Thursday, October 13, 2011

You and Your Editor—by Kathleen Ernst

TheHeirloomMurders-ColorCoverWebHope you’ll join me in welcoming Kathleen Ernst today. She’s got some excellent tips for working with an editor. Kathleen is the author of the Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mysteries among other books.

Getting a book contract in hand can be such a long slog that many pre-published writers don’t think much beyond that magical goal. I wrote novels for twenty years before my first book was published, so I can relate.

My latest title, The Heirloom Murders, is my seventeenth book. I’ve worked with seven different publishing companies. They range from very small (White Mane Kids) to mid-sized (Cricket Books, Midnight Ink) to large (Dutton, American Girl.) Each house has its own editing style. And each editor within a given house has her own editing style, too. Small presses might move quickly to copyediting, while larger ones spend months working on more substantial revisions.

Creating a good relationship with an editor is both challenging and incredibly important. Over the years I’ve developed a few strategies. They’ve worked for me—perhaps they will for you as well.

Tip 1: Don’t respond immediately.

Although some editors give suggestions over the phone, most of the editors I’ve worked with begin with a written editorial letter. If you haven’t been through this process before, the emotional impact of a several page, single-spaced letter can be enormous. (This is the point where you think, But I thought she liked it!)

I once heard an editor say that she tells her authors to “Pretend I’m right for three days.” Editors want writers to consider new ideas with an open mind, so it’s OK to buy yourself some time. Even if you’re on the phone, you can probably get by with “That’s an interesting suggestion. May I think about that for a few days?” Give yourself a chance to absorb and process a suggestion or request that might at first seem shocking…but just may be perfect.

Good editors want their writers to approach revision thoughtfully, not make every change requested before slamming the manuscript back.

Tip 2: Establish the “Three Pile” rule

Ideally, you’ll find that most of the suggestions an editor makes—big or small—are good ones. Those go into the “Good Idea” pile.

Then there’s neutral ground—requests that strike you as something that will make a chapter/scene/sentence different, but not necessarily better or worse. Those go into the “I’ll Give It To You” pile.

That probably leaves a few things that you do feel strongly about, which go into the “No Thanks” pile. Politely explain what changes you don’t want to make, and why. Since you’ve already been accommodating on most things, the editor will probably agree.

Tip 3: Hit your deadlines.

Once you’ve thoughtfully processed the editorial suggestions, and sorted them into neat piles, it’s time for butt-in-chair. Understand that missing a deadline affects complicated schedules for editors, designers, marketing people, and more within the company. Unexpected life events can affect anyone, of course, but writers who habitually miss deadlines may find themselves bumped from an editor’s “Authors I Love To Work With” list.

Do you have any other tips for forging a great relationship with an editor? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Ernst06 GeroldI’m grateful to Elizabeth for allowing me to celebrate publication of The Heirloom Murders: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery by guest-posting here. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing for a free book. The winner can choose any of my titles. The Heirloom Murders, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours! To learn more, please visit my website,