Some of you might know that I lead a double life—children’s book editor by day; nonfiction author by night (and weekends, and early mornings when I’m extra motivated). This means I work on both sides of the editor’s desk. I used to tell people that I did a lot of waiting on one side of the desk, and that I was always swamped with work on the other side. But then, uh, I forgot which side was which. They both involve overwhelming workloads as well as plenty of patience. Suffice it to say, though, that my work and my writing have benefited in plenty of ways. Here’s three things that wearing my editor hat has taught me about being an author:
The ideas can be as important as the writing. You might think this is an obvious point, but you don’t know Wendy the Writerly Writer, the version of myself who lives in my head and loves to show off her brilliant prose in long, artful, descriptive passages to show the world what a genius she is. But Wendy the Editor has spent years having to trim unnecessary in-love-with-one’s-own-words kinds of sentences from manuscripts and has learned to be quite impressed by more plainspoken writers who know how to make a point.
Handle reviews with grace. Reading a disappointing review of a book you’ve worked on is never fun—and it’s an experience I’d had as an editor several times before I ever published my own book. And since as an editor I often see reviews before the author does, I have to find ways to mitigate the bad news (“It’s still good exposure”), or put it in perspective (“Everyone knows that The Shelbyville Gazette is hard on first-time authors”), which have been good to remember when it’s my own book getting slammed.
Don’t be too much of a perfectionist. A lot of my job involves emailing authors to ask things like “How’s that sequel outline coming along?” and “Any progress on the manuscript?” The writer in me is inclined to regard these questions with much dread, and even more procrastination. It wasn’t until I became an editor myself that I understood that on the other end of those horrible emails is a person who can help—one who is a fan of my work and can see through the awful first drafts (newsflash: they’re not that awful, not to a person who regularly reads slush manuscripts written in all-caps Comic Sans fonts) to understand what you’re doing. So buck up and turn in that story already—the editor knows it’s a work in progress!
Next week: what being an author has taught me about being an editor.