When You Know, You Know: Signing with an Agent

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of posts about the writing and editing process, as well as posts about publishing in general. But there’s one aspect of the writer’s journey I’ve yet to explore/talk about: the process of landing an agent. Since that’s outside my own experience as either an author or editor, I’ve invited A.M. Ruggirello to come share the story of how she successfully signed with her agent. So, without further ado — and buckets of congratulations — I give you Ms. Ruggirello.

When You Know, You Know

by A.M. Ruggirello

This post’s title can (surprisingly) apply to many facets of my life. For instance, I knew I wanted to marry my husband the moment I walked away from the table we both sat at, at a mutual friend’s wedding. I also knew my husband and I (yes, the same one from the wedding, now ten years later) were supposed to move into the house we stumbled upon one morning, and proceeded to purchase with an accepted offer that evening — and we weren’t even planning on moving anytime soon.

When you know, you know.

Nothing solidifies this phrase more than the experience I’ve had writing, querying, and eventually signing with my wonderful agent, Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency. If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a loose understanding of this publishing process, from drafting, to editing, to agents, and finally, publication — seeing your book on bookshelves. But because I have a lot of IRL family and friends who aren’t as familiar, here’s a little background:

After you draft a story, you go through multiple rounds of revisions based on critique partner (the people who see your story likely as you’re drafting) and beta reader (the people who see your story closer to completion) feedback. This is done before any agents or editors see your story.

Once you feel your manuscript is in submitting-shape, you create a query letter (one page explanation of you and your story) as well as a synopsis (one to three page summary of your story as a whole). These pieces are necessary when submitting to agents and/or publishers. (Also, for the sake of reminding, if you’re querying, you should focus on agents or publishers independently, not both at the same time. They are two very different routes to take your writing career, and you should determine which is the best fit/one you’d like to pursue before sending out a query.)

The process of querying agents (the route I took) takes time. Heck, most phases of publishing take time. I began my querying journey in November, after having been selected as a finalist in a writing competition called Pitch 2 Publication, where an editor (the blog host and great Kisa Whipkey!) worked with me and my manuscript to prepare it for an agent round at the end of the month. The agent round came and went, and no requests were made. But I continued querying, understanding that the end of the year + the beginning of the year are busy months for agents, and to keep my hopes and expectations in check. Months passed with rejection after rejection, the occasional full or partial manuscript request, and even more rejection.

But, when you know, you know . . . right?

Right.

That’s what all the blog posts and articles I read said, anyway. You want an agent and/or editor who’s as passionate and enthusiastic about your story as you are. Anything less isn’t worth your time. What’s the point of an agent or editor who isn’t? Sure, there may be the monetary motivation to sell your book, but a book can be a hard sell if those invested in it aren’t . . . well . . . fully invested.

As a querying author, that’s the last thing you think about though. All your mind can process is the line from point A to point B, from hitting “Send” on your email to receiving the response (positive or negative) from the agent/editor. All you want is someone to say “YES, I’ll take the chance on you.” But what you don’t realize until you’re in the thick of it is that you really should be searching for the agent/editor who gives your enthusiasm a run for its money. I’ll admit, never having been through the agent querying process before, I saw this as the elusive unicorn, only existing in fairy tale and folklore, not reality.

But then something even more magical than a unicorn came into my life. Or, rather, appeared as a notification in my inbox. After having received a few more rejections (a la Dan in Real Live: “Put it on my tab”), I decided to send out one more query. It was to the owner of a literary agency who also happened to be the author of eleven books (Holy catz! I later exclaimed during our initial phone call. I can’t believe I finished one book, let alone ELEVEN!!!! She laughed.). I felt it was a long shot. At this point in querying, when you’ve received more rejections than interest, everything seems like a long shot.

But I hit send, and it was off into the interwebs. Nothing more to do but wait . . .

Six minutes.

That’s right. It took six minutes for me to receive a full request off the query I had just sent. But that’s just a fluke, I thought. It’ll probably take a while to hear back from them.

It didn’t.

