Today I am going to gush about how wonderful my editor is. A subtitle to this blog post could be: And Why They Are Worth Every Penny. (ETA: Also, I am defining friends here as: someone who always has your best interest at heart; someone who is willing to call you on your bullshit; someone who will always tell you when you’re making a bad choice, etc.)
First, let me give you a quick primer on the kinds of editors that exist in fiction, because they are not all the same! Some editors wear all of these hats, some only one, and some pick and choose elements at which they excel.
- Developmental Editors. The name “developmental” is a recent addition caused in most part by the self-publishing or indie books movement. In a traditional publishing house (even a small press), this person is just an editor. But what they do is help the author develop a book. They look at the story, the characters, the flow and pacing, the conflict, the stakes. They help the author punch up saggy bits of story and cut away any unnecessary flab. You might also think of them as big-picture or story editors. While they may also discuss word choice, grammar, and other language issues with the author, that isn’t their primary job. Many agents also act as a first-round developmental editor for their authors.
- Copy Editors. Here is where all of the grammar and usage stuff comes in. A copy editor reads for clarity/concision and points out things like overused words, consistent grammatical errors, awkward or stilted prose, logic errors, etc. Depending on the editor/publisher, they may also do fact-checking. They are sometimes also called style editors, because they edit with the house style in mind.
- Proofreaders. Also called line editors because they read the manuscript line-by-line (and sometimes backwards; it’s easier to catch spelling errors that way and not get caught up in the story). Proofing catches punctuation, spelling/misused words, lingering grammatical errors, and other text-level errors.
Some people can do all of these things well, but often editors specialize. In my experience, you’re more likely to find someone who does both copy and proofing, as developmental editing requires a very different skill set.
All of these kinds of editing are important for any book. I can usually tell when one of the steps has been skipped. You probably can, too, even if you aren’t aware of it on a conscious level. But although all stages are important, today I’m focusing on the stage I’m in currently: developmental.
And that brings me to my amazing developmental editor, Anna, of Literally Yours Editing.
If you follow me on social media, I’ve already mentioned how awesome she is many times, and last week I was very excited because I’ve been having problems with Memories of Magic and she helped me solve most of them. (Unfortunately she can’t do anything about the fact that my daughter has been home sick all week!)
When I sent Anna the outline for Memories I was already aware of most of the problems, but I kept coming up empty on how to fix them.
I outline the Fay of Skye books using Gwen Hayes’s fantastic book Romancing the Beat. I learned my lesson after the first draft of Essential Magic ended up as a fantasy story with strong romantic elements that this romance stuff isn’t for the faint of heart. Hayes’s beat structure helped me build a satisfying central romantic arc for Etta and Mal.
I recommend this book to anyone who writes romance, and to anyone who wants to add a romance into their stories. Especially if it’s otherwise an action/thriller or hero’s journey type of story. So many of the romances in those books are only there to motivate the hero or to prove his/her desirability or empathy. Don’t fall into that trap! This book can help.
But for as amazing as the book is, it does focus entirely on the romance. And when I finished outlining Memories, I realized that I’d focused so hard on the romance story beats that I was missing everything else. And it’s the “everything else” that keeps readers going through a series, because the couple they fell in love with in one book are relegated to secondary status in future books.
In came Anna to the rescue!
She took my outline and made lots of insightful comments about the characters, conflict, and stakes. She also did a quick beat sheet using a different plotting method to help me fill in non-romance story elements and conflict, and together we fixed what I’m calling “the antagonist problem”–namely, that there wasn’t one!
We ended up having a lengthy video chat, brainstorming and fixing problems, and I am now in a much better place for finishing the first draft. So when I say that my books would not exist (or at least, not in the form they do now) without Anna, know that I am not lying. She makes everything I write better.
It’s important to find an editor who works well with you and your style, and I got lucky that I found Anna on the first try.
Now, if only my daughter would feel better so she can go back to school and I can write for more than a few minutes at a time…