Guest post from Mary Murray.

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I am thrilled to welcome Mary Murray, Managing Line Editor and Acquisitions Director for Lyrical Press to my blog. Mary is my editor at Lyrical and a dear friend too. Today Mary is blogging about the surprises new authors might get when edits begin. I know I was surprised with my first lot of edits and sometimes I didn’t understand things. I hope this post  gives aspiring authors an idea what they might expect. 

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Daisy. For those who don’t know, Daisy and I have had a long fabulous friendship, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with her editing her amazing stories for Lyrical Press.

Daisy and I pretty much have content edits down to a science. Our professional relationship is based on trust and respect for each other and a deep knowledge of each others’ ways. It’s dear to me because of who she is and because, while slaving our butts off, we have a disturbing amount of fun.

I know, right? Having a grand ol’ time revising seems like an oxymoron. Like maybe we need psychological help.

Our Daisy is hardly the exception, though. A submission in my inbox from any of the authors on my roster is The Best Ever. I’m always as excited to discover what their imaginations have created as to work with them again. So, I’ve been pondering what informational goodies regarding the author-editor relationship might help you, who’ve recently been accepted for first-time publication. In a perfect world, all authors and their editors would have The Mutual Appreciation Society thing going on, and absolutely, you deserve that too.

I’m assuming of course, you’ve researched the publisher, checked out their authors’ blogs and maybe read a few of their books. Read reviews of their books by objective third parties. That you know the publisher puts out a quality product.

Anyhoo.

You’ve been accepted. Yay, yay! Damn. You go, girl!

Let’s bring it down now. Maybe even to golf tournament whisper level.

The squeeing is done but still, you’re like a toddler on her first sugar high. Content edits will soon be under way and the person assigned to the job has been introduced.

*Classic horror movie squeaking door sound effect* Ohhh Jeez. You’ve handed your baby to a complete stranger. Your work, of years perhaps—all those words and ideas pored over and agonized about, those characters who’ve lived in your dreams—is now in the hands of an editor.

Lucky you, though. You’ve been assigned a Mistress of the Written Word.

So, here are some things you should know right from the beginning.

Your manuscript isn’t perfect. No manuscript is, at submission. They all need work, from an overhaul to just tweaking, no matter how long you’ve worked on it and how many crit partners have read it. That’s due to a natural phenomenon affecting all writers everywhere: no longer being able to see the trees for the forest.

And—big one here, folks—your story is not going to be gutted by the editor. Totally not. If your story needed such a massive renovation, the editor would have rejected it. Which means, something bewitched the editor and they believe readers will enjoy and connect to it in a wonderful way. Have faith in that. Relax and take a cleansing breath, blow the fear away.

Be open to new concepts and revising. Your editor might want to teach you deep POV or how to add sentence variety…any number of complex techniques which enhance the writing and keep readers sucked into the story. Yep, words you loved will be lost or changed. Words will be added. Whole sentences might have to go, or scenes deleted and parts of those scenes drizzled into the story elsewhere. Be prepared to work hard and maybe even have your brain turned to mush. But, you’ll learn tons to make your writing as powerful and fascinating to readers as you want it to be. Really good stuff for your next novel and all the ones after that. You are in this for the long haul, aren’t you? 

Fact is, when a reader out in the wide world buys or reviews your first book, they don’t know you. Nor, I suspect, do they care about you, the author or the person, at that moment. From the beautiful cover and the tight, smexy blurb, they’re anticipating hours of reading pleasure. That’s all. Their interest in you as a writer, that “Oooh! I like her. I’m gonna buy her next book,” is equally proportional to the intensity of the enjoyment they’ll receive from reading the story.

All you have to be is open minded, and your editor will love you. Easy peezy. Ask questions if you don’t understand a concept or how to do something. About anything, actually. Publication is a huge new experience for you and we’re well aware of that. Our job is to guide you through revisions, the entire editing process and help you understand how publishing works. Editors don’t want you slogging on in a fog.

Frankly, I love questions. I’m always glad to ease an author’s mind, explain why something is the way it is, prepare them for what’s gonna happen next with their book during the production cycle. When an author has the knowledge they need, they can relax and write with confidence. That’s what I want for the ladies of my roster. (Sorry, don’t have any guy authors yet.) I want them typing away fiendishly, imaginations running free, the muse on their shoulders whispering only gems of goldenness in their ears. They know if a phrase doesn’t exactly say what they mean it to, I’ll help them fix it or prompt them with an idea for improvement during content edits. And ya know what? If an author doesn’t think my idea works but it sparks in them a better way to revise that pesky phrase or scene, great!

Just don’t ignore edits because you think the editor is wrong or the requested change too dramatic, reject advice out of hand…whatever. Author shenanigans are nothing new, and this ain’t our first rodeo. Every passive aggressive bit of nonsense you can imagine and feel the urge to get up to, we’ve experienced before.