I sent my query on a Saturday morning — March 18th, 2017, to be exact. After a slew of exciting, but don’t-read-too-much-into-it tweets from Mandy, the agent in question, I received an email requesting a call. THE CALL. But . . . it had been less than twenty-four hours. That can’t be.

Except, when you know, you know.

Seriously.

Never having been in THE CALL situation before, I took the appropriate amount of time to freak out, try to research the questions to ask, and — most importantly — keep the bile rising in my throat in check. Don’t puke. Don’t puke. PLEASE don’t puke.

Thankfully, I didn’t puke. And the call with Mandy went above and beyond expectation. But there’s a process to follow once you’ve been offered representation. Even if you know they’re the agent you want to sign with. And, as we’ve already established, when you know, you totally, abso-freaking-lutely know. Except you can’t say it just yet. Because: professional courtesy. So you do the dance. You inform all the agents you’ve queried that you’ve received an offer of representation to see if they’d be interested in countering. You have to. It’s the nature of the business. Believe me, I wanted to scream yes, yes, YES! from the mountaintops after talking with Mandy.

Because when I knew, I knew.

But I did the dance. I waited a week, receiving interest from other agents along the way. Here’s the thing, though. Yes, it’s exciting to get THE CALL and then THE OFFER. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before in my life. But there’s something that made it even more special, and that’s that it came from Mandy. Over the weekend, as I was traveling to visit family, I continued to stalk her Twitter feed (sorry, Mandy!). And she continued to tweet about my story. A lot. With the same enthusiasm and anticipation I’d had while drafting and querying my story. It felt like kismet, like it was meant to be. I’ve said it already, so you know what’s coming: when you know, you know.

And then it was Monday. The letter accepting representation was drafted. I’d received a few preliminary edit suggestions from Mandy, which further solidified my decision, and then I hit send. Better yet, I hit send with at least one GIF included in the email. (I say at least because there may have been two, and at this point everything’s a blur to me.) She responded, and in her email . . . there were GIFs. Yes, multiple, this I remember for sure.

I know I’ve been saying it a lot, but—c’mon. WHEN YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW.

As a querying author, there’s a fine line we walk in searching for representation and finding someone who will do our stories justice. You don’t want to say YES just because they’ve said YES. There were others who were interested in my story, but I can assure you that no one shared the same love and enthusiasm for it quite like Mandy. I couldn’t imagine myself with another agent. And that should be the primary goal in finding an agent. Yes, you look at their history, credentials, sales, etc . . . but does any of it really matter if they aren’t the biggest champion of your story?

That’s why, looking back on the experience, I wish I could tell myself the one thing I knew all along: when you know . . . well, you just know.

Featured From the Archives: How to Write Martial Art Fight Scenes — Boise Bookfest Edition

In just a few short weeks (three to be exact), I’ll be attending the Boise Book Fest in Boise, Idaho. It’s going to be a lot of fun, featuring panels and workshops from several big-name authors in the industry and filled with tons of new books to check out and have signed by their gifted creators. If you’re in the Boise region, or willing to travel for a fun day of bookish geekery, I highly recommend attending.

But that’s only partially what today’s post is about. See, I’ll be doing a presentation there as well — on how to write fight scenes. Some of you may recall the post below, which I wrote a couple years ago. It’s still continually among my top searched articles, so I know it’s still a topic of interest to many out there. Which is why I pitched doing the live version when author Clara Stone approached me about presenting in Boise. But in order to do so, I’m going to need some volunteers. The best way I can think to showcase how to write/improve a fight scene is by providing actual examples.

So here’s my proposition: I’m going to open up a new feature of this blog, similar to the critique based entries I’ve seen others do. Willing writers can submit their fight scene, and then I’ll provide a published critique with suggestions for how to improve it. For now, I’m thinking I’ll do this once a month, unless it garners enough interest to make it a regular, weekly posting. My hope is that there are those among you who are brave enough to take me up on this offer. I’ve seen other blogs do this with the first 250 words, queries, or even the first 5 pages of a manuscript, so why not do it with a fight scene? Yes?

