Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, March 12, 2007

Guest Blogger: An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do (Part 2)

Ex Publishing Insider is back by popular demand for the second part of her critically acclaimed explanation of what editors do. When we left poor author Herbert he had just gotten a book deal but had been told by Editor Jane that his publication date was two years away. Here's the second part of what happens when editors stop being polite and start getting real:

What Does An Editor Do (Part 2)

By Ex Publishing Insider

11) For a few months nothing happens while Jane must tend to other books she needs to buy and the books she’s currently publishing. There are author parties to attend, marketing and publicity plans to approve, and various authors and agents that must be kept happy. Oh yes, and she has a husband and a family that she’s neglecting.

12) Then Jane edits Herbert’s book. She rips out the first two chapters that are dull and beside the point and suggests completely cutting “Sophie,” who is a sex maniac and two-dimensional, also known as Herbert’s favorite character. She suggests speeding up certain sections, and slowing down others. She hates the ending, and most importantly the title has to go. Herbert receives the news and calls his agent to complain. The agent works overtime to calm him down.

13) Over the next year, Herbert and Jane go through three drafts together. It’s practically not even the same book anymore. True, Herbert did all of the writing, but without Jane’s guidance…it would be half the book it is now. Herbert learns that writing is a much more collaborative process than he thought. And he’s even learning to love the new title that Jane came up with.

14) Jane announces she is finally happy with the book, but Herbert is a little confused, as he knows it is still rife with typos. This is when Jane explains that the book is about to be sent to the copyediting department.

15) Months later, Herbert gets a printed copy of his manuscript littered with tiny red marks. It turns out that copyeditors are grammar ninjas and even people who think they have flawless grammar are woefully mistaken.

16) For the next few months, Herbert is working with everyone at the publishing house BUT Jane. A publicist calls. The marketing team emails. The copyeditors are hounding him. But Jane is nowhere to be seen. What Herbert can’t see though is that Jane is in-house approving every single step made for the book. She is writing his cover copy, she is tweaking the marketing plan, she is throwing out cover art sketches and demanding new ones. She is talking it up at cocktail parties. Jane has her hands in every aspect of the book at this point, and the final approval on everything. It’s a good thing for Herbert that Jane knows what she is doing.

17) At long last, Herbert’s publication date is approaching. Most of the people in his family have forgiven him for being so moody for that past two years because they’re all hoping that they’re in the book. Jane sends him a congratulation and crosses her fingers that Publishers Weekly appreciates the book. Meanwhile, her new assistant (the last one left to go to law school) has just plunked down a huge stack of manuscripts on her desk and one has just caught her eye. Who knows why? Maybe it was something she ate.

(This is Nathan again: thanks very much to Ex Publishing Insider for taking the time to guest blog!)


Roxan said...

Great explanation of what goes on. I cringe at the idea of having my title changed on my manuscript. My question is how often are they wrong about changing the title? I can't imagine anyone coming up with a better title to my completed novel, Kickshaw Candies. Of course I AM bias. LOL

Annalee said...

Many thanks to Nathan and to EPI for the lovely pair of posts. I love this blog because it's like a slightly more grown-up schoolhouse rock for publishing: All the information you need, plus catchy toons and cute animations. Or, you know, witty commentary and amusing jokes, but really, that's totally the same thing.

Annalee said...

PS: Dear gawd, I hope I'll be lucky enough to land an agent and/or an editor who can come up with a better title.

I'm starting to query out my first novel, and the title makes it sound like a really bad 80's Lord of the Rings ripoff (which takes some kind of talent, considering it's a mystery novel). But I've got nothin' on how to make it better.

Lauren said...

Thanks again, EPI! It's frightening to think that I might go through 3 or 4 drafts of a novel on my own and with the help of critiquers, then yet another incarnation of the novel with my (future) agent, and then another version with my (future) editor. It excites me, too, to think of all the people who would be involved in making my book better, but, oh, the pain of thinking that it might only include 1% of my first draft!

I hope Sophie the sex maniac gets to live on in one of Herbert's future works.

john levitt said...

The blog was great, but remember, it posits a bunch of worst case scenarios for dramatic effect. It's not always that difficult.

None of my three books have had anything more than small tweaks by an editor. None of the titles were changed. One copyeditor made random changes in punctuation and even sentence structure that she thought were "better," but another made polite suggestions which were 99% right on.

MaybeI've been lucky.

dan said...

Holy hot dang! Were I in a position to have an editor in the first place, and then actually had one, I'd sent her a bouquet of roses if she could come up with a better title to my book. I've got a list of about 50 and they're all bad.

But as for major redrafting of the book... I cannot imagine it, considering how many drafts I'd have gone through before she ever saw it. If she could make suggestions so good they would convince me major rewriting is needed, though, I'd send her another bouquet, if I didn't kill myself first.

All of which is a long way of getting to my question: Why did she buy the book in the first place, if it needed so much editing?

Also... is this really common, that books require so much major, structural editing even after they'd bought? Or is this just exaggeration for dramatic effect, like another commenter said?

