by Susan Mary Malone
One of the most important aspects of working with a great book developmental editor is an intangible one. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. We strive, sweating blood and tears and losing pounds of proverbial flesh in the process, wondering whether the work is good or awful, great or terrible; should we chunk the whole thing and start over. And while authors need outside eyes regarding the nuts and bolts, the elements of plot and characterization and style, these simply provide the framework for the editing and revision.
Great insight comes from seeing not only what works, but also what doesn’t, and quite importantly, why on both. Most vital here is guidance on how to fix the problems.
But all of that said, perhaps the most helpful of all aspects that a good editor provides is an emotional one.
And I don’t mean this in a hand-holding sort of way, although absolutely that must be part of the scenario. We all need encouragement; an outside voice that comes in and says, “Truly, you can do this.” All writers need to know that someone, somewhere, sees the potential of their characters, their story. That’s one of the things that gives you an often much-needed shot in the arm to continue slogging on.
Usually by the time a writer sends me his work, he has exhausted his skill set, or is stuck, or just plain sick of it all, and doesn’t know how to make the book better. The idea of one more revision or even polish, much less attention to book development, makes him consider taking up baccarat instead. “I just can’t look at this one more time,” is a common refrain. And often the thought of another revision once I’m done proves a sticking point to even sending it to me. “You do it,” I hear a lot!
But the oddest thing happens when I send a package home to a writer, including the detailed edit of his book along with an in-depth, comprehensive, and very specific critique. I cannot explain why this happens, but it universally does. And it always makes me smile.
I’ll invariably get a call from a very different person from the hesitant one who originally contacted me. Although the first reaction is usually a sense of being overwhelmed, that quickly passes. Excitement fills her voice, the tempo growing more and more upbeat. “I see what you’re saying! And I could use this suggestion, or what if I did this instead? Would that work?” Glee tinges her voice.
When you work with a true novel editor — one who attends to all aspects and elements of great writing — for whatever reason, creativity gets cracked smooth back open. Inspiration floods the airwaves, and the keyboard. Characters take off in entirely different directions, deepening, expanding, broadening both themselves and the story they’re now impacting. And the writer who was stuck or sick of it all has just flown over the moon.
Writers are so very appreciative of this numinous turn of events. It’s a joy to see. They thank me profusely, but I benefit almost as much. Few things are more gratifying than to hear that excitement in the voice, that quickening of the pulse, and to know—because it always happens—that a new and better writer has been born. And with that, the beginnings of a great book as well.