Have you read those discussions in forums where authors complain about their editors, encourage others to semi-obnoxious behavior or even fight with the editor, EIC or the publisher? The reality is, those authors are in the minority, and eventually Publishing World Karma will bite their patooties. Ninety-nine point nine percent of all authors are the most genuine, most professional people in the world, adored and respected by their editors. And their fellow authors. The moral here: Understand that words are simply a conglomeration of letters on a page. They can be moved around at any time, from your book’s beginning to its last period, and if the story needs it, they can be made to disappear into the ether.

FYI, “stet” from a newbie author in reply to a suggested change tends to make content editors’ eyes bleed and their hair stand on end. Editors would much rather hear “I’d like to keep this as is, and here’s why,” with a reason listed. That leads to the editor trusting you as a writer. So, the next time you’d like to leave some things unchanged, the editor trusts you know what you’re doing and have thought of the consequences to readers’ enjoyment. The collaborative aspect of editing is the best element of the author-editor relationship, a huge part of the reason editors…well, why we edit. We luurrve talking about writing, helping authors improve their skills. Your achievements are validation we’re doing our job well.

Consider too, editors really do factor into the acceptance of your next novel how much they enjoyed working with you on this one. From the time we’ve finished reading the submission, we know the effort we’re gonna put into your book. We’re gonna “bring it.” Do we really want to be bum up for however many months through rounds of edits, post line edits and galley review, working with someone who isn’t open to collaboration?

Nah. Not really.

Along this vein, I’ll say a few words about research. Fiction often contains elements of real life. Facts. Know everything you can about whatever factual elements are in your story, and don’t depend on other authors’ novels for information. Those authors could have the best sources and have used the data meticulously, but what if a fact is portrayed erroneously? One review noting the inaccuracy can ruin the potential for sales.

By the way, this includes words your characters wouldn’t use. Especially in a historical setting, etymology is vital to suspending readers’ natural sense of disbelief. Readers are intelligent and “Hey, fiction is fake!” for an excuse doesn’t wash with content editors.

With line editors, either, or final copy editors as they’re sometimes called. Part of their job is fact-checking, and they’re deadly serious about it. At Lyrical Press, they’re anonymous to the author and editor, and the first objective reader before the book goes live. They don’t receive a synopsis to tell them what’s supposed to be happening plot-wise or to reveal the setting and who your characters are supposed to be. I’m here for readers is their mantra. Think Wonder Woman with a red pen and terrier-like fact-checking super powers.

Because I have a deep fondness for our line eds, I have to say this. As excruciatingly thorough on behalf of readers as they are, they’re equally devoted to helping you and the content editor make your book shiny. Very cool ladies, our LEs.

Your content editor is there for your readers, for you and for the publishing company. Remember this simple truth and to be open-minded, and you’ll have an amazing relationship with your editor.

Editors work within guidelines set by the publisher and Editor in Chief, house style, the rules of punctuation and grammar and make sure your book makes its deadlines during the editing cycle. With the publisher and EIC, that editors are there for your readers is the most important thing to remember. All suggested changes by an editor or the publisher, even when your book is scheduled for release, everything we do to your book is for your readers. Because without them, we all might as well just give up and go home, right?

Tell your editor everything. If your mom is sick and you need to help out, let your editor know. She’ll want to ease your burden by waiting to send edits until you’re ready for them. If you’re taking a vacay or spend three hours a day ferrying the kids to soccer and ballet, tell her. Whatever’s going on in your life that could affect your ability to concentrate, your editor needs to know. We understand how colds and kids and acts of Mother Nature can wreak havoc.

Brace yourself. Here’s a simple hard fact: Some things you believe in your bones are your voice and writing style, just are not, in publishing. Reader satisfaction is everything to us, remember? Yeah, we’re sticklers ad nauseam about that.

Along with every human on the planet, writers have quirks and habits. It’s just the way it is, and perfectly natural, and yes, most excellent to strive for uniqueness in something so personal as writing. But, if what you claim as your voice or style falls under the heading “Many Writers Use It,” “Hello? This is Redundant” or “Just Baaad Grammar,” you’ll be expected to change it.

Your editor has a big fat reason for the revision. You guessed it—reader satisfaction and salability. Of course you’re gonna be ticked off; writing is a solo gig and a major alteration to a belief is hard to choke down. Just remember to breathe, and when the red dots have dissipated, politely relay your concerns to your editor. I bet they’ll explain all the whys and wherefores. Maybe they did from the start, and you just need time to ponder it. And, please, don’t despair or feel the slightest bit foolish—a frequent emotional inclination. You just didn’t realize, that’s all. We know it. Heck, we’ve been there too. Best of all, your editor will guide you through the process of perfecting your true voice and style, which oddly enough, you’ll discover, has more to do with characters’ voices than yours.