If you’d like to throw your name in the hat for the first feature, which I’ll post on Oct. 7th, please contact me. Please note that by submitting your fight scene, you’ll be agreeing to allow me to post both the original excerpt and my suggestions on this blog, and subsequently, any presentations that are derived from the material here. I hope you’ll take advantage of this free opportunity to gain some valuable editorial feedback, but in the meantime, here’s a reprise of my original article on . . .

How to Write a Martial Arts Fight Scenes

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted 8/9/13)

Fight scenes. Whether live action or written, they can be such a pain to pull off, falling all too easily into the realm of cheesy. You know the ones I mean; we’ve all seen and read them — fight scenes where the creator was more focused on what looks cool and/or badass, and less so on believability.

Recently, I sent a frustrated plea to the Twitterverse, begging authors to do their research before including the martial arts in their fights. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after I sent that plea that the light bulb appeared and I realized that I’m in a unique position to help my fellow authors. As a martial artist, a writer, and an editor, I have insight that could help authors overcome the hurdle of fight scenes. So today, I’m going to use that background to dissect a written fight scene and hopefully illustrate how to effectively incorporate martial arts techniques. About time, right?

First, let’s take a look at what you don’t want to do.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, his opponent’s hands wrapped thoroughly around his throat. He struggled, trying to kick his opponent in the groin but only managing to connect with the man’s shin. The attacker snarled, loosening his hold on Charlie’s neck. Without pausing, Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping the attacker’s arm against his own chest before elbowing the man in the face.

The attacker stumbled backwards, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He had the upper-hand. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxed into a sparring stance. The attacker glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance.

With a yell, Charlie threw a round-kick at the attacker’s head. His opponent ducked, sliding between Charlie’s legs on his knees and jumping to his feet with a swift kick to Charlie’s back. Charlie stumbled forward, turning to face his attacker before he was struck again and instantly ducked the knife hand strike aimed at his head. Charlie responded with a flurry of punches, varying his target from the man’s head to his torso and back again. The man blocked most, but a few landed, knocking the attacker from his feet.

Charlie stood over him for a split second before finishing him off with a well-placed axe kick to the sternum. As the attacker rolled on the ground, sputtering, Charlie ran for the safety of a nearby cafe.

_________

Now, that’s shockingly not as bad as some I’ve seen, although it’s sure not going to win me a Pulitzer either. Some of you may even think this is an all right fight scene, aside from the obvious grammatical flaws that could be fixed with a few more drafts. But this is the example of what not to do, remember? So let’s figure out why.

Did you notice that I gave you very little about why this fight is happening, or where? I didn’t even give you the attacker’s name! But I did tell you in agonizing detail the techniques they’re using and where the blows land, placing all the emphasis on the choreography, and none at all on the characters or motivation behind this moment. The result? A laundry list of steps you could re-enact, but that you feel not at all.

That’s because this approach is all telling. That’s right, the infamous telling vs. showing debate. I tell you exactly what’s happening, but I don’t show it at all. You don’t feel invested in Charlie’s situation. You don’t feel the emotions. You feel excited, sure, because it’s action, and even poorly written action is exciting. But it has no lasting impact on you, does it? This scene is about as forgettable as they come.

It’s also unrealistic. Who out there noticed the completely implausible choreography I threw in? I know the martial artists in the audience did, because it screams “cool factor,” its entire existence a nod to something awesome and badass, but that, in reality, is actually physically impossible.

If you guessed the knee slide under Charlie’s legs, you’d be correct. Bravo! You get a cookie.

This is why it’s important to understand the dynamics of a fight, the kinesiology behind the techniques, not just the choreography. Those who have done a round kick know that while performing it, you balance on one leg, your body positioned so that your center of gravity is entirely over that back leg. If someone were to try and go through your legs the way I described, they would take out your supporting leg and you’d both end up in a flailing pile of limbs.

And then there’s the knee slide itself. If you read it closely, you realized the attacker is standing still. Where’d he get the momentum for a knee slide? Unless they’re fighting on a slick, hardwood floor that’s just been mopped, he would need a running start. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to drop to my knees to slide anywhere, I’d be sitting on the floor looking like an idiot just asking to get kicked in the face. It’s just not believable.

