Losing An Editor

As you can probably imagine, the entire publishing process was a series of firsts for me: tossing all the candy bars and my manuscript aside and believing Casey probably never would find a home, before finding a potential diamond in the massive sifting process otherwise known as querying; having a professional believe in my work almost as much as I do; conducting that first phone conversation which I still remember pieces of, even though it was over four years ago; collaborating on the editing, marketing, cover design, and layout, before the box arrived with my first stack of bright red paperbacks just in time for my first Left Coast Crime Conference; and ultimately having a published novel. Not my greatest and best work, mind you, but I’ve always been a sponge and believed in the art of continuous improvement.

But losing an editor, and in many ways a friend, the one who believed in me and my work when no one else did, the one who decided to take a chance on me when no one else would, and who helped me reinvent myself for my second novel, with additional advice and support and back-and-forth editing sessions…well, that red pill is a bit harder to swallow. Betty Wright and Rainbow Books Inc. had been going strong for 34 years long, until she passed away recently, with plenty of non-fiction books and the occasional cozy mystery.

But you don’t write cozy mysteries, Downs. Exactly. And now I can never ask Ms. Wright why she decided to take a chance on me. But from what I remember about our first phone conversation, she fell in love with my protagonist, telling me I had more talent than Mickey Spillane (the jury’s still out on that one) and saw some spark in my writing amidst the sea of manuscripts that happened to come across her desk. If that were the end of the story, it might make for an amusing antidote. But this is a publishing house run by women, and I have (if you take a gander at my reviews) a rather unlikeable male protagonist with plenty of ego and chauvinism to boot. And my manuscript didn’t just go through Ms. Wright, it went through her daughter, and possibly two others at the publishing house (I was never clear on the exact figure) before it reached her desk. Six months after I sent Rainbow Books Inc. my full manuscript—I still remember thinking that they couldn’t even be bothered to use my own SASE for my rejection letter—I received the envelope, with a one-page letter tucked inside, that every writer hopes against hope to receive, the letter that says you are worthy and good and we want to publish your shit.

How do you like them odds? Yeah, you might just have an easier time winning the lottery.

Betty, you will be missed, my friend.

Get Yourself A Good Editor

If you think you can do all the editing yourself, you’re probably mistaken. Sure, it seems like an easy cost to skip over on your way to the pearly gates filled with riches and strippers and all-night parties. While you probably are your own worst enemy when it comes to your writing, you may not necessarily be your editor’s best friend. When you get too close to your work, you see the forest, instead of the trees, and all of your little darlings and witticisms become your new compadres. But if you love your writing, you’re not nearly as removed from it as you need to be to edit it. So you need to toss it in a drawer for a couple of months, and then yank it out by the shirttails and take a chainsaw and chisel to the carcass. Although this may sound easy, it isn’t.

And once you’ve done all you can do, you need to pass it off to someone else—preferably a professional—to catch all the mistakes you missed. And believe me, there will be mistakes and miswording and wrong tenses and dangling modifiers and misplaced prepositions. You and your editor will go over your work multiple times before it goes to press, and even then, you’ll probably have missed a mistake or two, at which point said error will have to be corrected with the next printing. Then, you’ll look at your writing years later, and you’ll say, “Well, I could have made that sentence better or improved that paragraph or made a change or tweak there.”

If you’re a perfectionist, you have to somehow accept that your writing will never be perfect, and neither will your editor, but you have to make the relationship work for both of you. As for your writing, you have to make it the best it can possibly be at a particular moment in time, and at some point, you have to give it up for adoption. Either the world will love it, or hate it, embrace it, or shrug its wide shoulders. When that happens, it’s no longer in your control. And letting go can be the hardest thing to do.