Working with Editors
with Kate Johnston
kia: Okay folks. Working with Editors workshop is ready to start...please hold all personal chit chat until the hour is done. You are encouraged to join in the discussion, as long as you stay on topic. Okay, Kate....
Kate: I'm Kate Johnston. I'm a writer and an editor.
Kate: I write poetry, articles, stories, and have a first novel in the rewrite stages.
Kate: I have also edited various newsletters for non-profit groups.
Kate: currently, I'm Managing Editor for Keystrokes, a newsletter for writers ... it's available on the web at ...
Kate: so... on to the workshop
Kate: When you think of "editor" what do you think of? anyone?
Miriam: a very busy person
kia: A terrifying monster!
Suzy-Q: Some one who sits with a red pen and slashes your work apart.
LinS: Are they REALLY human?
Gail: A person who reads and judges the worth of the material for
Lyra: I've mostly enjoyed editors I've worked with
Lyra: Of course there was ONE editor who rewrote everything to her style
kia: Now...I think of editors as someone who helps you to make your manuscript as good as it can be
Kate: ok, let me tell you MY definition of an editor!
Kate: My own personal definition of editor, and remember, definitions are probably as personal as each editor
Kate: I try to help you say what you want to say, in ways that others will get your ideas
Kate: When I get an article for Keystrokes, the first thing is if it is appropriate for my newsletter
Kate: (and yes, I've had to reject some)
LinS: Yes, but isn't that a huge part of the writers job....to say what you want to say in a creative well worded way?
Kate: Lin, yes. But I'm a writer too! And I know how easy it is to be blinded by my own words, and not see what I'm really saying!
LinS: So true..yes
zap: Boy i can identify.
kia: Kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees, kate?
wing: everyone needs input
zap: Agree, wing.
LinS: How much is personal? One style over another, making those decisions..?
John: plus you know your audience better
Suzy-Q: Even if we think we are perfect.
Kate: right, Kia. When I wrote an article for publication recently, I sent the article to an editor friend of mine for critiques;; the article was accepted for publication
kia: I often think something I wrote is perfect...but then when someone else comments about it...says something in it isn't quite right, I see that they are entirely correct.
Kate: The way I work, I try to help YOU say what you are trying to say... more clearly.... and keep to your style
LinS: I like that concept
Kate: sometimes a word doesn't sound right
Kate: I prefer the idea of editing as teamwork.. me and the author, working together to put out the best possible article
Gail: Sometimes it is a whole phrase.
Kate: if the author doesn't agree with me, I want to know!
zap: Many people are not able to help withOUT altering your style. Good editors are worth a ton.
kia: Can you give us an example of a word that doesn't sound right, kate?
Kate: Gail, and sometimes it's a whole paragraph!
Gail: You got that right!
dori: Kate, do you think all editors have those same goals? or does it differ from one editor to another?
Kate: dori... it varies from one editor to another
kia: I mean, editors are real people...with different backgrounds and likes and dislikes.
LinS: Kate..but you look at it overall..and if there is TOO much to edit..you reject it right? Some editors it seems are willing to see the rough diamond and some want the diamond.
Kate: this is MY personal vision of editing; I LIKE the teamwork; I don't tell the writers what they should write
dori: So a writer never knows what type of editor he/she is going to get..
Gail: Good point, Lin.
Kate: dori, yeah
kia: Hmmm. And I suppose THAT is one reason that we get so many rejections.
Lyra: I'd have various editors--the worst changed syntex and the best only changed clear mistakes
zap: How much time do you spend editing, Kate, compared to how much time you are soliciting?
Kate: Lin, I got an article once... it was the right idea, and a good topic, but was so poorly written....
LinS: and I'd rather submit the closest to the diamond I can..fearing THAT kind of editor..and feeling it's only right besides
kia: Because the editor we sent our manuscript to was not the right editor for our manuscript...
Kate: One of the things I look for in an article is the beginning...
Gail: And most editors do.
kia: Ah...Thank you for telling us this, kate. This is what we want to hear...
dori: That first page, hey?
Kate: I recently read one story, where I suggested to the author she make the third sentence the first sentence to make it more riveting
zap: something that grabs you? The voice?
LinS: what did you do with the good concept/poorly written article
kia: And did she change it, kate? Did it work?
Kate: Lin, I told the author I liked the idea, but gave her some idea of the changes she would have to make, and never heard from her again
Kate: up to then, she had been telling me she would "do anything" do get her article in Keystrokes
kia: Hmmm. A writer needs to be able to be flexible to get published.
Gail: Sounds like an English teacher I know.
Kate: I also look at the endings.... does it feel finished? does it tie things together?
zap: and how do you know "something" won't improve it, if you don't try it?
Kate: yes, zap
LinS: Kate..I personally like those kinds of suggestions..then I can mull it over..the switch from first line to third or whatever
Kate: the way I work is I always read everything two times
zap: do you read it differently the second time?
