Monday, June 15, 2009

What Makes Me Pass

In the comments to my post on What Not To Edit, Beth asks,

I wonder...does this mean that if something is wrong with one of these things, this tends to be a project you just don't bother with? I.e. if you say you don't typically change word choice, and you get a project where the word choice seems very often wrong (but other things, like characters and plot are fine) does this mark a project as not worth your time and therefore one you pass on? Just curious...

I hate to tell you this, but the answer is that it depends on how busy I am.

Some edits require more of my time. Some require more of your time. When I'm very busy (as I have been for at least the past six months), I tend to look for things I can bring to completion with less time commitment from me.

In general, line edits take more of my time. Story edits take more of your time. So if the plot and characters need work but the sentences are good, I would actually be more inclined to take it on.

But this is not the way I prefer to work. Not at all. My feeling has always been that it's easier to turn a storyteller into an author than it is to turn a wordsmith into an author. I can teach a storyteller what they need to know about scene structure, sentence mechanics, and the like. They can learn to respect language and grammar. Assuming they're willing to learn, that is -- it's always such a shock to run into authors who have achieved some minor success and think they know everything now. Shoot, you put my whole editing team together -- with our 10 or 11 advanced degrees, combined century of editing experience, not to mention college level teaching experience and publication track records -- and combined, we don't know everything. Nobody knows everything, no matter how hard they rock it, so hearing some n00b proclaim their perfection is always a bit of a shock. But that's perhaps a post for another time.

Human nature, interpersonal dynamics, motivation, and all those other great things that create character are much harder to teach. I can point out to a writer that the hero is behaving in a strange fashion in chapter four, but I probably can't teach them the sensitivity and insight they need to understand human behavior. That kind of knowledge comes from within, and it evolves over time. It's not a light switch learning moment. I can diagram phrases and clauses on a napkin and see the light dawn in a writer's eyes, and I know they'll never again misplace a modifier out of ignorance. (Perhaps out of carelessness, but not out of ignorance.)

But I can't whip out a napkin and a pen and jot down the key to character motivation. I can point out specific places in a particular story where motivation fails, behavior is erratic, characters are shallow, etc. Will that help a writer create better characters next time? Hard to say. They might gain a little insight, but whether it's enough to push them to the next level is anybody's guess.

In a perfect world, every book I purchased would be exceptionally strong in both the story elements and the writerly elements. In the real world, we have to choose the flaws we work with.

So what makes me pass? Assuming the project is right for my house -- that is, it's erotic romance suitable for a mostly female audience -- I can and do reject stories in the first page if:

  1. I see multiple spelling errors. Seriously, if you're too careless to even run the spellchecker, I'm not going to waste my time on your story.
  2. I see multiple grammar errors. Yes, I can and do teach better grammar to my writers. But it takes time, and at the moment, I don't have that kind of time.
  3. I see narrative summary in place of scene. Sometimes even the best writers will slip out of scene and into summary, but there's a kind of beginner writer that never gets into scene at all. This is always obvious right from the first page.
  4. I see multiple exclamation marks, underlines and double underlines, italics and bolds, and other bling meant to fool us into thinking something exciting is happening.
  5. A preponderance of boring, generic language. Dick and Jane went out of fashion sometime around grade three, and it's never coming back.
  6. Characters speak to each other without dialogue. Example: "Mary suggested they have Indian food for lunch, but Charlie said no because he was out of rolaids."
  7. Even one laughable gaffe gets you a rejection. "Eyes closing in ecstasy, the pizza tasted great." (Close to lunchtime. All my examples are about food!)
So if we get past the first page and into the meat of the story, your book will already have claimed more of my attention than 80% or more of what is submitted to our house. And it's only then that I consider things like plot and character and story logic and coherence. And even then, the story might be wonderful and the writing strong, but I have to fit it into my line-up.

So, yes, it may be that I'm less likely to edit things like dialogue and word choice and paragraphing simply because our process of elimination rules out subs with loads of problems in those departments. But given the time, I won't rule out a project just because of weaknesses in those areas.



