My Six Editors

April and ChristyMy first book was published in 1999, so I've had a lot of experience working with editors. In fact, I have had six of them (at five different houses), plus an unknown number of copy editors and proof-readers. The amazing thing is that in my experience each editor has a different approach. What one editor is passionate about may not even be on another editor's radar screen.  And each editor tends to think that the way they do things is the only sensible way.
Editor 1
My first editor loved characters who were quirky, whacky, or eccentric - and if she felt they weren't quirky, whacky or eccentric enough, she often asked for them to be enhanced. Sometimes her comments were cryptic. I still remember staring at one notation scribbled in a margin. It said, "Pump up the mystery!" I had no idea how to do that. And I was too scared to call her. I've since learned that just as an email sometimes lacks the emotional nuance that would allow you to completely understand it, so too can editorial letters or hand-written notes. A simple phone call can go a long way toward making things clear for both writer and editor.

Editor 2
My second editor was a legend in the business. She was in her 80s, and everyone loved the idea that she was still working full-time and still danced and drank at mystery cons. Dozens of famous authors were edited by her over the course of her long career. I think she worked right up until she died. Her editing was much more broad-based, and she wasn’t nearly as much of a detail person as my first editor was.

Editor 3
My third editor was famous for being able to write an 11-page editorial letter for a 12-page picture book. He used brown stickies to mark changes he had pencilled in green pencil on the manuscript. One draft I got back bristled with so many stickies it looked like a porcupine. For Christmas that year, I gave him a brand new green pencil, figuring he had used one up on my manuscript. One thing I learned from him was that sometimes when an editor asks for a specific change, he or she may be right that something is wrong. However, the writer can often make a different fix than the editor requested and still come away with both parties happy.

Editor 4
My fourth editor writes thoughtful editorial letters that I dread. Why? Because she is skilled at finding flaws I haven't noticed. Flaws that require lots and lots of thought before I can fix them. She is also the most timely editor I have ever had. If she tells me something is due on a certain date, then I can expect an editorial letter back two or three weeks later.

Under sinkEditor 5
After sending the editorial letter, Editor 4 hands off the manuscript to Editor 5, who serves as both copy and line editor (usually those are two different people). A few times, she has questioned the veracity of things I write, asking if it’s really true or possible. I welcome that. So much fiction, especially mysteries and thrillers, is riddled with errors about police procedure, weapons, or investigative techniques. Once she asked if a woman's body really could be jammed under the kitchen sink - so I took everything out of mine and crawled in to prove it.

Editor 6
My fifth editor is both a big picture editor and someone who notices the smallest details. She's pointed out words I tend to overuse, words I wasn’t aware of until she had check-marked three or four uses of the same word in a single page.

All of my editors have been good - but in different ways.
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