So let’s try that scene again, this time, fixing all those things I called out.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, Eric’s hands wrapped around his throat. Hate emanated from his friend’s narrowed eyes, mixed with judgment and accusation. Charlie gasped, choking as Eric’s fingers cut off his air.

His mind screamed at him, desperate to know why it was being punished. His lungs burned, gasping, sucking in nothing but fear. The edges of his vision started to grow fuzzy as black dots appeared over Eric’s shoulder, distorting the red glow of the club’s EXIT sign like reverse chickenpox. Panic flooded his veins with adrenaline. He struggled, clawing at the fingers sealed around his throat. He tried to kick Eric in the groin, but only managed to connect with his shin, the impact ricocheting painfully through his foot.

Eric snarled, loosening his hold and giving Charlie the opening he needed. Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping Eric’s arm against his chest before elbowing his best friend in the face.

Eric stumbled backward, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxing into the sparring stance he’d practiced for years — knees bent, weight forward on the balls of his feet, head lowered. Eric glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance. Their eyes locked. It was just like old times, only now, there was no one to referee the match, to stop it before it went too far.

All of this for a girl. Charlie knew it was ridiculous, that he should walk away, but fury mixed with adrenaline, coursing through him in a pulsing heat. If Eric wanted a fight, that’s what he’d get.

With a yell, Charlie threw a kick at Eric’s head. Eric ducked, sliding easily into a leg-sweep, knocking Charlie’s support from under him. The ground smashed into Charlie’s back, forcing the air from his lungs in a rushing wheeze. He rolled backward to his feet, still fighting against the tightness in his chest. Eric closed in on him, pushing his advantage, arms and legs flying. Charlie blocked as many of the blows as he could, his arms jarring in their sockets every time he did, his ribs and face blossoming with pain every time he didn’t. He stumbled back through the shadows of the alley until he was once again cornered.  Cringing, he held his hands up in surrender. Eric backed off, eyeing him warily as he spit blood onto the darkened pavement.

Charlie’s knuckles were bleeding, his ribs bruised, his lip split into an oozing gash. It was time to end this.

“All right, I give,” he said,  the words raspy and pained as he forced his battered throat to work. “I’ll never go near your sister again.”

_________

Still not the most epic writing sample, but you see the difference, I hope? Now, we not only know who Charlie’s fighting, but why. I’ve also fixed the choreography so that it’s believable, and added emotional content and description, putting the focus on the characters instead of the martial arts. No one cares about the techniques, but they care a lot about how those techniques feel, the emotion behind the action. Understanding that is the difference between creating a scene from a clinical distance and creating a deeper POV that will resonate with readers.

So, how can you take your fight scenes from flat to amazing? Easy, just remember these three things:

  1. Show, don’t tell. The techniques themselves are not important, the emotion is. Only use a technique name if there’s a reason we need to know the exact kick, etc.
  2. Believability is king. Never throw something in just because it sounds awesome. Make sure it’s actually physically possible and makes sense with the choreography and your world.
  3. When stumped, ask an expert. If you’re at a loss, find someone familiar with the martial arts and ask. Don’t just rely on Google and Youtube. They won’t give you the insight personal experience can.

That’s really all there is to it. But if you’d like to see if your fight scene hits these markers, feel free to take advantage of the offer I mentioned above. 😉

Edit Letters: What They Contain and How I Draft Them

Last week, we covered the basics of what an edit letter is and when it generally happens in the editorial process (along with a few key ways they differ from beta reader and CP feedback). This week, I want to quickly talk about the process an editor goes through to create one. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a matter of simply reading a manuscript and regurgitating thoughts into semi-coherent notes. A large part of our job is actually to help prepare your work (and you) for exposure to the often unfiltered reader response. And trust me, unless your editor is a walking cliche of the editors-are-evil myth, reader reviews will hurt a hell of a lot more than anything your editor will say. Your editor should have your best interest in mind, and they realize that hearing that your manuscript needs even more work isn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Believe it or not, the process of drafting an edit letter is actually quite nerve-racking for most editors. It’s often our first true interaction with an author, and so we’re never fully sure how they’re going to react to the things we have to say. No one likes being the bearer of bad news, after all. Just like no one likes receiving it. But such is the nature of the job. We’re not paid to sugar-coat and coddle. We root out and diagnose the cancers in your manuscript that you might not even realize are there, and then, most importantly, we tell you how to cure them. That’s a hefty responsibility, don’t you think? Which is why I never understand when authors assume this is a quick process.