Kate: I read it once... let it go for a day or so, or more, then read it a second time
LinS: I think you are very different than those slushing through a thousand unsolicited PB's
zap: kinda another fresh look, then, huh?
wing: every article, Kate?
Gail: I am initially very unhappy when somone tells me bad news about my writing. it is a gut thing. But then I get over it and look to improve.
Kate: I don't read it differently; but sometimes things just flash out at me the second time
Kate: so far, wing, yes, every article
Kate: Lin, I probably am
LinS: I think you are truly the exception kate..and I like that
Kate: I'm basically a nice person <G>
Lyra: I've met Kate--can vouch for that!
kia: She is that - as lyra and I know. We met her.
Donna: Question - From what I've read & heard, your ms must be perfect to be pulled from the slush, however I've also read that if accepted, you should expect it back from the editor with corrections and changes marked all over it. Which is true? Both?
kia: Both were true for mine, Donna
Kate: I can't speak from that pov, Donna. sorry.
zap: I know that one. Sometimes not ONE change. sometimes, many.
Kate: thanks, zap, and Kia.
zap: My friend just sold her pic book, no changes - greenwillow.
LinS: Kate..I have been asked to do rewrites with no concrete suggestions at all. VERY frustrating to me
Lyra: I had lots of revisions for many of my books
Kate: Lin, I can understand that frustration
Lyra: But on the other hand, I had one manuscript with almost NO revisions and felt it needed more
Kate: let's see...abbey's not here.. I've edited one of her articles...
LinS: Did you make changes anyway, Lyra?
dori: I wouldn't think it would benefit an editor to ask for a rewrite and then be vague
Kate: but Kia's here... I've edited one of her articles
zap: LinS, I think sometimes editors know what is wrong, but they don't always know how to make it right.
Kate: I think I was specific and helpful, was I, Kia?
kia: Yes, Kate...you were very specific and VERY helpful. And the changes you suggested made my article MUCH better.
Lyra: I've had situations where the manuscripts were changed without my knowing, but Avon was fine and let me know about revisions
LinS: Or how to verbalize it..? maybe? This has happened twice with two big houses. Feel like I'm beating my head against a wall...change..what?
kia: When my first book was pulled from the slush pile, the editor told me it was absolutely perfect. Not one word needed to be changed...then...someone noticed that my "seasons" were incorrect historically, and...I ended up having to almost rewrite the entire thing from scratch
LinS: This business is not for fragile egos, obviously.
Kate: Lin, definitely not!
Kate: sometimes I've gotten articles which were written by people who didn't care, and I've edited the articles, and sent them the changed articles; I felt it a compliment to my editorial skills when they couldn't see what had changed
Miriam: I have a question
Kate: yes, Miriam?
Miriam: Kate, I have four MS at Simon and Schuster that have been approved by two editors. They say now they are in the Marketing division. What does that mean?
Kate: someone else is going to have to answer that one, Miriam... anyone?
Gail: Another person to say thumbs up or down.
Lyra: well...I made it marketing once at S&S, too
Kate: also, do you people know the difference that's come about in the past several years between editors at publishing houses and independent editors?
Miriam: How long before they told you anything lyra?
kia: I think that means they are looking at them to see if they feel they will make enough money to be profitable enough to publish, miriam
Lyra: Marketing has lots of power these days--more then editors from what I've heard
LinS: I also have a question..I read in CBI that YA novels are simply going nowhere, even with top notch agents, unless they are formula written "series" type of books or if you have a big name..anyone hear this?
wing: I'd guess its the people who have to decide if it's a marketable ms, will make lots of $$$
Lyra: I can't remember how long, Miriam...but within a month, I think
Miriam: I've been waiting months
LinS: Broad appeal..agree wing
Lyra: YA novels have been a tight market for years. I think the market is improving myself, although no evidence
Kate: used to be, you could be accepted by a publishing house, and know an editor would pay your ms personal attention
kia: I had a manuscript held for 10 months that went all the way to the top of the "consideration" list, miriam
LinS: It was VERY depressing news
zap: Hang in there, Miriam, and take heart you have two editors on your side.
Miriam: Thanks Kia and Zap. I need all the encouragement I can get.
kia: Yes...How did you get two editors, miriam?
Miriam: Don't know kia. My agent told me it had been approved by two senior editors
Lyra: It's amazing to make it that far, Miriam -- quite an accomplishment for a new author
Miriam: Thanks Lyra
Kate: now, publishing editors do very little 'editing'; they do a lot of sales stuff instead
kia: Sales as in...what, kate?
Kate: sales, as in, internally, Kia. Representing your work within the publishing house and arguing for publishing your work
Kate: that's why you need to get your manuscripts as error-free as possible before submittals
LinS: Kate..do you get cover letters?
Kate: Lin, I do all my work via e-mail
LinS: How much attention do you pay to THEM versus just reading the article/poem..
dori: So, Kate, if an Associate Editor says she likes your ms, would you consider that 5% of the battle to publication? 1% ? 3%?
