Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How to Love an Editor's Suggestions



Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com

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If you ask a group of 10 published authors how they feel about getting that first round of edits from their editor, you're probably going to get 10 different answers. Some love it, some hate it...and everyone has different reasons for doing so.

As an editor, I've always worked with gracious authors who say they love the editorial process. But I've seen quite a spectrum on that "love" side of things...and suspected a few times that they were slightly exaggerating their fondness for the process, LOL, given their resistance to suggestions.

As a writer, I used to grit my teeth at any form of criticism, constructive or otherwise. But as I gradually got myself over that in my years before publication, I came to appreciate the challenge of a rewrite. And more, I came to really love the process of revising a book with an editor, and I think there are a few reasons and ways that I've come to that place--ways that you can be training yourself for well before you're under contract!

Last September I had the joy of sitting down with my editor from Bethany House at a writers conference. I had just turned in revisions for my first Bethany House book, The Lost Heiress, and Charlene asked me how they went. I very enthusiastically responded, "Oh, I had so much fun with them!"

She looked at me like I was a wackidoodle and laughed. "That's a first," she told me. "None of my authors have ever claimed they were fun."

But they were fun--and here's why.

I believe it was Jill who talked a while back about using this sort of trick in brainstorming. When you're stuck, ask yourself what would happen if something totally off-the-wall happened to your characters. What if their dog ran away right now? What if someone died? What if the villain just popped in for tea?

It's a game I have always played with my characters, but not in quite that way. I often know exactly where and how a story's going to go. But in those minutes before I fall asleep or while I'm doing dishes, I often say, "Okay, how could I get them to that same end point but by a totally different path?"

This often looks like:


  • What if they met two years earlier/later than they did?
  • What if that guy never died?
  • What if she had given in to the villain's demands right there?
  • What if she had joined the Ballet Russe?
  • What if she'd believed him?
  • What if he never found that book?


These are very particular questions that would have led my story in totally different directions...but I'm not asking them because I don't know where I want to go next. I'm asking them because I firmly believe there are many ways to end up at the same place...but we'll arrive as different people.

When I got my first macro-edit from Bethany House, my editor began by saying, "You could change nothing, and it would be fine. We love the book. But we think it can be even better. Here are some of our ideas for how."

They were compiled from 3 different readers, and they didn't always (or often, LOL) agree. But they asked questions like, "What if the hero and heroine moved through this part at different paces? What if she didn't have those dreams? What if we didn't know that character was a villain?"

These questions were exactly the kind I asked myself when I was bored. They wouldn't change the outcome of the story--but they would change bits and pieces of the journey, and in so doing the character-arc.

I think I would have resisted these changes a lot more if I felt married to my plot. But instead, it was like a game. If you move piece B and switch around piece C, how can we still get from A to D?

And what's more--because I had played this game on my own so often, I was quick to come up with new ideas. My editor sent me 7 pages of notes at noon. We had a phone call scheduled for 1. In that hour, I read through the notes, took notes on the notes, and had ideas ready for 75% of their suggestions. How? Because I had practiced brainstorming so very often.

But it also helps to remember that editors rarely expect you take ALL of their suggestions. Especially when you can't make some if you make others. Editors often offer various ways to solve what they see as problems, and you get to make the choice on which ones to utilize. When you're sorting through edits, it's good to take notes on what accepting suggestions would mean for other suggestions or for your existing plot. Every editing decision has ramifications, and you need to make sure you understand the full extent of them. Otherwise you end up with one of those books that leave readers scratching their heads, going, "Wait, why is that such a big deal?? The reaction doesn't seem to fit the action."

A final tip: remember that editors want your book to be wildly successful, and they have more experience than you do. They know what readers want and expect. They have actual sales data at their fingertips. When they say, "Our readers won't like this," trust them. They know. And they want your book to be a bestseller. They want it to get critical acclaim. They're not trying to change it just for kicks...they're trying to turn it into a product that will reach the masses in the most effective way possible.

But also keep reminding yourself that changing your original plot doesn't make the story less yours. If anything, being able to change certain things and still keep the heart of a story intact makes it more yours. It challenges you to explore your characters and plot more deeply, more thoroughly, and to develop them into even better characters than they were at the start.

14 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! I've struggled a lot with accepting criticism in the past over my book, and although I still struggle with it I am working towards being more accepting. These are some great ideas of how to do that! It really is just like a game of moving the pieces around and trying to make the absolute best move. I am definitely going to try to think more from this perspective!

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    1. It can be so tough to take criticism! And I still have moments when it bothers me, don't get me wrong. And moments when actually APPLYING those ideas is overwhelming. But perspective really can change everything. =)

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  2. I could not be more excited that I stumbled upon this website/blog. In less than 24 hours, it has been more informative than the last three weeks of my directionless internet searching for writing/editing/publication advice. So a resounding THANK YOU for everything!

    How do I go about finding an editor/publisher? I have a few thousand words written of a novel I'd like to start on the road to publication, but I'm not sure exactly how to do that. Who do I reach out to? Who will edit/proof for me? I'd like some feedback from a non-family member because, although it's often flattering, an abundance of kind words and a disappointing lack of critique will not make me a better writer or improve my story.

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    1. Hi, Toni! You'll want to check out the tabs at the top that say "How to Write a Novel" and "How to Get Published." =) They link to many, many awesome articles on this blog that will walk you through it.

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  3. Really good post!!! When I first joined the critique group I'm part of back in February, I dreaded getting back their critiques. Now, I can't wait. They come at it from such a different angle and it gives me a fuller look at my story. Does it mean I always like when they pull apart my writing? No, but I think having the attitude of "I want a good product and these people will help me with my shortcomings," is a good one to have.

    Congrats on your book, by the way!

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    1. It took me a while to learn how to accept critiques too. Now they're something to look forward to. =) And thanks!!

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  4. Thank you for writing this! I recently joined a critique group (though i have yet to send anything in for critique) and hopefully ill send something in soon. I will try to keep this post in mind when i do:)

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    1. It does help to view critiques from a mindset like this--otherwise we can get a wee bit defensive, LOL.

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  5. "If anything, being able to change certain things and still keep the heart of a story intact makes it more yours. It challenges you to explore your characters and plot more deeply, more thoroughly, and to develop them into even better characters than they were at the start."

    I love this Roseanna. So perfect! And dead true.

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    1. And there's just nothing like that feeling after revisions when you look at the book and go, "Wow. How did I think it was okay before this? This is so much better!" =)

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  6. Well written paper. Nice arrangements of points. Good

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  7. Roseanna, this is the second "Go Teen Writers" blog I've read and both were so specifically helpful. I'm wondering why it took me so long to find it. Not being a teen might have something to do with it. I found this blog through the OCW Mentors list. Thanks again for this particular article.

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