Every editor does this phase of edits differently, but the intent is always the same, and the finished product will be very similar. So let’s talk about how I get to that final letter.

The first thing I do is download the file to my Kindle. That might sound obvious, but I have a very specific reason for doing this — it helps keep me from becoming mired in things which technically fall under line edits. For a dev edit, I have to mostly turn off “Editor Brain,” which is something you’ll hear editors joke about if you ever manage to find them chilling in their natural habitats. For those unfamiliar with the term, Editor Brain is the inability to look past or otherwise ignore grammar atrocities and other minutiae. When you spend most of your days mired in fixing those things, it can be really, really hard to turn that facet of your brain off. It becomes muscle memory, a reflex. But the point of a dev edit is to focus on the big picture, not the minutiae. That comes later. So I physically prevent myself from being able to comment on or address those line-edit type flaws by putting the manuscript in a venue where I’m more accustomed to simply being a reader.

If you noticed, though, I said I have to “mostly ” turn off Editor Brain, because really, editors never truly manage to turn that perspective off. Which is a curse they don’t tell you about when you’re a fledgling editor dreaming of all the awesomeness that being an editor kinda sorta (as in not at all) entails. I still notice the finer details as I read, the flaws that will need to be ironed out during the next round of edits, I just don’t do anything about them.

Instead, I carefully read the manuscript in its entirety, making notes about things that are murky, elements that aren’t explained or developed enough, sequence issues, or even just emotional responses, as needed. I use the notepad feature on my phone for this, because it’s conveniently mobile and doesn’t require me to infringe upon my “reading” space, thereby keeping my focus from slipping back to those aforementioned line edit problems.

Once I’m done reading, I set the project aside for at least twenty-four hours. And again, I have a very specific reason for this. See, ideally, your editor should be one of your biggest fans. Which means that there’s a period during the review process where the reader part of us takes over. And that means that, if you did your job well, we finish the book with a massive book hangover and a lot of “OH MY GOD I LOVED IT” clouding our judgment. There’s an emotional high that comes from reading a really satisfying work, even if that work might still be a tad rough around the edges. And emotions get in the way of logical analysis. So I give myself time to savor that book hangover and come down from the overwhelming number of reader feels I usually have after finishing a story.

Then, once I can don my editor hat again, I take my notes and compile them into the actual edit letter, carefully phrasing my feedback to toe the line between honest and supportive, compassionate and constructive. Or at least, I do my best to. I usually start by listing the good stuff: what I loved, what it reminded me of, what the author did really well. Then I segue into the standard categories I generally include: Concept, Voice & POV, Pace, World-Building, Character Development, Miscellaneous/Manuscript Specific Concerns, and  Overall Thoughts. I don’t always need all of these, but that’s the template I start with. I find it helps to take what can feel like a massive wall of text and break it into bite-sized portions, both because it’s a tad less daunting and because it’s easier to continue the discussion.

Once I identify the categories I need, I’ll draft my analysis of each, identifying both what’s working and what isn’t, and my suggestion for how to fix it. This takes anywhere from one to three days, factoring in both the time it takes to carefully draft a letter of that length and the mental gymnastics needed to not only identify the problems, but also the solutions that most feel like the author’s style and voice. It’s a lot like playing with puzzle pieces, rearranging and tuning and tweaking until everything snaps into place.

Then I proofread, take a deep breath, and hit send, crossing my fingers that it doesn’t unleash a storm of backlash. Not because I’m not confident in my analysis and suggestions, but because, until I hear back from the author, I’m as nervous and anxious as they were while waiting to hear from me.

