LTUE talk, part 6

Continued from Part 5

(For anyone coming to this late, this is a talk from Life, the Universe, and Everything, a symposium/convention hosted at BYU in Provo, Utah, every February.)

Now we get to the most interesting part! You’ve found a publisher who is interested in your book. You get an offer! Now what?

Working with an editor is a relationship, like a marriage
Now we get to the title of my talk. Working with an editor is a relationship that thrives on collaboration. It’s your chance in a lonely industry to work with someone likeminded, who knows the business and who has an independent perspective on your book.
Your editor knows what will fit the market, and has a new perspective to flaws that perhaps you don’t see. You’ve been staring at this manuscript for a year or more. You might have glazed over a missing scene, filling the gaps in your mind and not even realizing that an outside reader would wonder at a leap in logic. Perhaps a subplot isn’t making sense.
What do you do?
Well, that’s what editors are for. A friend recently pointed out to me this interview of Philip Pullman and Tamora Pierce.
Philip Pullman: This is where editors come in. Their function is to snatch the book from you and run away quickly!
Tamora Pierce: Yes, and then to come back and say, “Okay, here’s what you were doing.” And you’re sitting there: Wow. I’m smarter than I thought. 
An editor is the person who asks questions you might not have thought to ask yourself—or that you thought you’d asked, but then helps you realize you hadn’t answered them as completely as you could have.
Just as in dating, marriage cliches apply to the relationship between editor and author. I’ll just gloss over most of them really quick here:

  • A good partner brings out the best in you
  • Trust your editor, and she’ll trust you
  • A good relationship is all about compromise
  • Honesty is the best policy (or, hell hath no fury like an editor scorned)
Those mostly go well without explanation. But I want to say one thing on one, and then we’ll focus in depth on another. Mostly, all of those encompass communication–both on the big things and the little.

A good relationship is about compromise

I would go even farther, with my MFHD training, and say that a good relationship is actually about consensus, coming to a solution that’s emotionally acceptable for all involved. Compromise usually means that one person wins and the other person loses, while consensus implies that both people win.
Try ideas your editor suggests, and learn to pick your battles. If you know how to communicate well with your editor, if you’ve established a relationship of trust with her and can communicate your needs and listen to her
concerns, you should be able to find a solution acceptable to both of you.
A good partner brings out the best in you

This is the crux of the editor-author relationship, I think. The collaboration that occurs during this process should bring out the very best in you as an author.

Specific examples
So let’s look at the collaboration between one editor (me) and one author (Tiffany Trent/

) and talk about the work that went into In the Serpent’s Coils, the first volume of the Hallowmere series.

In this ten-book dark fantasy series for teen girls, six girls from around the world are drawn together to rescue their missing schoolmates and prevent catastrophy in an epic battle between dark Fey worlds and the mortal world.
From the back cover: Ever since her parents died, Corrine’s dreams have been filled with fairies warning her of impending peril. When she’s sent to live at Falston Manor, she thinks she’s escaped the danger stalking her. Instead the dreams grow stronger, just as girls begin disappearing from school.
Then Corrine discovers letters of forbidden love by a medieval monk who writes of his entanglement with a race of vampiric Fey—the same Fey who haunt Corrine’s dreams. Who are these creatures and what do they
want? Corrine knows only one thing for sure: another girl will disappear soon, and that girl just might be her.
This book will be released this fall, so that means from conception in the summer of 2005 to publication it’s just over two years. More, if you count the time that Tiffany worked on her original idea that led to her being chosen to write Hallowmere, but you’d have to ask her how long she’d been mulling the idea around.
In series publishing, I as the editor get a chance to see the creative process at a much earlier stage. It’s very exciting to be there from the initial concept. So I think that as I take you on the journey of developing a series and one volume in that series, you’ll be able to think about how you might apply the things I talk about to your own manuscript at any stage of the process, both in your self-editing process as well as in how you work with an editor.
Back when I first started working for Mirrorstone, I was given a task: to find a series for teen girls. I’m a big fan of the work of Holly Black (

 ) and Libba Bray (

)—if you aren’t familiar with Tithe or A Great and Terrible Beauty, you should be!—and I was interested in seeing something like that, only set in the U.S. and perhaps historical, definitely dark, involving the Fey world (fairies). I wanted it to be creepy and suspenseful, but not gross hack-and-slash horror. I wanted it to be dark, but not gory.
So with this and a list of other ideas in mind, I contacted several authors and asked them to pitch a story to me.

It was actually a local author, Shannon Hale, who led me to Tiffany. I asked Shannon if she had any friends who wrote the kind of teen dark fantasy I was interested in acquiring. As a matter of fact, she had a friend who wrote just what I was looking for!
So Tiffany Trent, Shannon’s friend from grad school, “auditioned” alongside many other capable authors. Each author sent me a proposal that included a series outline, an outline of the first proposed book, and a sample chapter. (It should be noted that of the authors who auditioned, each had also completed at least one novel, whether published or not, as well–so they had shown they could write a full novel, in addition to their proposal.)
Here’s the first two pages of Tiffany’s sample chapter. (click on the image for a better look)

Let’s look at some of the things that attracted me to this sample:
  • the writing was evocative, very good at using imagery
  • she created a clear sense of mystery from the beginning
  • the letter was a great way of bringing a different time period story into the mix, and I’d been very intrigued by her proposal of letters because I’d been recently intrigued by Possession
  • the main character gets into immediate trouble, and you want to know what’s going on and why her uncle is so upset
  • Tiffany’s writing was lyrical—a really well-established voice 
But her sample wasn’t perfect, and her outline needed clarification. I actually asked her to flesh out the outline before making a final decision.
Questions at this stage: 

  • Very big-picture, plot-oriented
  • Is this the right place to start the book? (actually, I’m not sure that I asked this one, but you’ll see in later drafts that she asked it herself)
  • How can we build the relationships between the characters?
  • What are the rules of this magic system?
  • What point of the story is the climax?

Hallowmere was then born.

And the work was just beginning. Tiffany went through 6 different drafts from first sample on 8/29/05 to turning in final draft to me on 7/31/06. So, over the course of a year—and this includes writing time, due to the nature of this kind of series work—she went from sample chapter and outline to full, fleshed-out manuscript. 

As this post has already gotten disproportionately long, we’ll look at that process further in depth next time.