That’s all I can think of at the moment but maybe our lovely Daisy will have me back someday and I’ll have more goodies for you. 🙂

Best of luck to you, and keep writing!

Many thanks to you Mary for sharing honest and realistic thoughts on the whole editing process. It’s a pleasure to have you here and you will always be welcome.

Daisy B

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21 thoughts on “Guest post from Mary Murray.

    • A massive thank you to Mary for blogging with me. It’s great to read your insights into the editing process.
      Many thanks to all those of you who have commented on this great blog.
      A warm welcome to the new followers too.
      Happy reading, writing and editing too.
      Daisy Banks
      Xxx

  1. Hi, Mary. I LOVE this post! As one of your roster authors I agree with your statements, but then–you go above and beyond the normal. You are so delightful to work with and your sense of humor is extraordinary. Team work is important in the publishing process. Editing is difficult because sometimes an editor will see through the forest, but the author only sees a tree. I’ve found, that’s when you put the MS down and go for a run. And I enjoyed your imagery of the line editor. I embrace line edits! A line editor finds mistakes and blurred lines. I appreciate this valuable asset! Don’t you?
    Bottom line, Mary, you make the editng process enjoyable. Best editor ever!

    • Aww, jj. Thank you!
      Great advice, to step back sometimes from the story. Usually when you’re not thinking about the problem, the answer comes. So ironic.
      Love working with you! 🙂

  2. I’m not one of Mary’s roster authors, but I have the utmost respect for you! Thanks for putting this out so nicely said. When I first sold I had no idea of all this either, but I quickly learned. Editors are a precious commodity to all authors. I used to think of those wonder women/men as higher beings, untouchable, better than me and able to make or break me. Well, the fact is, an editor can make or break an author, but it depends on me first, how much I want to work and succeed. I know that now. I also know how much pressure that fact is for an editor. To know they hold careers in their hands is a huge responsibility, not to be taken lightly. (Big high-five to my editor, Piper! Thank you.) On another note, LEs rock!

  3. What a great informative post! I remember the first time my editor suggested a change I wanted to keep and I responded with “I’d like to keep that. Here’s why…” It was a bit terrifying to take that step (nice to know I approached it in the correct way). I had a moment of holding my breath, fearful I was challenging something. It was a pleasant eye-opener to realize the entire editing process really is a collaboration. Thanks for sharing, Mary!

    • You’re welcome, Mae, and thanks. I do so love to hear “I’d like to keep that, and here’s why” as an editor. That step is soo scary though, isn’t it? Even more heart-attack inducing than clicking Post in a crit group for the first time ever. Authors are very very brave.
      For me, maybe the issue in question is something that will be whacked at by the LE but at the least, it always gives me a place to start a discussion. Quite the chatty one, usually. lol Or maybe your reason is spot on and something that hadn’t even occurred to me. It’s all good.

  4. What an amazing guest, Daisy, and fabulous of you to host her. I loved the post, and yes, I would have been thrilled to have found this before I ever met an editor. That being said, all the advice is so relevant to every time any author goes to edits, no matter how much experience they have. Thank you Mary.

    • You’re welcome, Diane! I’ve been thinking about what first-time authors must go through a lot lately. Hopefully I’ve dispelled some myths.

  5. Excellent points, well worth reading more than once. I love the days when I open my inbox and find a fresh round of edits from my editor. She’s working her butt off to help me make every word shine. Passive-aggressive — or just plain aggressive — behavior is a waste of her time and mine. Straightforward communication is the way to go. Huge thumbs-up for Mary’s suggestion to explain any disagreements over changes. Chances are the point is unclear in the text, which is why the editor marked it, and the author’s explanation will help the editor put a finger on the real problem with the scene so they can find a solution that works for them both.

    • You are so right, M.Q. If the editor doesn’t know what you’re thinking, how can they help you?
      Thanks for your comment.

  6. Absolutely loved this post! It details exactly what a new author should expect and how to have a great working relationship with your editor. I hadn’t any idea how important that relationship would be as a new author, and this is such a cool insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes. So cool that you ladies have such a longstanding and comfortable working relationship 🙂

    • Thanks, Tera!
      (Who’s a brave new author herself. And I’ll be working with probably for-evah because she’s awesome. And just got herself a big time agent. Whoop! Whoop!)

    • heeeh! i love this 😀 i AM ridiculously excited that you have a gabajillion books/novellas of mine. doesn’t suck having the magnanimous Mary Murray push the polish on my little darlings 😉 Agent magic-ness only happened because a certain editor *nudge nudge* took the time to help a rough (i mean rouuuuuugh) new author work on the errors of her writing ways.

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