And there you have it, my personal approach to creating the developmental edit letter. This concludes the portion of my presentation I did with C.M. Spivey. At the conferences, we then went on to showcase the edit letter I provided for From Under the Mountain, discussing the various aspects and how Spivey interpreted and implemented my suggestions. Since that material is copyrighted to the author, I’m not at liberty to post it online. But perhaps if you ask nicely enough, they will on their own website. 😉

Next week, I’ll have something new to talk about. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll find something. If anyone has questions or comments regarding edit letters and the process of drafting or receiving/implementing one, feel free to post in the comments below. Otherwise, happy reading/writing!

Edit Letters: What are They and When do They Happen?

Apologies for the unintentional hiatus over the past few weeks. To say this summer was a whirlwind would be an understatement. I honestly can’t believe it’s already September! It feels like it was just March. But anyway, now that the conference circuit has more or less come to a close, I’ll be able to return to my regularly scheduled posting routine.

As some of you know, I did a presentation with C.M. (Cait) Spivey on edit letters at both PNWA and the Willamette Writers Conference, and many have asked that I post that presentation here. Since it was more of a tutorial on how to implement the suggestions contained within an edit letter than a generalized talk about the letters themselves, I can’t post the presentation in its entirety. But I can use the generalized bits. Perhaps those will still be helpful.

So let’s talk about edit letters, shall we?

When you look back across the archives of my site, you’ll see that I’ve already talked a lot about editing-related topics. Everything from how you become an editor, to the realities of the editing life, to the various pet-peeves and editorial myths that drive editors nuts. But I haven’t ever truly talked about what an editor does.

Technically, the idea that an editor’s only job is to find errors is an editorial myth. But it does have some basis in truth. I mean, a large portion of editing does revolve around the finding and fixing of “errors,” but that has less to do with the myth’s portrayal of editors being sadistic grammar Nazis and more to do with the fact that we’re an expert set of objective eyes. Our main job is to help protect authors from reader backlash, and there are two main ways we do that — line by line (or in-line comments, as some editors call them) and edit letters.

The line by line comments are known as line or copy edits, and are the hallmark of editing, the thing most people think of when they hear the dreaded E word. They include things like grammar, sentence structure and flow, clarity and economy of language, and voice consistency.

But before a project gets to the line edit phase, it goes through what is known as a developmental or structural edit. And that’s where edit letters come in.

Dev edits, as we editors affectionately call them (because, let’s face it, five syllables is just too long to say on a regular basis), are used to analyze, diagnose, and address underlying problems with storytelling mechanics. They provide a bird’s eye view of the manuscript and allow the editor to carefully evaluate things like plot, pacing, character development, market concerns, and emotional resonance — the foundation of your story, in other words.

Because of this, dev edits happen very early in the editorial process, and may even happen as part of acquisitions instead. I can’t speak for all agents or editors, but at REUTS, we believe in disclosing any potentially drastic revisions we’d like to see up front, that way the author can determine whether or not our vision for their story aligns with their own. A disagreement at this stage likely means the agent or press is a mismatch, as ideally, the edit letter will provide feedback that improves upon the author’s intent and story, rather than drastically altering it.

The purpose of the edit letter, therefore, is to open a dialogue between the author and editor. It’s the opening volley of a strategy meeting, more or less, meant to encourage brainstorming and discourse over the various aspects that might need addressing. Which is why it’s not quite the same as the feedback you receive from CPs or beta readers.

One of my favorite (and I’m totally being facetious here) things to run up against is an author who fails to understand the key difference between beta readers, CPs, and editors. (I’ve talked about the differences before, if you need a refresher.) Each is valuable, yes, and every author should be utilizing all three, but each has its place in the process. In the hierarchy of outside feedback, editors are alpha. Once you start working with one, you really shouldn’t be utilizing other sources of feedback. Those all happen before you bring in the expert, not after. And yet, I’ve seen people do this, a lot, both in an effort to implement developmental revisions and in between rounds of line edits.

