The Editorial Dance: Finding the Right Editor

I talked with an editor earlier this week about my new novel, The Blue Marbles, a sff YA and found that editorial input comes in two forms–and these are so important to finding the right editor for your story.

Positioning in the Market Place

2 discussions that help you decide if this is the right editor for your story. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

The first thing we talked about was our visions for the story, to see if we meshed. This is very much a marketing discussion. Where does the story fit into the marketplace? Who would read this book? Is this a middle grade or a YA?

Vastly important, you must know your audience because it determines so much of the next question about the quality of the story. If my story is a YA, it means that I need to follow certain conventions of the genre. The protagonist should be of a certain age; he’s got a certain outlook about dating and girls; he’s reacting to family in certain ways. It brings up questions such as should he be able to drive or not? If the story is middle grade, the tone of the story would be very different. The answers to the questions would be vastly different.

Even saying that it’s a YA, isn’t quite enough. Is it a young-YA or is it closer to the New Adult category? In other words, will the tone of the romance involve just a brief kiss or something much more physical.

What happens when you disagree with the editor’s opinion of where to best sell this story? I’ve seen writers struggle with this because they want to write a YA. They read YAs; they talk YAs; they live YAs. But when they write, what comes out is a middle grade. Sigh. It’s frustrating. What you love isn’t necessarily what you can write. (At least not yet.)

YOU want to push the story to a YA; the editor wants to push it to middle grade BECAUSE she thinks s/he can sell the story there.

In some ways, this is a career question and not just an editing-this-novel question. Where do you have the best chance of creating a career for yourself? HINT: It might be different than what you thought.

Writers are notorious for not SEEING clearly what we write. Sometimes, you have an inkling that, well, this might be middle grade instead of YA. But you don’t WANT it to be MG; you love YA. Sorry.

An editor’s strength is that s/he has a pulse on two things: great story writing and marketing great stories. For an editor, those two things must match up. And you, as the writer, must either trust that editor or find a different one. You must also decide if you want a career based on the editor’s positioning of the book in the marketplace. If it’s positioned as a middle grade, can you–do you want to–follow up with a second middle grade? Because careers are built on building a readership who consistently comes to you for a certain type of story.

When a manuscript sells, your first thought is celebration! Yahoo! Your second thought is, “What next?” To build a readership, what story is the logical follow-up. When someone reads THIS story, which of your possible stories would they naturally pick up next and love just as much or more?

This question of the editorial marketing vision for your story is crucial. You must share your editor’s vision for the story. Otherwise–it may not be the best fit for you, your story, and ultimately, your career.

Tell the Best Story Possible

The second thing a great editor can do it help you create the best story possible, given the shared vision.

For me, the discussion had some themes I’m familiar with:

Setting. While my natural world settings were strong, when the story veered into a school–where the YA would be very apparent–I need more work. Setting is crucial to making sure the reader is grounded in your story.

Raise the stakes. The editor suggested a change that would raise the stakes of my story. The reader should always be invested in finding out what happens next, and if you can put more at risk, the stakes pull them through the story.

Emotional resonance. On a similar note, the emotional story should resonate with the reader and impact them in some way.

Everything we discussed seemed reasonable and necessary because we were heading toward a mutually agreed upon goal. Without the shared vision, the specifics of a revision are agonizing; with a shared vision, revision is like dancing with a friend, where you mirror each other’s moves in perfect harmony.

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