10 Suggestions for the Care and Feeding of Editors



/Beth Wareham

Editors like to find errors and inconsistencies. They like to be right; all incredibly annoying traits in human beings.

I should know, I am one. I’m also a writer and a publisher. When I am writing or publishing, I take on the annoying traits of those functions as well.

But odds are, you are a writer. And, if you are a beginning writer, you will have your first interaction with an editor. If you play your cards right, this editor will make your work at least 10% better AND prepare the manuscript for both publication and PROMOTION.

That’s right: Your editor should understand promotion and press breaks and help build them into your book along with good grammar, proper word choice and a narrative velocity that keeps your reader on the page, then the next page, then the page after that.

That’s a great deal for one human to hold in their head over 300 or more pages, so respect the editor. Good ones are as rare as honest politicians.

Enter into the editorial relationship with an open heart and really open eyes. It’s still your book and the ultimate choices are yours, but the right editor can really make a work sing.

Here are some thoughts on the care and feeding of editors:

1. If you say “I don’t need an editor,” you are going against the smart thinking of everyone from Tolstoy to Hemmingway to Stephen King. EVERYONE needs an editor. If you don’t think you do, I hear egotism and not a love of writing.

2. Get clarity. Remember, editors are just as rushed as everyone else and some talk in a kind of short hand. If any editorial comment does not make sense, press your editor so you can get it right.

3. Don’t get defensive. Never forget, this person’s job is to make you better. That means they must point out where your work is weaker. You need this. It makes your book a stronger read.

4. Get other reads. Ask anyone you respect to read your manuscript. Discuss their comments with the editor to see if they brought up valid points. It takes a village.

5. Do not fear cutting. Some editors do not cut, just suggest it. I take a red pencil and make long horizontal lines. Books are ALWAYS made better by cutting and tightening. Or almost always.

6. Give your editor time with your manuscript. Many authors want instant feedback. The only instant feedback you should get is that your editor has received your manuscript. Let them read it through and think about ways to make it better.

7. Don’t bug your editor: They are not here to manage your anxiety. If you are a big enough person to write a book, you are a big enough person to give your editor space to do his or her work. Discuss your fears with your shrink. Work with your editor.

8. Insist on communication. Talking to your editor daily is not something you should expect to do. But you should expect your calls returned – WITHIN REASON – and your queries – yes, you’ll query your editor’s queries sometimes – are explained.

9. Talk to your editor about how to build press breaks in the book. If it’s non-fiction, finding stories to pitch is easier. Exploit what you have that the press, reviewers or bloggers may be able to really hang on to and write a story.

10. Send short emails and expect short answers. Again, reading manuscripts and editing is akin to needle work; quiet and time consuming. Don’t burn any time with issues that don’t matter.

Okay, that’s my editorial advice for the day. I have to get back to writing. It’s more fun anyway.



imagesWriting short. Hemingway could do it.   Proust could not.   Brendan Gill could fit the world in a 300 word New Yorker architecture piece

 Sometimes it is just a matter of space:  If you have a lot, you put more words in. People feel this way about the decoration of rooms as well. It’s a shame.  Like silence, people are frightened of space.

One has big hopes the internet will rein in certain prose;  hypergraphia  be gone! Practice your new art of writing short on @twitter: those 140 characters are a mighty wall.

Writing short is the misty lair of poets. They know something about silence and space and power. They understand less is more. When poets write novels, the result is usually spectacular; they know the right word.  There’s no room in a poem for the wrong one.

 After a difficult day, people say, “Go home. Get in bed. Eat bonbons. Read some trash.” Why read trash?  Trash – literally and metaphorically – is what you’ve been grappling with all day. Don’t wallow in more mediocrity. Treat yourself way better than that. The food should be healthy, the reading very good.  Sheet thread counts matter, but that’s another discussion.

 Get out of your head and your life. Some of the books below are novellas and there is a short story or two. Doesn’t matter. They are the same thing: great art.  These pre-bed reads may be just the thing to erase the trashy memories of the day and reattach your wings:

  1. The Death of Ivan Iylich by Leo Tolstoy – Nearing the end of Romanticism (1800 – 1850, more or less, and easily identifiable by swoons, stolen kisses and heaving bosoms), Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Iylich’s 128 pages electrify. In this blasé-toned bomb of a little book, Tolstoy takes us through   the death of a mediocre government worker (he’s middle-aged and has a freakish accident with the drapes) who never once considered his own ending.  Heartbreaking and as real as it gets, this is one great instruction manual on how not to live. Everyone knows an Ivan; he may be working in the next cubicle right now.

 2. The Stranger by Albert Camus – Nobody had really encountered the likes of Camus before (and often called him an “existentialist,” much to the confusion of him and Jean Paul Sartre, that movement’s Buddha), and his work generated many a coffeehouse debate in the middle of the 20th century. Every intellectual sought to understand this cool Algerian thinker, labeled “absurdist” by those who make labels.   He won a Nobel Prize in 1957 and this little 123-page book shows you why: in one violent moment, Camus shows the impossibility of truly knowing what drives humans to do what they do.


   3. Memories of His Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Known for opening lines that blow your skirt up, this 130-page trip to the top of the mountain begins with “the year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”  The New York Times wrote the line off to Marquez and his love of playing with time, but there is something else here the Times would never spot: the unending well of strange magnificent love that flows through every Marquez book. Love makes time it’s bitch over and over as Marquez proves he was one great magician.

4. The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac – Once you get over Kristen Stewart being cast in On the Road, give Jack another go. Wild and sexual, The Subterraneans follows the breakup of Leo and Mardou through the smoke rooms  and back alleys of San Francisco on the edge of the 1960s. In this wild 111-page ride, you’ll read some of the greatest sentences ever written about modern America. You’ll also feel San Francisco when it was the heart of counterculture, not computer corporations.

 5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – In today’s world of undulating booty, it’s hard to imagine an American culture where women’s sexuality constituted the bars of her prison. But that is Edna’s – and every woman’s lot in 1899. Set in and around New Orleans, Chopin’s character is isolated physically and emotionally until she has an affair, a very dangerous pursuit for a 19th Century woman. The book’s original title was A Solitary Soul. Pretty much says it all.

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