Edittorrent said...

I for one want to read your n00b post. :)


Riley Murphy said...

(Imagine me rubbing my hands together here with glee because...)

I have compared your style of editing against Alicia's. Hey, it was easy to do, I just bought the books you’ve both edited. And to be honest, despite obvious rules and certain things being proper, I did detect a style that comes through that I’m not sure is specifically unique to the various authors prose. I mean, there seems to be a constant thread despite different writers - and if that is the editor involved, could this be the editor’s voice/style that comes through each project?

Now, I know that you are saying here that you leave a lot of the writer’s word choice and dialogue to them, but do you think that maybe you are drawn to a project because of the words that a particular author used to begin with? I’m just’s kind of a different way to look at the whole process from where I’m sitting...

Leona said...

How do we submit stories/queries to you? As previously stated, I have only found your website. If I've missed where you posted this information, I'm sorry. I would love to read your submission guidelines.

I've read some of your posts to my husband as well as telling him how it has helped me. His first question was, "How much do they cost?" The one I read the most of to him (besides the Mantasy one, which cracked me up :)was the one about the "...light cleaner and purer..." I read him your line item edits as well as your suggested fixes and he was impressed.

My first question was "Where do I submit?" Either way, we agree that you are the way to go, if at all possible.

Edittorrent said...

Murph, you're right that different editors will acquire different sorts of stories, and so a lot of editorial "voice" is actually just what we like in a writer's prose. I don't know about Theresa, but I am drawn to "clever" prose, word play, teasing dialogue, double entendres; and also to scenes with some reversal in them, some trick or surprise. So you might see a lot of that in the stories I acquire. (It also probably indicates that I'm going to be drawn more to lighter than heavier tones.)

Leona, here's the link to our house's submission page:


Edittorrent said...

I don't know, Murph. There may be minor differences between editors -- for example, we know that Alicia has more tolerance for "said" synonyms, where I'm more likely to just pull the tags and rely on beats. But I'm just not convinced that if I gave you a story to read, you'd be able to discern which of us edited it.

Keep in mind, too, that many hands touch a story before it goes to print. We've even had stories begun by one editor and finished by another.

Just out of curiosity, if you've read any of the recent Secrets anthos, can you guess who edited which stories?


Edittorrent said...

Leona, send the first ten pages and a 1-page synopsis in rtf attachments to

Put my name or Alicia's name in the email, and it will get to us. But please check the submission guidelines on the website first to be sure we publish what you are submitting. :)


Dara Edmondson said...

I think the editor voice thing depends entirely on how much editing was done. Alicia is my editor and didn't change word choices or insert her own prose in place of mine anywhere. I've worked with at least 6 editors and never had an editor who changed my voice.

Edittorrent said...

Dara, thanks-- I think that much of the voice is just what we like in a writer's voice!

But truly, if you see even one semicolon left in there, you know it's mine and not Theresa's. :)


Riley Murphy said...

Holy crap! Do I love a...? Well, I don’t want to say heated discussion, cause that’s not politically correct these days - so, let’s call it a simple talk, K? My thought was (as I am going through my very first set of revisions here guys, so cut me some freaking slack, please! okay?...And um, insert me pulling at my collar - if I were wearing one, that is) that maybe there is a pattern that I need to pay attention to, is all.

Having built a successful business for years, that is unrelated to the publishing industry, I do know there are patterns to every type of business. And publishing is a BUSINESS and I hate to tell you, there are patterns that I am noticing here - so, we all need to pay attention. But with that said, and true to my business acumen, I’m not going to get sidetracked. I take it straight on the chin. I always have.

Theresa, you asked me if I read the most recent anthologies, and if I did: could I name who edited what? No. The last Redsage anthology that I read was the Vol. 2 (that was so long ago, when they were delivering through regular mail under brown bag cover:)) - by the time I returned back to Redsage(December 2008) I was more interested in single title - so, unless you and Alicia were on board then, I don’t see where this would help us now.

