I love some of the fun questions readers had about the editorial process. Here’s our June question to answer: “How does an editor tailor their approach to a specific author’s writing and work style when making suggestions/corrections? Or, are editors and authors paired up because of similarities in their approaches to such a project?”
Of course, because I (Amy Green, fiction publicist) work in marketing, I have no idea how editors do this. That’s why I give you…interviews with the fantastic Jessica Barnes and Jen Veilluex, two of our fiction editors here at Bethany House. Even I learned as I read their answers, so I hope you enjoy them.
What a great question! I work with about ten fiction authors here at Bethany House, and all of them have different writing styles. I also have a slightly different editing relationship with each of them. Editors aren’t “matched” to authors here in the way you’re asking; it’s usually more about workload and schedule than personality. But as an editor, I see it as my job to be flexible and adapt my working style to my authors’.
When it comes to staying in an author’s writing style while making changes to a manuscript, my initial reaction to the question of how I do it was, “…I just do?” This is so part and parcel of an editor’s job that I don’t even realize I’m doing it anymore. The best answer I can give is that when I’m editing a book, I’m immersed in the story, the characters, and the writing. So if I think a scene needs an extra line at the end, usually that line naturally stems from what came before it, and it fits both the story and the style. By this point I’m so familiar with how my authors construct sentences and how they tell their stories that I’m able to slip into that same voice and add little bits and bobs (or subtract them) when necessary. It’s no different than people who unconsciously take on the accent of whatever place they’re visiting.
As a side note, here’s something that I hadn’t thought of in years that this question made me remember: My freshman year of college, my writing professor started the semester by giving us short passages from famous writers—Hemingway is the one I most clearly remember—and having us rewrite the passage by changing the subject and content, but exactly copying all the sentence structure. In this way, we learned how it felt to construct sentences and paragraphs in that writer’s rhythm and style. Perhaps that has turned out to be more helpful than I could imagine at age 18?
When it comes to matching an author’s work style, this is more straightforward. Some of my authors are extremely collaborative, and I will spend a couple hours on the phone with them at revisions, brainstorming ideas and solutions to trouble spots. Some of my authors work better alone, and they disappear with their edits for two months and then reemerge with a shiny new manuscript, ready for more feedback. For the most part, I let the author lead the way in how involved they want me in their writing and revision process. So far, it seems to be working!
Our editing assignments come from our managing editor, who works with our acquisitions editors to determine which editor has the most availability. Most of our authors are contracted to write a series of books, which means that an editor is going to be working with a particular author for years! So while editor or author preference or experience are sometimes taken into consideration, mostly it’s timing.
When I first started at Bethany House, I made it my mission to read the books of as many of our authors as I could. Reading widely across all genres, I began to get a sense of different authors’ voices and styles, which helped me immensely when I became a line editor and began working directly with the authors. The authors I work with vary from biblical to contemporary, from Gilded Age to Regency, and from fantasy to Amish!
Above all, good editors are working with the author. There is a lot of back-and-forth between the author and the editor throughout the process: rewrites, discussions, e-mails, phone calls, drafts, questions, second opinions, fact-checking, more rewrites. You get to know authors over time, like what method of communication they prefer, what characters they’re attached to or will be important in the next book, what phrases they like to use, and how they like to incorporate faith and God into their writings.
As an editor, I am doing my best to support the author’s vision of his or her book, but I’m also advocating for the reader. While authors’ genres and voices may differ, the basics of a story do not: Does the plot make sense? Are the characters well developed? Should this chapter be cut or moved? If I get hung up on a plot point or a strange POV shift, readers might as well. But at the end of the day, it’s not my name on the book. It’s the author’s.
I am grateful for the relationships that I have developed with my authors over the last several years, and I am so humbled and proud to work alongside them. Sure, it’s great when books sell well, but oftentimes I’m just so proud that these books exist. An author had a dream and did the hard work of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, and then, with a little help from me and with a lot of help from so many others at BHP (copy editors, proofreaders, art and design, and on and on), it became something tangible, something you can hold in your hands or scroll with your finger on an e-reader. Editors are kind of like midwives—helping, encouraging, gently correcting—but it’s the authors who do a lot of the hard work. And when we’ve laid the newly created being in the hands of its creator, we quietly pack up our tools and slip off into the night to help bring the next one into existence.
Let’s hear it for editors! Readers, what do you think would be the most interesting part of working in the editorial department at a publishing house?