Tough Love and Top Level Editors
I waited on pins and needles as my new editor, John Paine, read my novel. I was worried he would read it and tell me that is was garbage. Or that I couldn’t write. Yes, my self- doubt was kicking in again.
To occupy my time I delved into platform development. I started building my own Word Press site and writing blog posts as they came to me. (I’ll talk about the importance of platform-building in future posts.)
Finally after about month John was able to read my book and provide feedback. We talked for an hour and a half about the book. He followed up with a detailed written four-page editorial report. First off—he didn’t tell me the novel stunk or my writing was horrible. OK, so that was a good start.
John told me that the book’s concept was tremendous, the cast solid, the plot (after an initial false start) built steadily and was capped by an exciting climax scene. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were pretty much the last words of praise I would receive from him until the re-write of the novel was complete.
I’m paraphrasing here, but what John told me was, “You aren’t paying me to tell you what is good about the book. So we are going to focus on what needs improvement.”
I was OK with that philosophy. I can handle some tough love.
In November of 2011 I had gone into this edit thinking John would make recommendations about where to cut the first part of the book. He might recommend a prologue and make some minor tweaks. My intent was to get the novel back into the hands of the interested agents as soon as possible. I thought we could do this by January 1st. After reading his editorial report, though, I knew there was a lot more work to be done.There were four main tenets of revision and two minor ones that needed to be fixed. These are my words and not John’s:
1. Lose the back story. I’ve talked about this before. But John reconfirmed what I already knew. This piece had to go. I just wasn’t sure how much. At first he mentioned 50 pages. I can tell you that we ended up cutting a lot more than that.
2. Sammy (a dog) needs to be a true character. I had this idea that I would break up Sammy’s pieces to give the reader a break from the two main characters. I had put his pieces in italics and they were generally short. I learned that this wasn’t a solid concept.
3. Stop skimming on the surface of scenes. I needed more details and more of the characters’ thoughts. Remember when I told you I had cut 14K words with reckless abandon before I sent the book to John? Yep, I really regretted that edit now. But that was only part of it—I needed some more in-depth writing.
4. Stop shuffling so quickly among plot lines. He was right—I did do this.
The other two smaller issues were that my ending was too drawn out and he thought a character should be in the book earlier than he was presently.
As I read through the comments from his editorial report I felt as if I were reading a report from a surgeon who was dissecting my novel. I guess that is why John was a successful “Book Doctor” for 15 years at Penguin.
I receive a lot of recommendations from folks about critique groups and beta readers. I certainly don’t discount their utility and would love to find a couple of trusted beta readers. However, I don’t see that as the best path to follow for me.
I get what folks are telling me, but here is the deal—John has been in the publishing industry working on manuscripts for 25 years. He has edited hundreds of books including many New York Times Best Sellers. You can’t replicate this level of experience and knowledge in your critique groups or beta readers. Sure he costs money, but so do the very best surgeons, lawyers and other professionals. Are you looking for a medical student to perform that critical surgery for you or do you want an experienced surgeon?
You get what you pay for in this life. I recommend that serious aspiring authors go find themselves an editor. I also believe that this shows agents that you are serious.
All right, let’s put it another way. A few years ago my wife and I had new countertops put into our house. With that came a new sink. I tried to hook up the sink and garbage disposal myself. I did a pretty good job but couldn’t get the last couple steps completed to prevent it from leaking. Sure, I could have had a committee of my buddies come over and we might have been able to fix it.
Or I could hire a professional plumber to come over. Since I already completed most of the work, I knew it wouldn’t cost me that much. But that professional would provide me the peace of mind to know, if I wasn’t home, the sink wouldn’t gush water on my wife. Maybe you are a plumber or have a close friend that is one. I am not and don’t. In my editor, I trusted.
John told me to focus on the last three major tenets and we would figure out the beginning later. For the next six weeks I spent every spare moment doing exactly what my editor recommended.
Has anyone else had to endure a major rewrite?
Am I wrong about critique groups and beta readers?
Are critique groups and beta readers better than editors? Why?
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