BUT --:D,

And, you know with me there had to be one. If you would like to give me two/three different antho’s that you and Alicia edited stories, within the same publications, I’ll pick one of them, and read it and even challenge a few of the current readers on the blog to do the same thing (providing they have no inside info:)) and we’ll pick who we think edited what book and why. All you have to do is name the books, time (blog) and place and I (along with any other brave souls...IF THEY DARE), will name who we think edited the stories and why we believe that.

Hey, this might be a first for the publishing industry. A backwards look into the thought process regarding editors - and trust me, I couldn’t find any harder working editors - who deserved a backwards challenge such as this. Your work ethic is awesome!

So, are you guys game? Or, are you slightly higher up on the proverbial food chain and chicken?


Riley Murphy said...

Shit. I meant to do a big: the end of that. You know, make it sound devious somehow...?

Mmmmkay, here's me sounding like a leaking tire. I'm totally deflated. Crap, I hate when that happens:(.

Edittorrent said...

I'm sort of wondering when there's going to be an Oscars for book editing. :) But I think really we're like children-- we should be seen and not heard.

em said...

Theresa and Alicia this is wonderful of you to be doing this. It is helping me with my WIP:).
I'll do the challenge with you Murphy. It could be a lot of fun.
Murph, does this mean you're back for a while or are you going to disappear again? :( It's fun having you around:).

Genella deGrey said...

Bring on the n00b! LOL

In addition to minor differences between editors, there are noticable differences between entier publishing houses, too.

I remember attending a class at a conference - They talked about not bringing "MOE" along to your new publisher's house.

"MOE said not to do _____."
Or "MOE said always do ______."

Moe stands for: My Other Editor

Edittorrent said...

Was that heated? I didn't mean it to be.

But I do love a good game, so here's what we'll do. Player's choice -- look at volumes 23, 24, 25 or 26. Or 27, which comes out in July, if you can get your hands on it before the deadline.

Anyone who can correctly name which stories in an antho were edited or line edited by Alicia or I will have your name entered into a drawing. Winner will get "Wicked Temptation" by Liane Gentry Skye, a July e-book that kicks off our "Three Kinds of Wicked" series.

Deadline for entering? Um, I want to give you enough time. How about three weeks? July 7 will be the deadline. Send your entries to by then.

Gotta give you fair warning, just in case you were planning on asking our authors for the correct answers. Because of production tangles, some of our editors had to pinch-hit on some of these volumes. And only I know the whole truth about who worked on what.

And that, dear readers, deserves a heheheheheheh at the end. ;)


Riley Murphy said...

Okay, Theresa, I’m saying it: I bow to you o' salami. But first I would like to clarify. I wasn't talking to you when I mentioned a 'heated' or otherwise discussion . You were very gracious (as was everyone else) it's just that I was preempting what I thought COULD get ugly. You know, loyal authors (Dara -totally cool:)) swooping in to dive bomb me and all, and ready to take up the good fight and hell, I kinda thought I was on your side but, looking back I see where I came off as cocky...cause hey, let’s face it, I am ;) -- so, in the end, I chose to deflate the situation with that last comment, is all. The fact that you have some of the smartest people that I’ve had the privilege of coming across in a long while - that hang around here? Well, that’s hooked me :)! And that being said: (Can you see my game face? No? Yes! It is soooo ON.

‘You’re gonna be in’re gonna be in trouble..’(can you hear me singing?) Man, I hope that this is all it will take to get the freaking point across cause, girlfriend, you don’t want to see me dance. Don’t make me. You won’t like it. Trust me. Envision, a person with absolutely no rhythm combined with several surprising seizure moments - and that about sums up my dancing extravaganza, k?

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

It's refreshing to read an editor's post that doesn't sound like a general put down to writers.

The mood and tone is helful and one could just read between the lines that you don't view us as the enemy - a pack to avoid at all costs.

Thank you.