In Praise of Editors – Part 1

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of posts about editors and the editing process lately. Having just wrapped up edits on my new book, Unbroken, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the editorial process and share some of my more memorable exchanges with my editors. To date I’ve worked with three, make of that what you will.

I don’t submit a book until it is complete and as good as I can make it. Once I finish a book I go back and read it though twice to check for consistency, sequencing, character development, etc. then I do a final read through for proofing purposes. This is the part I hate the most, mostly because I’m not a very good proofreader and I’m not a detail person. Still it must be done. Because I don’t use a beta reader, my editor is the first person to read the book and my first opportunity to hear feedback.

I particularly value an editor’s input and expertise because I’ve read affair amount of self-published books and I can generally tell when a professional editor wasn’t involved. A good editor can make a great book sparkle. I try, always to listen to mine—which doesn’t mean I will agree with everything said, but I do listen—because unlike a reviewer, an editor has no axe to grind; he or she is simply there to make sure your book is professionally written and is the best it can be. Your editor is your book’s advocate if not necessarily your best friend and most adoring fan.

That said, let me share with you some actual exchanges with my editors.

What Binds Us

I was lucky enough to work with the stellar Rhonda Helms as my editor for my first book. I was terrified because I’d never worked with an editor. She was knowledgeable and patient but firm.

[RH]: Watch overuse of “look” and its forms. Go through and change at least half.
[RH]: You say “would” a lot. Watch overuse.
[RH]: Watch overuse of exclamation points. I’ve removed some. Recommend you do the same.
[RH]: Watch for this. If you’re continuing dialogue that has an interjected dialogue tag, use a comma and keep the first word in lower case. If you’re starting new dialogue, use a period and cap the first word.
[Me]: An interjected dialogue tag? You see why I need you?

“Mrs. Whyte was…different, a riddle without an answer. We didn’t see much of her. She appeared everyday at four o’clock, like a miracle. And at every meal, like an overly busy choreographer, to orchestrate our elaborate repasts. She seemed distracted, one casual eye on us, the other, more scrupulous, on other things.”
[RH]: This doesn’t quite work for me, actually…I tried tweaking it, but you can’t literally have your eyes on two different things. I’d reword. Maybe say attention half on them, half on…what else?
[Me]: I love that sentence but I’ve rewritten but I warn you, one day, somewhere, this sentence will reappear.
"Mrs. Whyte was…different, a riddle without an answer. We didn’t see much of her. She appeared everyday at four o’clock, like a miracle. And at every meal to orchestrate our elaborate repasts, like an overly busy choreographer. She always seemed distracted, as if whatever the three of us were up to didn’t warrant her full attention."

“Around his mother, Dondi was different. His voice grew deep. His manner of speech changed, was completely without artifice. If he spoke in italics to his friends, to his mother, he spoke lower case Times New Roman.”
[RH]: Italics isn’t a font, to be technical. It’s a tweaking of a font…change this to match up. Also, you can’t speak a font type.
[Me]: I tried & tried to rewrite this but couldn’t make it work so I just deleted.

“We got bikes out of the garage and rode them into the quaint Victorian village that was a gingerbread fantasy. We stopped at the old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, where we’d taken Geo and shared a banana split. After, pushing the bikes ahead of us, we walked along the wharf. His father’s mental illness and Dondi’s whoring seemed very far away.”
[RH]: Show a little more connection between the two of them here. A sentence or two about how they didn’t speak much, but they didn’t need to. They took comfort in each other’s presence. Or something like that. Let these little moments of them finding comfort and solace in each other show through in your prose.
[Me]: I added the following sentence.
“Matt didn’t say much, and neither did I. We didn’t need words; we had each other.”

“He did not possess the savage musculature of Michelangelo’s David, was more the David of Donatello’s imagination: slim, narrow-hipped, almost girlish. He was a beautiful white cat, lean and graceful. He had hair on his legs, long silky strands like climbing vines that only accentuated his nakedness. I thought of all those nights at Aurora when he’d lain on the other side of a door and might as well have been on the other side of the world. I thought of all those orgasms puddled on my stomach, damning as spilled milk, induced by just this image.”
[RH]: GREAT paragraph. This is so well done.

One of the best unexpected bonuses to working with an editor: actual praise and validation.

Damaged Angels

Damaged Angels didn’t require much in the way of developmental edits, but it did reveal apparent weakness in my grasp on correct grammar. Editor Cindy C. was firm and crisp and never having met her, I imagined her poring over my manuscript by candlelight, while wearing a starched black habit and slapping a rule r against her palm in dismay at the discovery of yet another present participle phrase.

