This month's Ask a New Author column reflects on editor expectations and original story ideas--both important part of the publishing processing. Read the advice of our three authors here!
Should you expect an editor to correct your copy or to direct you to alter your story line? Do you get to pick which type of editor that you get? - Gina
Susanna says: The answer is yes and no. In the best case scenario, you’ll be involved in a sort of interview process when you are ready to sell your book. You’ll talk on the phone to editors who like your novel, and they’ll get a sense of who you are (and how it might be working with you) and you’ll get a sense of who they are. Specifically, they will let you know at this point if they would want a few minor changes or an extensive rewrite. You can choose from there.
For the most part, editors want work that’s fully formed, especially from a previously unpublished author. It’s in your best interest to present editors with a complete product, as close to perfect as you can get it.
Also in a best-case scenario, you’re matched with an editor who loves your work -- not necessarily exactly as it is, but so much that he or she wants to help make it even better. If you trust your editor, you’ll listen to his or her ideas and consider them seriously. But if an editor wants you to gut your novel -- this is not common -- you will have some serious thinking to do.
After your editor and you agree on changes and you make them, the book will go to a copy editor -- which is to say, it’s not your editor’s job to fix your typos. You should do that yourself before even querying agents. Again, your manuscript should be in the best possible shape before it sees the light of day.
Miriam adds: I had a different best-case scenario. I was never given the option of which editor I would work with at my publishing house. My book was acquired by a very enthusiastic editor who loved the book with a passion that rivaled my own, so he was the only editor I worked with.
I’d been warned by more experienced writers that editors-of-old used to really get in there and work with you on your book, providing feedback and input large and small, while today’s editors were more glancing and perfunctory. My editor was old school, in this sense. While my book manuscript (thankfully) didn’t require a massive overhaul, there were a couple key sections that my editor helped me to rethink and revise.
I was not asked to "alter my story line." It was very much a conversation between me and my editor, where we discussed and agreed upon gaps in the structure of the book. It was then up to me to figure out how to fill those gaps.
Question: How do you come up with new ideas that don't seem to duplicate other books that have been published? -Leanna Morris
Susanna says: I feel strongly that it’s not the author’s job to imagine brand new scenarios--it’s the author’s job to render the familiar in surprising and engaging ways. You should write what engages and thrills you--whether or not another person has written about something similar doesn’t really matter, because in your hands it will be different.
That said, it’s vital that writers tread new ground in terms of style and language. Whether a book is engaging doesn’t really depend on its topic matter -- it depends on its language, structure, and character development. This is where you bring your unique voice to a project.
I can name a half dozen contemporary novels about parents grieving dead children. This is a topic authors confront over and over -- and I understand why. It’s a devastating topic, and endlessly complex. Describing an experience like the loss of a child is at once deeply personal and also very much a part of a collective experience. It’s how an author plumbs those depths that makes a book unique.
There are many topics--my example is only one--that might inspire thousands of books, and still never be fully explored. After all, how many boy-meets-girl books/films/songs are out there? And we haven’t started tiring of them yet.
Miriam adds: Great question, Leanna, and one I’ve thought a lot about since The Local News was published. I wrote what I thought was a fairly original idea-- 15-year-old girl’s older brother goes missing and she comes of age with his disappearance as the backdrop. Imagine my surprise when a whole gaggle of other missing teenager novels came out just around the same time as mine, some with uncanny similarities. I wax on for some length about this experience, as well as the ideas of author originality and collective imagination in an essay here.
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