Don’t do this. It’s one of the main editorial no-nos. But the reason probably isn’t what you think. Editing myths often portray editors as power-hungry, judgmental individuals. But we’re not really (or at least, we shouldn’t be). We’re your ally. We’re also highly experienced, paid professionals. Chances are, if your editor is telling you something needs to be fixed, it’s for a very good reason.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “but what if I don’t agree with the suggestions? What if I want a second opinion?” Still don’t do it. Talk to your editor instead. The editing process is supposed to be a partnership, and much like marriages, that partnership can’t work without communication. By turning to people outside of the editor-author relationship, you’re essentially vetting your editor’s comments. You’re telling the editor that you don’t trust them, and that these other people matter more. And worse, you’re breaking the confidentiality of what should be a private part of the production process (especially if you’re working with a press). It’s insulting, frankly, and much like a cheating spouse, it engenders mistrust on both sides, creating a fractured, difficult path for both parties.

So yeah, talk to your editor. Tell them your thoughts and concerns, and if you must bring in outside opinions, clear it with them first. But never, never do it after the majority of the editing is done, and then expect the editor to make changes according to your CPs’ or beta readers’ thoughts. That’s the wrong head-space to be in when you approach this process.

Next week, I’ll talk about my particular approach to drafting an edit letter. But in the meantime, do any of you have questions about edit letters or developmental editing in general? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll make sure to answer them in the conclusion article! 🙂

Editorial Myth-busting: Four Common Misconceptions About the Editing Process

This is a topic that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, as evidenced by the precursor posts earlier this year (Publishing: The Industry of Disappointment and Editors . . . are People?). There are so many myths and misconceptions, so many horror stories out there regarding the author-editor relationship, that it’s no wonder debut authors approach the editing process with a strange blend of hope, fear, dread, and resignation. Editing gets lumped into the same category as going to the dentist or getting the oil changed in your car. It’s not fun, but you know you have to do it. And that’s unfortunate. Because, as Drew Hayes pointed out in his article, the author-editor relationship really should be a mutually beneficial collaboration.

But, as with most things in publishing, that fact often gets obscured by the divide in perception between what the process looks/feels like for the author and what it’s like for the editor. So let’s do some myth-busting, yes? Everyone loves myth-busting. Especially when there are GIFs involved.

Myth #1: An editor’s only job is to find errors in your work.

Perception: wrong

Reality: thoughtful

It’s easy to see how this myth began, since a large portion of editing does revolve around the finding and fixing of “errors.” But that’s far from the only thing an editor does. According to the many horror stories out there, editors are judgmental, cruel beings whose only mission in life is to lord over the ranks of poor, pitiful writer-souls the way Ursula does her garden of victims in The Little Mermaid. We badger, and bully, and shred a writer’s precious work until there’s virtually nothing left, laughing as we drag the carcass of words through the Meadow of Publication and deposit its ravaged husk into the arms of readers everywhere.

Now, I’m obviously being just a tad facetious with the hyperbole, but I’ve actually heard people say this myth out loud. A lot. And I suppose, to an extent, it’s true. We are paid to find and repair problems. But the reason has less to do with sadistic pleasure at proving others wrong and more to do with the fact that we’re an objective set of expert eyes. The reason authors need editors is because they’re too close to their own work. They know what they meant to say, how the story is supposed to go, what the scenes are meant to capture. An editor is a new perspective outside of the writer’s head. They’re your first chance to see the way readers are going to react, and they’re your last chance to fix things that would otherwise earn you the dreaded one-star Amazon review.

So while the myth would have us gleefully giggling as we circle every misplaced comma and typo, the reality is that we’re more like a safety net. It’s our job to help protect authors from reader backlash. Finding errors is only one aspect of doing just that.

Myth #2: Editors are the gatekeepers standing between you and publication.

Perception: Ghostbuter Dog

Reality:Teamwork

Ah, yes. This is one of the many myths that led to my earlier articles about the humans behind publishing’s massive facade of mystery. Querying authors tend to assume that agents and acquisitions editors are solely there to be in the way. That, much like that dog-thing from Ghostbusters pictured above, we’re mindless drones serving our masters by keeping perfectly qualified, brilliant literature from making it through the gates.