Anonymous said...

EPI here...

John Levitt and Dan, you both ask an interesting question.

In some ways the story of Herbert is a tale of both worst and best case scenarios. The truth is that each publishing experience is unique and it's very hard to generalize about how it works.

Herbert has had incredible luck finding an agent and finding a publisher for his work. It bares repeating how very difficult this is.

On the other hand, Herbert's book needed a lot of work, which I believe is fairly common for a first book but is not always the case of course.

Certainly the more literary the work, the less likely the editor is to make significant changes. The editor has bought the book for the craft of the writing. However the more literary the work, the harder it is to find a publisher, as literary fiction is a very hard sell to the American audience.

And publishers often buy a book that needs rewriting and a title change because they've seen potential in the work. Maybe the topic of the work is riveting. Maybe the writing is gorgeous but just needs to be tightened up. Maybe the author's experience is worthy of a memoir but the author, herself isn't really a writer, per se.

Thanks for reading and great comments!

Anonymous said...

That was a fun, entertaining, and informative ride. Thanks.

-the grammar ninja

Arjay said...

Nathan and EPI, thanks for the great information. Perhaps domeday in the future (near I hope) I'll be able to go through the drill.

john levitt said...

I think the reason I have had such light editing is because I write genre. A literary writer may produce a ms with many flaws, but also with such incredible writing that it’s worth an editor’s time to work with it and bring out the full potential

But if you’re writing genre, what editor has the time? If it’s a mass market paperback about a serial killer or a magical dog, you’d better pretty much have it down right off the bat.

CMonster said...

Wow. This little post series is a keeper- I'm still deep in the noob writer territory and stuff like this is great. And now I feel much better for thinking my title is ridiculous.

For all of you on the less editing side- was two year still about the right time line or did it go faster?

ozal said...

Thanks for the entertaining post.

My philosophy is to do whatever the editor suggests, and see how it turns out. A writer I know did just that - she was asked to take out an element that the ed thought made the story too dark. Author believed it to be an integral part of the story, but she did it... and the editor, on reading the new version, decided the author had been right in the first place.

I do believe that approach was far more professional and effective than having a stand-up row and possibly losing the chance to get the book published.

I've reset a novel to another continent at an editor's request. (Think whole new set of colloquialisms, just for starters.) What's a new title, or a sex-change for one of your characters, after that?

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, after 3 years of having my own students rip apart my drafts ("This part sucks." "Nobody talks that way."), I think having an editor would be a pleasant change.... And I'm not all that keen on my title anyway.
However, except with reference to typos (placed there by gremlins when I hit "save"), I'll go the rounds with any copy editor who doesn't have Warriner's English Grammar and Composition memorized. After 18 years as an English teacher, I do.

Jennifer McK said...

I wonder if anyone quipped "Welcome to the big time, Herbert."
I don't come up with my own titles. I have a title queen who does all of mine, thank God. She's suggested I number mine. Saves her the groans later.
What a great blog. I really enjoyed it. Hope the flashbacks weren't too painful for you EPI

adrienne said...

My editor insisted on changing my title. We went back and forth about it and eventually came up with a compromise. It was a stressful process, but in the end we are both happy. It's not the worst thing to happen.

jude calvert-toulmin said...

Thanks both Nathan and EPI for that. I like the fact the story had a happy ending. I like happy endings.

To be honest I'm relishing getting to the point where I'm collaborating with an editor; I can't think of anything more exciting, but then I love getting down to brass tacks, diving in and getting my hands dirty. So to speak.

> The blog was great, but remember, it posits a bunch of worst case scenarios for dramatic effect. It's not always that difficult.

Hi John, yes, true, but at no point did it veer into Scooby Doo territory, you know, the scary monster being unveiled in the last scene as the ghoulish editor who for so long has been hell bent on scaring all those poor innocent lambs of writers. It merely amalgamated a combination of possible scenarios into one really great read. I'm not one to agree with or praise the contents of a blog by default, but on this occasion I think the story of Herbert was about the most riveting thing I've read all week! LOL! :) Ergo, it worked :)

If any aspiring writers are interested, by the way, the most recent blog entry on my art and music blog is, for once, actually about writing, and is entitled "Finding an Agent". It concerns my own experiences of querying, which hopefully I won't have to do for much longer, fingers crossed.

Thanks again Nathan and EPI :) I've linked to you, Miss Snark and Jenny Bent in my agents' advice links but added quite a full links list at the end of the article.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Thanks Nathan and EPI.

I've had many beta reads and many revisions to Annabelle. After reading this I can see there is still a long, long way to go.

Thank you for the great information.

Dennis Mahoney said...

I finally sold my first novel, Fellow Mortals*, to FSG a few months ago and this is a remarkably accurate account of what I've experienced so far.

It's a great comfort seeing it all laid out like this, especially now that I'm approaching the second half of the process and have been wondering what to expect.

Thanks for writing this. I spent so many years researching agents, I'm still pretty new to what an editor's world is like.

* Yes, I am learning to plug my book. Apologies.

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