Girl Friday, where I work, has all kinds of editorial clients: novelists, memoirists, business book authors, you name it. Most of them are wonderful and grateful for the fabulous work that my talented colleagues do to improve their books. But every once in a while we get someone who just doesn’t want to be told, a writer who rejects the notion that the editorial process will improve their work, which isobviously perfect as it is. Frankly, I find this arrogant and not a little bit self-destructive. In my humble (informed and reasoned) opinion, there is a not a writer in the world whose work cannot be made better, sharper, clearer, and more powerful via the editorial process. Got that? Not one.
I’m not saying there are no bad editors out there—a good fit is paramount—but I believe the process itself to be sacred. Lots of elements of publishing are up for debate in the modern era. This isn’t one of them.
My novel The Sojourn was raised by an editorial village that encompasses everyone from my college mentor to the fine folks at Aria Books. I’ve been working on the novel off and on for twelve years and over that time a number of professors, writers, and colleagues have given me feedback on it. But in the name of brevity, I will only talk about the editorial process as it concerns the book’s most recent iteration.
At the beginning of last year, after a number of attempts at getting published, I decided to have another go. If I was going to take my beloved novel back out into the world, I wanted to give it the best possible chance of succeeding, so I hired one of Girl Friday’s talented editors Amara Holstein to help me out. She was smart and cool and a Francophile like me, a perfect fit. She helped me smooth things on the line and most importantly: cut, cut, cut. I knew I had pacing problems, and I needed an expert third party to tell me what could get the axe. I asked her to ruthlessly extract anything that wasn’t moving the plot forward. Once Amara and I finished our revisions, I sent it out with a certainty that whatever happened, I would know I’d done everything I could. It didn’t take long to see the results of our efforts.
About a month later, I received a revise and resubmit letter from one of my top choice agents Carly Watters. She told me she liked the book but wanted to know if I’d be willing to make some changes. I was thrilled with her feedback. First of all, it meant I had an agent interested who had a keen editorial eye and was willing to do the work necessary to give a book the best chance at selling. And her suggestions themselves felt so spot on it seemed like we’d been working together for years. I revised in a hurry. I sent it back to Carly and she called me the next day. I had other agents looking, but there was no way I wasn’t going with her. In addition to everything else I knew about Carly when I queried her, I now knew that he was a clear communicator and had an editorial eye that could make my work better.
After we sold the book to Atria, I got a chance to work with my in-house editor, the delightful Sarah Cantin. I knew from previous conversations that we had a ton in common and a shared vision for the book. Digging in with her was great fun. Reading her notes and feeling the empathy and appreciation she had for my characters bowled me over. Endings in particular are so tricky, and Sarah helped me hone mine in a way I couldn’t have done without her. After all the years I’d spent with the book, seeing it all come together in a way that felt so right was incredible.
Next came that unsung hero of the editorial process, the copyeditor. A big part of the copyeditor’s job is to clean up mistakes and ensure consistency, but there’s more to it than that. My meticulous copyeditor, Steve Boldt, caught things such as a character getting on the wrong train to her destination, or the fact that I had my heroine calling her mother from France when it would be the middle of the night California time. It’s easy to miss these kinds of details when you’re focusing on bigger issues, but leaving them in could risk distracting the reader, and even losing their confidence. Seeing this manuscript that I’d labored over for so many years get its final polish was a pleasure akin to having my car detailed.
Much is made of what a lonely art writing is, and it’s true that you need to be prepared for some solitude. The years of rejection can be wearying: you wonder if your voice will ever be heard, if anyone will ever give a damn. But it makes it all the sweeter when such gifted people care enough about your work to put their own creative talents into it. Even if it isn’t always easy to hear critical feedback, heed thy editor(s) my friend, they are on your side.