Dear Author: I Love It, Now Change It

I know that unpublished writers can hardly wait for the privilege of finding an editor who will love and caress their baby. But, believe me, it's not one big joy ride. A good editor -- I mean, a really good editor -- will make you suffer. It doesn't matter how many people were in your critique group (about a dozen in mine) or how many professionals you paid to read the whole manuscript (three for me) or how many times you revised it (who cares!). No matter what, your editor will make you suffer.

First, there's "the talk" during your initial date, you know, when you're both checking each other out, probably on the phone. Oh, don't worry, she'll tell you what she likes about your manuscript. And she'll also tell you how it can be "strengthened." This is not just a test of your willingness to put your creation under the knife. She really means what she's saying here, and you better be prepared to see her criticisms in black words on stark white paper.

Let's say you made it past the first date. Now comes the test of your staying power. You'll be receiving a packet with a letter that reads something like this: "I absolutely adore (fill in your title)." (And don't get too attached to the title because she'll probably change it.) Then she'll say, "I have some ideas to make your novel (or memoir or whatever) simply irresistible. See the attached sheets." Yes, those sheets: the sixteen single-spaced pages you're holding in your trembling hands.

There's nothing to do but get to work, because a good editor knows what she's talking about, and you'd be a fool to rant and rave and waste all the energy you'll need to plow, baby, plow through your manuscript. Of course, you'll have a deadline, and you do want to meet it. Because if you don't, you could throw off the whole publication schedule, and you wouldn't want to be the cog that held up that wheel.

A few months later another letter will arrive, this one with the whole darn manuscript. What? You mean that wasn't enough? No, not quite, your editor explains. You see, we use readers who check for continuity issues, things like a three-month pregnancy or a red dress that mysteriously turns pristine white on the same page. Yes, we found some, not that many, really. I'm sure you can fix these things in a few weeks.

Don't, I repeat, don't tear your hair out. You really can't have readers discovering that you don't know how to count, can you? Some readers won't stand for silliness. Little things like sinking the Titanic two years before the actual date really get under a reader's skin.

And don't imagine you're done after that, because before the presses start rolling there'll be the galleys to correct. And I warn you: They might throw in a few odd bits (like "#-h@") to see if you're paying attention.

Now, do you still feel the same way about finding a really good editor to make you suffer? You should, because suffering is a good thing for a writer. How else do you expect to make it in the competitive world of publishing? I don't mind telling you that I'm blessed (cursed?) with a really good editor myself. In fact, she's so good I know when I show her this essay and she'll just chuckle and tell me to wait until she gets her hands on my next manuscript.