From the Editor’s Desk: How to Make an Editor Love Working with You
Every time another holiday rolls around (even if it’s just some barely noticed and otherwise uncelebrated occasion like the first day of spring), our mailboxes here at Eerdmans receive a little flurry of envelopes. They’re cards, sent from the incomparable Eileen Spinelli and always bearing a cheerful little poem and some charming little gift. Given the number of people in our office alone who receive these cards, it wouldn’t surprise me if Eileen had to employ a small army to send out cards to everyone on her mailing list. And she is, accordingly (for this and a host of other non-card-related reasons) rather famous around our office as one of the most delightful authors to work with.
This is one way to make an editor love you.
But I have many favorite authors, and most of them don’t send me cards particularly often. So for all of those authors out there who might be wondering, here are some other suggestions for winning the undying affection of your editor.
Be open to letting your story grow and change.
There is probably nothing more that I as an editor love than an author who is joyfully willing to tackle revisions. Any good story can be told in multiple different ways, and polishing a project usually means playing around with a few of those ways before finding the one that works best. Often that might mean cutting and changing parts — maybe even ones that have been near and dear to an author. Check out this post for a look at how working with Jen Bryant on The Right Word meant dropping some magnificent material.
With picture books the need to let a project grow is even more important — the author has to trust the illustrator to bring their unique vision and skills to the story. In the hands of a good illustrator, a story can become something magical and almost wholly new. But that can’t happen, of course, if an author is holding too tightly to their own vision for the story.
Trust that the editor is your ally.
This is closely connected to the previous idea. Why exactly should an author trust the shaping of their book to someone else? Because ultimately, the editor wants the same thing that the author does: to create the best book they possibly can. That can mean different things to each person, of course. It’s not the editor’s job to impose their vision. The name on the jacket will always be the author’s and not the editor’s.
It’s the editor’s job, instead, to make sure that that book accomplishes what the author wants it to do. That editor is not there to change the author’s vision but to make sure that vision can reach the reader as clearly and powerfully as possible. In that way they act as a stand-in for the reader, asking the sort of questions the reader might ask: Is this really something the character would do? What did that scene actually look like? Is there a point to this long, unwieldy paragraph? In other words: what story is the author trying to tell, and does what’s on the page capture that yet?
Know what to push back on.
There will be plenty of times when the editor has sage advice that will require making changes. Even so, we editors acknowledge that we are quite human, too, and can make mistakes. It’s surprisingly satisfying when an author stands firm on some change I’ve suggested — as long as they have good reasons for doing so. Is the author just stuck on a particular turn of phrase they’ve nursed from the first blank page, or is there some detail that is central to how they want to accomplish something within the story? When an author is willing to go to bat for something, and can say exactly how it is relevant or important to the book as a whole, I learn a great deal more about what’s really important to them about the story — and often we can come up with a solution that’s even better.
Know your stuff.
This is probably particularly true for more nonfiction types of books. It’s awe-inspiring, the amount of research that an author like Chris Barton or Jen Bryant does. Knowing a subject well allows a writer to create a more cohesive story, and it ensures that they get the historical details right. I love it when I ask questions and an author has done enough research to know the answer (or where to find it) — whether we’re debating geography or period-appropriate slang or some even more ancillary detail.
This wisdom holds true for other types of books as well, though — authors need to know both their subject and their craft. If I’m working with poetry, I appreciate when an author can tell me exactly why a word is important for the rhythm or the rhyme or the flow. If I’m working with a translator, I depend on them to tell me more about the nuances of the original language. A brilliant translator like Laura Watkinson knows the foreign language in and out — and also knows how to shape that story into a well-told, lyrical story in English.
I am incredibly grateful for the chance to work with a range of talented and gracious writers who — by doing all these things — make my job easier every day. And when they send me cheery holiday cards, that doesn’t hurt either.
* * *
Kathleen Merz is managing editor for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Read her From the Editor’s Desk column — packed with editorial insight and behind-the-scenes info on Eerdmans books — one Thursday a month here on Eerdlings.