Now, this myth might hold a tiny shred of truth in it (acquisitions editors and agents do filter submissions for marketability), but it’s often perpetuated by authors who’ve acquired a plethora of rejection letters, and who refuse to face the fact that their book-baby might not actually be ready for publication after all.

The reality behind acquisitions is that agents and editors are looking for business partners. Publishing is a team endeavor, and it requires a lot more than simply being able to spin a good tale. So yes, we are gatekeepers in the sense that we have to be highly selective about who we end up recruiting onto our team (remember, publishing is a business, and what do businesses want? Money!), but we’re not gatekeepers in the sense that our only reason to exist is to guard the hallowed halls of publishing from an influx of mortals. Usually, if your book isn’t receiving offers, it means it either isn’t ready yet, you’re querying the wrong agents/editors, or it just might be better suited for a different publication avenue. (I’ll talk about those more in a different, future article.)

Myth #3: Editors make tons of money, so why the hell are they so expensive?

Perception:rich

Reality:broke

This one mostly refers to the world of freelance editing, since traditional publication paths don’t require the author to pay for editing out of their own pocket. (Giant red flag if you’re ever offered a “traditional” publishing contract which does ask this of you, by the way.) It’s also a topic I’ve covered before, and which the lovely Cait Spivey provided a guest post on.

The long and short of it is that editors really don’t make that much money. What seems like a hefty chunk of change to the author having to pay it, really equates to the oft-touted ramen diet favored by other starving artist types. In editing, dollars earned divided by time spent often equals less than some people flip burgers for. Which is why most editors edit because they love it, not because it rakes in bucket-loads of green.

Which brings us to our last myth — a misconception very closely tied to the reason editors walk hand-in-hand with authors in the “I’m Broke as F*&%” parade.

Myth #4: I can read my novel in less than a week, cover to cover; why does it take an editor weeks or months to edit it?

Perception:Spacecat

Reality:

Interesting

This is my least favorite myth to run up against as an editor, either freelance or otherwise, because it instantly shows me how little the person saying it knows about the actual editing process. Editors are, in fact, some of the fastest readers I know, because we’re buried under a mountain of manuscripts that would rival Mount Everest if they weren’t largely digital. But editing does not live in the same sphere as reading. It doesn’t. I don’t care who you are, if you believe that, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. Editing is much like writing, if it must be compared to anything. And let me ask you, oh ye authors of the interwebs, how long did it take you to actually write your manuscript? I don’t mean the act of putting words on paper or screen, but the time it took from concept inception to the “polished” draft you’re handing your editor. If you say less than 3-4 months, minimum, you’re about as believable as that cat hurtling through space at warp speed.

The fact of the matter is that editing takes time. A lot of it. It’s not just a matter of reading an author’s words. You have to digest them. There’s a lot of analyzing, of listening and interpreting intent from reality, of diagnosing and curing storytelling diseases of all varieties, as well as the expected suggestions for proper grammar. Good editors will expend an impressive amount of mental energy crafting suggestions that can be as small as a single word, because that single word has to a) conform to the accepted rules of English, b) fit with the author and character’s established voice/style, and c) somehow solve/improve upon whatever was wonky in the first place. That’s a lot of pressure on a single word, huh? And editors do that for an entire manuscript! So you can see why it would take a significant amount of mental gymnastics to complete even a single editorial review, let alone the three rounds (developmental, line/copy, proofreading) that most manuscripts go through prior to publication.

So yes, it is possible to read something cover-to-cover in a few days to a week. But it is not possible to edit the thing in that time frame. It’s just not. Asking your editor to do so is inhumane, because it will inevitably require them to give up massive amounts of sleep, drink enough caffeine to make them twitchy as a squirrel in autumn, and otherwise shackle themselves to their desk until they collapse from sheer exhaustion. Trust me, I’ve had far too much experience with that particular scenario. It’s far better to realize that editing is a time-consuming process for everyone involved and plan accordingly.

Which brings us to the end of today’s post. These are four of the more common myths I’ve heard, but tell me, what are some other editing myths out there? If there are a lot more, perhaps this myth-busting business will become a regular feature. 😉