes” (end of conversation, book never published) to “Whatever you say” (utter misery, nearly stopped writing) and am now definitely at “Looking forward to discussion”.  I hope the following may help other authors and their Dear Editor avoid some of my pratfalls — or at any rate, get up afterwards a damn sight faster.

Relationship in the mist

Whether you’re a difficult author or a pussycat, the author-editor relationship is always edgy, groping its way through the mist. You can’t get away from it. There are just too many dark alleys and water’s edges. You think you’re striding along a good straight path of mutual understanding and — KERPLOP!

Both of you have to live with this.
And pull each other out of the water when necessary.

Editor-author relations like fog in Venice

Editor Fears Author

Oliver Johnson, who has edited the wonderful Lindsey Davis’s books for twenty-eight years and thirty books, admitted recently on the BBC’s Radio 4 Front Row (12th April 2016) that whenever he goes to visit her for an editing day, he is “still nervous”. This is notwithstanding the fact that she moved publishers when he did. TWICE. 

OK, the first time she was encouraged by him making her what she calls “a huge offer”. But the second time, she had to think very carefully. Davis says it was the right moment for her; she wanted a change. But she could have seized the opportunity to escape from Johnson’s interference, with his demands for “more bodies, more bodies” and arguments over her titles.

Does this plot work? asks the editor

Why didn’t she?

Because he’s the Ur Reader. “Every time, I have to think of the new reader,” he says.

She agrees he’s taught her about plotting.

They’re complementary.

Author Fears Editor

This is visceral. Frequently irrational. No amount of good manners, good wine or even Knowing Stuff About Each Other trumps that elemental terror of exposing the beloved work to the steely gaze of — well, anyone who doesn’t love your characters as you do, really.

Female writer resting at her workplace with hands behind her head. Almost ready for Editor

I have been very lucky.

In my writing career I have had at least four Dear Editors. One became a truly close friend, but that is not essential. With all of them I worked like an angel on amphetamines. I couldn’t wait to finish to get the ms into their hands. Couldn’t wait for their response. Couldn’t wait to do the edits. And I flew.

BUT — even that isn’t all good. You run the risk of becoming dependent. Of course, you don’t have to. Lindsey Davis talks gleefully of putting things into her books to challenge Editor Oliver. I haven’t got that far, but I’ve certainly said, “Not my bag” to some editorial suggestions.

What is more difficult — for both parties — is that the Editor is, by tradition, an authority figure. Most thinking people aren’t wild about people who tell them what to do.

When editors are giving you their employer’s requirements, this is fair enough, even if sometimes hard to swallow. But, I have to admit, some take it too far. The author starts to feel they’re treating your novel like marking homework. One friend of mine started to refer to her then editor as The Headmistress.

A hand hitting paper with a hammer stress expression - Editors!

Hammer, anyone?

Another good way for an editor to feed authorial terrors is to make promises and then not keep them — no responses by time agreed, no promised phone calls, even just no info at all, for months and months. The editor, pivoting between management, meetings and manuscripts, can easily lose track, of course. But the author, without those distractions and waiting for a response, is in a constant state of pre-fight or -flight. It makes us grumpy. And eventually turns us into Difficult Author Who Goeth About Seeking Whom She May Devour.

And then some editors — God knows why — want you write quite another book, their book, full of fantasy revenge, the idyllic love story, the whispering wizard that their own subconscious keeps offering them in their dreams. But those are just ingredients, uncooked. Dear Editor, face it. You need to write that damn book yourself.

And dear Fellow Author, there is only one thing to do, in a case like this.

Walk away.  RUN.

Author to Editor -- I'm outta here.

I’m outta here

Dear Editor, please will you …

These days many skilful editors are freelance. The self-published author (which I am now; wheeee!) needs an editor. I am certain of that. So we have to brief them, in exactly the way that their old employers or new publisher clients brief them. “Just tell me how to make it better” doesn’t really cut the mustard.

