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Posted on Dec 22, 2016

How Working with an Editor Helped me Score a Publishing Deal

Leslie Heath recently secured a publishing contract for her novel "The Last Mayor's Son". She attributes a large part of her book's success to her editor. In this article, she shares glimpses into the editing process and her advice on how to maintain a good author-editor relationship.

A good editor can take a mediocre story and help make it into something phenomenal, but that requires lots of communication, knowledge, and above all, a strong relationship between the author and editor.

Important note: a good editor doesn’t actually change the story — they make suggestions that the author can accept or refuse. It is ultimately the author’s responsibility to make any necessary revisions to the prose, storyline, or characters.

Finding the right editor

When working on my novel, The Last Mayor's Son, I first tried finding an editor on author forums and web searches — without much luck. I did begin to work with one individual, but that arrangement quickly fell apart for many reasons, some of which I should have seen coming. First, I figured out almost immediately that this "editor" was not a professional — despite the claims on his website. When I asked him about his cringeworthy grammar and punctuation, his response was that those things were not his concern. This might have been funny if it wasn’t so frustrating. Finally, I asked around for advice, and several people recommended Reedsy as the best place to find a genuinely professional editor.

Reedsy's briefing process was simple, and within no time, I had accepted an offer from one of their vetted editors, Maria D’Marco. Initially, I asked her for an editorial assessment to point out flaws in the plot and give me a general idea of where to improve. I expected a short two- or three-page overview, but I got so much more. Maria gave me an in-depth, twenty-page written assessment plus notes in the manuscript. She not only showed me the areas that needed work but also highlighted places where the story shined.

How to facilitate a good author-editor relationship

This is a good place to point out the most important aspect of the author-editor relationship: the author must be willing to accept constructive criticism. It is astounding how many authors ask for input, then get offended and angry when the editor or reader finds an error or suggests a change. I didn’t agree with every suggestion, but I used them as jumping-off points where I could improve my story. Also, this is where the author needs to have a plan for the story. There were several places where Maria suggested something that wouldn’t work for my idea of the storyline. Instead of getting upset at her feedback, I saw it as an arrow pointing to a problem. Clearly, my idea didn't get across in that passage, so I rewrote it to say what I wanted it to. 

One instance of this is a scene where it necessary to the story for a character who is swimming in a lake to head for deeper waters. After reading this scene, Maria felt it was a bit random and that I needed to specify why this character dives deeper. She suggested the character notices something sinister in the shallow-end and therefore swims away. While this was intriguing, it didn’t fit the story. To fix the clarity problem, I added a few lines of dialogue at the end of the scene where the character explains that something brushed his leg, startling him into jumping toward deep water.

The importance of editing for fantasy novels

Fantasy stories can require more work than other types of fiction, especially when the author has to keep track of all the details about how the world works. The world I had created for "The Last Mayor’s Son" has 3 moons which orbit in different directions and in different time schedules. This is an issue at one point in the story when two characters must wait until the slowest moon is full again before they can be freed from their temporary prison. A sharp editor is essential in these situations, as they can see inconsistencies that the author may not have noticed.

Several months after Maria’s initial assessment, I returned to Reedsy — and Maria — for a full developmental edit. I was eager to see what her reaction would be to the changes I had made. This time we got more into the nitty-gritty of each individual scene, and she also pointed out some bad grammatical habits I had fallen into. Specifically, she walked me through improving the flow and coherence of the final, epic battle scene, where the main character leaves his home to help defend a forest village, he must face the enemy. While I had the major events of the battle already defined, Maria helped me organize them so the flow made sense and readers could easily follow what was happening. I would go more in-depth here, but I don’t want to give away the ending!

Professional editing helped me score a publishing contract

After more revisions and reworking those scenes, I started sending off queries to publishers and agents. Within a few short weeks, I received a request for a full manuscript, and then an offer for a contract with a small independent publisher. I have no doubt that Maria’s help was instrumental in landing the deal because she helped strengthen the weakest parts of the book. And after working with a talented professional, I can say with confidence that a good editor is instrumental in creating a book people will want to read. 

Just remember — know the story you are trying to tell, but keep your pen open to suggestion and you will find working with an editor to be a fruitful and happy process.

The Last Mayors son is available from Class Act Books, and on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

What have been your experiences working with an editor? Do you have any additional tips for creating a good author-editor relationship? Leave your thoughts, experiences, or any questions for Leslie in the comments below.