[CC]: I noticed you have a tendency to use what are called present participle phrases. They are usually found at the beginning of a sentence with a word that ends in -ing. Many of them are grammatically incorrect. But even when they aren’t grammatically incorrect, you should minimize the usage. I’ve marked them and have inserted a comment explaining the issue. It’s not a huge problem, but it shows up enough times that I felt it would be easier to include these longer notes to explain the issue.

“I try to focus swollen, red eyes on the bedside clock.”
[CC]: This violates your POV. Your narrator has no way of knowing his eyes are red, only that they are swollen or tired or scratchy, etc.

“Eventually, the expensive booze silences my body’s screaming need for him. I plunge headlong into sleep, while he cries helplessly into the soft suede of the sofa.”
[CC]: This violates your POV. Aaron is narrating this story, so we can only know what he knows. If he’s asleep, then how does he know his lover is crying helplessly into the sofa?
[Me]:Good point. I rewrote.
I listen to him crying softly in the next room before I plunge headlong into sleep.

“Eddying at his feet is a sea of broken, blackened glass like shattered dreams. A thousand thousand jigsaw pieces reflecting the hopelessness and despair of a city lost.”
[CC]: Query: intentional repeat of thousand?
[Me]: Yes; that’s a deliberate repetition; it’s a stylistic thing for me.

“As he lay on the sandy beach, his paprika skin darkening to cinnamon, surreptitiously eyeing the half-naked native boys frolicking at the water’s edge, restless with a vague, nascent longing, his mother would accuse him of not concentrating, or worse, of not trying, as he gave wrong answer after wrong answer.”
[CC]: You want to be very careful about adding multiple phrases on top of each other as you do here. They can create unclear modifiers, as you’ve done twice. When you add multiple modifying descriptions offset by commas, you create confusing modifiers. We don’t know whether the phrase after the comma is supposed to modify the noun that immediately precedes it, or the one before that (or the one before that one)
[Me]: (wondering) Is she still speaking English?

“It’s not crooked,” she bristled. “It’s European!”
[CC]: Bristled isn’t a dialogue tag – it’s not a way of speaking. She can bristle without it being a tag, but not as a tag.
[Me]: I rewrote. Better? If not feel free to delete “She bristled” and leave as straight dialogue.
She bristled. “It’s not crooked. It’s European!”

“Then, refilling his glass from a pitcher on the counter, he wandered off in search of less alarming sights.”
[CC]: Improper participle here. He’s not simultaneously refilling his glass and wandering off.
[Me]: (thinking) present participle phrases? Confusing modifiers? Improper participles? Yikes! Maybe I should become a painter…
[Me]: Okay I think I corrected all of these.
"He refilled his glass from a pitcher on the counter, before wandering off in search of less alarming sights."

“Billy! William Thurston Howell! You come back here! Right! Now!”
[CC]: Is this an unintentional reference to the Gilligan’s Island character?
[Me]: Yikes! Thanks for catching that. I’ve renamed him.

Each of my editors has taught me a lot and helped me become a better writer. I try to use everything I learn in the next book I write so hopefully each editor has made the job of her successor easier.

Next week I’ll blog about edits to my newest book, Unbroken, scheduled for a Summer 2013 release from Beaten Track Publishing. You won’t want to miss the details on a conversation with my editor about how to refer to...ummm…male ejaculate. In the meantime, leave a comment telling me about your experiences working with an editor.

Don’t forget to like my Facebook page and connect with me on Twitter, too.
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Published on June 05, 2013 18:28 Tags: editors-larry-benjamin, fiction, gay, lgbt, writing
Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)    post a comment »
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message 1: by Samantha (new)

Samantha I feel fortunate to have worked with Rhonda for both of my books. It "looks" like we share many of the same grammer missteps.Samantha Ann King

message 2: by Larry (new)

Larry Benjamin I'll always be grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Rhonda.

Yay, there's comfort in numbers. I was surprised about how much I'd forgotten about grammar (yes, I am assuming I knew all about, and used, proper grammar at some point in my life).

message 3: by Debbie (new)

Debbie McGowan Great post! I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to the next one. Time will tell.

But yes, I'm not being self-serving when I say having an editor is a very wonderful thing indeed. A good editor can help transform a potentially good book into an excellent one. Alas, the slider moves in both directions.


message 4: by Larry (new)

Larry Benjamin Debbie wrote: "Great post! I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to the next one. Time will tell.

But yes, I'm not being self-serving when I say having an editor is a very wonderful thing indeed. A good editor can..."

Thanks. Now, now, next one will be fine. Funny, actually...and I haven't used any emdashes

message 5: by Debbie (new)

Debbie McGowan Going cold turkey, eh? I am impressed!

message 6: by Larry (new)

Larry Benjamin Debbie wrote: "Going cold turkey, eh? I am impressed!"

nah just saving them all up for my next book

message 7: by Debbie (new)

Debbie McGowan Larry wrote: nah just saving them all up for my next book"


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