The self-publisher and the freelance editor have one common goal: to make the book as unputdownable as it possibly can be. But they come at it from different directions. The author wants to reflect the truth of the characters, in all their intensity and confusion. The author has spent large amounts of time and passion on this. The editor is the First, Best Reader. Readers Want To Know What Happens. So . . .

Dear Editor, please will you…

  • tell me what you don’t understand in my ms
  • Paper and technology for editors and authorstell me where you’re bored
  • tell me where you want more
  • tell me where you recoil in disgust or loathing (Yes, I know this is going to be tough for both of us, but I need to know. I’ll be brave.)
  • And, please, please, please, tell me what you like in it. If the layout is the only thing you feel able to praise, say so. I promise I shall take the point.

The Love Letter Bit

Well, I did say that was part of this blog. Nothing embarrassing, but I’d like to say thank you to some of the editors I’ve worked with, whose remembered advice has kept me writing when I feared I’d lost it entirely. And of course the late, great, Jacqui Bianchi, she of the “Give me firelight. Give me emeralds. Give me ginger, hot in the mouth,” which I have mentioned on this blog before.

You probably don’t remember, dear, dear Editors. The ideas you shared, which I’ve hung onto like talismans (talismen?), were all just part of the day job to you. And probably to me too, at the time, to be fair. But they have proved lights through a very dark wood.

Fantasy tree house in forest Editor leads author there

Dear Editor, never underestimate your power to inspire.

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie the one-winged

5 thoughts on “Dear Editor Please Note : Sophie Weston reprise

  1. Lesley2cats

    This brought back memories of my wonderful Greg, who was my Dear Ed for years, and who, I swore, could write the books for me. I was devastated to lose him, and have suffered since from some of those mentioned here, Sophie. Thanks for reminding me that they aren’t all – um – awful!

  2. Liz Fielding

    I have been so fortunate with so many editors, Sophie. The one who worked with me on my first book to make it publishable, the one who grabbed great opportunities for me, the one who phoned and said a concerned cleaner had found her sitting at desk late one evening crying over the emotion in a book that later won an award. The one who, for years, didn’t ask me what I was writing, just let me get on with it. Even the one who kept me waiting for months for feedback but made the books so much stronger. I owe all of them my career and they deserve a love letter from me.

    1. Joanna

      As I said in last week’s blog, I too have learned a huyou,ge amount from my editors over the years, though I haven’t had as many as Liz. I did have an editor who made me wait months for feedback (and I found writing while waiting almost impossible back then, but I was very new). She did eventually help me to make the book much better. And ages ago, I admitted in an old blog here that the editor who made me take out a whole scene was actually right. It hurt a lot at the time though. Lesson learned. If an editor tells you to “murder your darlings” you usually have to listen.

  3. Sophie Post author

    V. glad to see this again. It has brought back some very good memories.

    On re-reading, I realise I should have made it plainer that sometimes what an editor wants is a) huge rewriting or b) Not This Book. I was reminded last week of re writing half a book’s worth of new words in a couple of weeks under the editorial urging of the wonderful K J Charles. Turned out really well.

    And I still have somewhere a letter from Jacqui which says something like, “I love this but every time you send it back the first three chapters have got stronger — and further away from a Mills & Boon.” In other words, NOT FOR US!

    And yes, I still have that mss, waiting to reveal what sort of story it really is. (These days I think it’s possibly a murder mystery.) It’s file name? Jac’s Book.

    1. Liz Fielding

      Sophie, I recall one editor sighing and saying of the enciting character, the hero’s ex-wife – “If only she was the hero’s sister…” She didn’t ask me to change her, but I knew she was right and I sat down and set to work. It was a lot of work – it wasn’t about simply changing a few words, it changed the entire story arc. Said editor’s response was an astonished…”You rewrote it…” — and I’m so glad I did.

Comments are closed.