The team working on my novel includes me, my in-house editor from Thomas Nelson, and a freelance editor with a lot of experience in the field, especially with historicals. I can't say enough good things about my first phone call with my editors yesterday.
When I received my editorial letter last Friday, I was very grateful that it was only seven pages long! (If you've heard much about editorial letters, you know that they can sometimes run as long as fifteen or twenty pages.) I was also very happy to see the clarity and precision with which my editors identified areas in which we could refine certain aspects of the novel. Some of these suggestions were things I had suspected on a subliminal level, but hadn't quite been able to put my finger on. Others were subtle improvements I hadn't considered that would ensure the credibility of every aspect of the story.
In a couple of areas, I agreed with their observation about the story, but had a different solution to propose. This made me nervous. After all, I'm a debut author. How would they react to my suggestions? Having never participated in an editorial call, I had no idea what to expect.
I was happy and relieved to discover that my editors really mean it when they say we are a team. They appreciated my openness to their suggestions and solutions, and they offered me the same open-minded attitude when I proposed some of my ideas.
So, even in my newness to the editorial process, I think I may have a few tips for anyone who might be nervous about that initial editorial call. Here's how I prepared to have a great conversation with my editors:
1) I took time to appreciate the blessing of their input. It's too easy to take someone's excellent advice for granted. But I considered how different things might have been, if my editors were not so insightful and intelligent. And then I wallowed in gratitude! :-) I also expressed my appreciation to them. From what I've heard, authors can sometimes be a royal pain in the rear. Editors may not always get grateful responses for their hard work and effort to help. It's good to thank them, as we would like to be encouraged ourselves.
2) When I came across a suggested solution that didn't strike me as the right fit (and there were only two or three of those), I thought hard about how to address the underlying story or character issue in a different way. Everyone brings a strength to the table when the editorial process begins. Editors bring a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective on the story. This fresh perspective is a wonderful help for an author who has been working on the story for a year or more. At the same time, the author's long immersion in the story has given her in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of the plot and how the whole concoction works together. The author may come up with some innovative solutions in response to the editor's suggestions.
3) I was well-prepared. I had gone through the entire letter marking it up with my response, most of which was "Yes! Agreed! Great idea! Here's how I'm going to do that." I then numbered my points in the order I wanted to make them, so I could address the simplest things first and leave time to address the more complex issues at the end. As we went through the letter, I referred the editors to the page we were discussing so we could all follow the line of the conversation without confusion. Sometimes, the issues under discussion are pretty complicated. I knew it would be better to have a paper reference in front of me to keep me focused.
But there's one element for which I can't take any credit when it comes to having a great editorial call. And that is:
4) Have great editors.
I have no way of knowing how many editors are as good as mine. But from my experience with editors I've met at conferences, I suspect there are many good editors out there. I don't want to be a Pollyanna, and sure, there may be rotten apples in any profession, or people who are less expert than others. But without any effort, I can think of at least six editors I've met who were obviously kind, very intelligent and well-read. So my hope for all of you is that when your book makes it into the editorial process, you get one of these great editors.
Not all publishing houses follow this procedure in which they first send an editorial letter, then follow up with a call. Some friends have told me that they just get a phone call, or perhaps the call precedes the letter. Personally, I really like the way Thomas Nelson does it, because it allowed me time to ruminate on the suggestions before we talked.
I hope this is helpful! What do you think? Have you heard other good stories about editorial experiences? Or perhaps you know authors who eventually realized that their editors were correct about many things, even if the initial editorial response was a shock?