Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What I learned from Editors, part I


I've been blessed with good editors since day one in my writing career.

The first, at Harlequin Mills & Boon, sent me a revision letter three pages long (this before she ever bought the book) which detailed the issues she wanted addressed.

Boiled down, she said, "There are four things you need to work on: the hero, the heroine, the plot and the ending."

So I did, and sold her the book.

That was when I learned to love rewriting.

Of course I also love those handful of books that have gone straight through with no revisions at all. And I long for another one because I don't hate them so much by the time I see them in print if I haven't seen them in several incarnations first.

But that doesn't happen often.

It probably won't happen with Demetrios, though of course I can hope.

I'm the process right now of doing my own 'editorial' work trying to bring all the pieces together and then write the ending that is promised in the beginning (I just have to figure out what it is).

But as I've been working, I've been remembering what I've learned from each of the editors I've had, because they have all given me insights and understanding and I've learned something from every one of them (even if it's how badly I've communicated what I'm trying to get across to them!)

One who had a huge influence on my ability to rewrite is Silhouette editor Ann Leslie Tuttle. I worked with Ann Leslie for several years and enjoyed the process every time we worked on a book together. What I appreciated most, though, was her ability to see what wasn't needed.

I tend to write long. Mostly, I suppose, so I can grope my way through the book and find out what I want to say. Sometimes I get there with less wandering than I do in others. But when I did wander, I could count on Ann Leslie to make me cut to the chase.

She never cut things herself. She would make notes and ring me and say, "You know, I don't really think you need that scene in the ranch house before the fire."

I don't?

But I slaved days over it. It was the bog I thought I'd never get out of so I could write about the fire!

But when I went back and read it, she was absolutely right. Not only didn't I need it, the book was much faster and sharper without it.

Maybe the truth is that I needed it to see where the story was going and what the mindset of the characters was before the fire, but once I knew it, the book didn't need it -- and neither did the readers.

I could always count on Ann Leslie to point those spots out to me. She made me a better, sharper critic of my own books. But I still wish she were reading Demetrios now, pointing those places out to me.

I am trying to do it myself. But I'm not as good at it.

I cut a scene the other day and thought, "Ann Leslie, you'd be proud of me."

But a chapter later, I realized the reader really needed it, so I put it back.

Still she taught me the difference between what I need to get from one point to the next and what the reader needs.

So, thank you, Ann Leslie, for your wisdom and your deft use of the red pencil and those brackets marked [delete?].

Demetrios wishes you were here!

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7 Comments:

Blogger Caroline said...

Hi Anne. Great blog - and a timely one for myself as it happens! I'm a member of the RNA - New Writer's Scheme here in the uk and I've just recieved my report from the (lovely) reader who has recently read my ms. Thankfully she loved my story, and basically has given me a four page "revision" letter (which I will follow to the "T"), before sending it off to HM&B. My reader, (I like to think of her as my personal editor (well I can dream can't I!)) knows more about this game than I do, and her insight has made me see pitfalls in my story that I just didn't (and wouldn't have) spotted! Thanks for sharing your experience about re-writing/editing. Take care. Caroline x

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Rachael Johns said...

THanks for a fabulous and insightful post Anne... for those of us hoping that one day we'll be able to say 'my editor!!!' Your first revision letter made me laugh - change the hero, heroine, plot and ending??? She must have loved your voice. Personally I'm so glad you listened and made those changes :)

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Caroline,
You should definitely think of your reader as your editor. It's great that she has given you suggestions. Think about them and decide if they work for you. Don't accept them if they don't. But don't close your mind off to them without really thinking them through. And good luck to you when you submit your manuscript!

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Rach,
I think what my original editor was responding to was my tendency to write long and she, too, was telling me to sharpen things up. As it happened, with that book, I cut the first chapter and began the book in a different place. And then I focused more tightly on the relationship between the hero and heroine. In a short series book it is paramount (despite my own personal tendencies toward casts of thousands!).

Cheers,
Anne

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

Wow books going through without revisions. It's a sentence that should be whispered in reverent tones, shouldn't it? I applaude you (and I'm not surprised :) ). I'm a long writer too (both fiction and non fiction) I go back and cut words like there's no tomorrow :) Maybe I could kidnap Ann?

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I am always surprised, Lacey, when a book goes through without revisions because there are always things you can tinker with, tighten, shift around. But I tend not to quibble with them when they think that it's a good idea (too sick of the book to want to see it again anytime soon)!

Besides, it doesn't happen all that often (not to me, anyway). Sometimes there's more to do than others. It's the wholesale rethinking of the entire concept that's depressing!

I think the best idea would be to sell to Silhouette and get Ann Leslie as your editor. Then you won't have the kidnapping charges to deal with. You can just write -- and enjoy her insights.

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

LOL! I do like the idea of avoiding those kidnapping charges. We'll call it plan B ;)

11 June, 2009  

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