Friday, September 13, 2013

What An Editor Can Do For You . . . If You Let Her By Dora Machado

copyright 2013, Dora Machado


 by Dora Machado

When it comes to editors, I haven’t always a believer. As a writer, part of me assumed that if you needed an editor, you weren’t ready for prime time. The smarter part of me suspected that the cocky part of me was being—well—cocky. So a few years back, I decided to challenge my assumptions and hired an editor to review my manuscript prior to submission. Wow. The mind-blowing, eye-opening experience resulted in the award-winning Stonewiser series.  I realized that, no matter how well you write, every author can benefit from having an editor, and a qualified, experienced, insightful editor can impact both a story and an author in profound and lasting ways.

Of course, the editing experience has a lot to do with the quality of the editor, the interaction between the writer and the editor, and the author’s ability to capitalize on the editor’s advice. I have been extremely fortunate to work with some of the best editors in my genre, but I have to credit my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books, for making this latest match. When she assigned Barb Caffrey to edit The Curse Giver, she brought together two experienced, opinionated, passionate lovers of the fantasy genre with stubborn streaks, high standards and even higher expectations. I have to wonder: Either Lida Quillen is a troublemaker or she’s the wisest publisher on the planet.

Generally speaking, an editor’s contributions range from the very simple to the very complex. Writer’s ego aside, a good editor will always remind us of the basic principles of writing and the pesky details we might overlook when submerged in our manuscript’s depths. I’m always surprised—not to mention embarrassed—by the simple finds, the nits, typos and common mistakes my editor catches. I blame writer’s myopia for those easy-to-fix bloopers. When you’ve read the same paragraph twenty-six times, the eye doesn’t see what’s before it anymore, but rather what the mind thinks the eye should see. I might be sharp and thrive at self-editing, but once the eyes go numb, self-editing becomes a delusion.

Beyond the simple contributions, an editor has a lot more to offer, not just to the author but to the story. A good editor can offer perspective and objectivity, which can often become casualties of the creative process. Objectivity is an important quality when evaluating a story. It’s not about how well the story is written. It’s about how well the story reads, how it flows—not in your author’s mind, where the movie has played so many times—but in the virgin mind, where the story runs what can sometimes be a very different course through a new geography.

This is exactly what happened when Barb Caffrey read The Curse Giver‘s manuscript. She pointed out the strengths right away—assets I immediately wanted to preserve during the editing process. But she also sensed a weakness, a kink in the story’s flow, a blind spot for the reader that didn’t exist in my author’s mind because I knew the story’s outcome all along.

Barb recommended that I add a new point of view to the story. I gasped when I got her e-mail. I imagined my word count—the bane of my writer’s existence—soaring. I thought about all the work it was going to take to integrate this new point of view into the story, the details I would have to tweak, the time and energy I would have to spend . . .

I sat on my author’s indignation for a whole five minutes before I began to consider the suggestion in earnest. I had been sort of wondering if The Curse Giver‘s first few chapters were strong enough to capture the reader’s mind and launch them into the grand adventure that awaited them. You know an editor is gifted when she jabs that needle directly into your nerve. You know she is exceptional when she answers the very question you feared asking.

“Okay, all right.” I took several deep breaths and forced my mind open. “So maybe Barb has a point.”
I had the perfect character built into the story to develop a new point of view.  As Barb pointed out, I could keep my word count down by using the new point of view sparingly in a ruthless and utilitarian approach. She kindly encouraged me to at least give it a try. It doesn’t hurt when your editor combines excellence and kindness, so I sat down, wrote out the new POV, and tested it by inserting it in the story.

I purred like a satisfied kitten when I reread the amended story. My questions were answered. My doubts were put to rest. The story flowed beautifully. The new point of view strengthened and clarified the opening chapters, supporting the early development of the reader’s trance. Added bonus? Readers loved Severo, and they routinely tell me how much they like this quirky character who got his own POV at the last minute, courtesy of Barb Caffrey.

If you are a writer, you know that writing requires continuous self-development. Our trade demands the highest standards of critical review and our stories are improved by a rigorous editing process. An editor can provide all of that and more, especially if she has tons of practical experience in the genre, is a good fit to your style, and has secured your trust with high-impact recommendations. In addition, a good editor helps you build confidence in your writing. But remember, editing works only if the author is open to changes and suggestions. Take it from me:  An editor can improve your writing and your manuscript . . . but only if you let her.


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Dora Machado is the award winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books July 2013. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her husband and three very opinionated cats. To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at www.doramachado.com or contact her at Dora@doramachado.com.  
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For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.com/TheCurseGiver_ch1.html.





2 comments:

Aaron Lazar said...

Dora - thank you so much for this insightful piece! We look forward to your next article, and know we'll all learn alot from your experiences. ;o) Have a great weekend!

Dora Machado said...

Thanks for having me, Aaron. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with your readers. Murder by 4 is such a wonderful source of support for us writers! I know that I've learned so much reading the articles published here. It's great to be part of this on-line community where we all learn from each other.