Kate: wing.. I was saying editors at publishing houses don't do a lot of editing these days; they make decisions as to whether a ms will sell or not
Kate: lol, dori. probably depends on the company
zap: And the persistance and persuavness of the associate editor.
Kate: right, zap
kia: So they pretty much want a ready-to-go manuscript then, kate?
Kate: Kia, yes, unless you're a big name, and they know they can sell you
LinS: I'm seeing a lot of picture books that I wonder if they aren't marketed for adults..The Other Side being one..very strange..goes against everything I have heard an editor looks for
kia: Big Name. Something to shoot for.
Kate: Kia, that's what crit groups are good for.
dori: (I think I'll change my name to Burt Reynolds)
Gail: A ready to go is what i have been lead to expect. Get it as good as you can with several critiques. and don't ask your spouse. s/he always loves everything you write.
LinS: Madonna here
zap: (Well Verla Kay, you're well on your way!)
Lyra: I'll change my name to Verla Kay--she's done well!
Kate: Gail, either that, or criticizes everything you write!
Suzy-Q: Jan Brett here.
Kate: can't do that, Lyra! There's only ONE Verla Kay!
Sally: I understand one reason it's so hard for a new writer to get published is because he/she IS new. It's a Catch 22, isn't it?
Kate: ok, so what else do I watch for?
Kate: beginnings, endings....
dori: So it still comes down to writing and submitting the very best story that you can do
Kate: flow between paragraphs
Kate: words, phrases ....
Gail: Making words work. Look for my workshop at the end of the month.
LinS: Page turns..dummying.. I've heard never to write a book with this in mind..let the editor do it..yet it makes no sense. I have to think of that
Donna: But we all believe in our own stories and think they are wonderful, the best they can be. Why aren't we getting publishing offers?
dori: Maybe, Donna, we're not quite as good as WE think we are
LinS: Maybe only WE believe it?? *Smile*
Lyra: Not a lot of publishing offers going around...need hard work, skill, and luck
Kate: Donna... because you're submitting the wrong piece. or it's not good enough; or the editor had a bad day.
Miriam: When you have more than one critiquer look at your work and they have different opinions, what should you do?
Suzy-Q: Take the one you can agree with.
LinS: Stick to YOUR gut instinct Miriam
Gail: I say, take the best from all, and believe in yourself. that is what I do. But I am not published, YET.
LinS: And if you're a terrible perfectionist, your stuff will never get out the door.
zap: I need to hear that LinS. Thanks.
zap: I sold Good Knight at a conference from open mike reading
zap: (I didn't think it was ready to submit)
Lyra: what a great way to sell
LinS: It has extreme broad appeal..that is something I believe the editors look for
Kate: well, my six-year-old is very glad you did submit it, zap!
Gail: A heck of a lot you knew!
Kate: I know one writer who told me an editor wrote on his ms it was being rejected because he didn't like his last name!
Lyra: That's bizarre, Kate
Kate: I agree, Lyra.
LinS: and stupid
dori: So ask for a pen name
dori: Kate, what else do you look at?
Kate: what is it someone said? the ones who get published aren't necessarily the ones who are the best... they're the ones who persist
wing: Kate, I'm sure that's true
Lyra: Kate, is there anything in particular you're looking to include in your upcoming editions (in case others interested)
kia: What ticks YOU off, kate? Turns you off of a manuscript and makes you feel you have to say, No.
zap: Wait, I want to hear what kate is looking for.
Kate: articles that wander aimlessly
zap: Aha! An article is coming on.....
Gail: English teachers of the world, unite.
LinS: to and too
zap: Kate should probably just tell us to read every article at her site, yes?
Donna: your and you're
Gail: Then and than?
Suzy-Q: there and their
Gail: Write and right, to be gross?
Donna: how about its and it's?
Kate: I had an article last month where the author wanted to add in something with a quote.. and I suggested she rewrite the beginning of the article with the quote; she did, and had a wonderful article
dori: But if an article is REALLY good, Kate, and has one little error.....?
Kate: dori, I can work with one little error; just that if I see those errors, I'm likely to really go over it
Kate: your and you're is a biggie
Gail: I feel one little weakness is accepted. I always see that last little error just as it comes off the printer. Yikes!
Kate: any other questions?
Miriam: How long have you been an editor Kate?
Kate: for Keystrokes, I think it's been six months
dori: Kate if you could give just ONE bit of advise to a writer, what would it be? (Okay, maybe two or three)
Kate: dori. hmmmm... ONE: be persistent; TWO learn to take criticism
LinS: Kate..is humor important? I love it..even dealing with serious subjects..seems to go down easier
Kate: Lin, love humor!
LinS: and your site is for Writing article only? The art of writing?
Susan: Have you discussed sim subs?
kia: No, we haven't talked about simultaneous submissions, susan. kate...what about them? Do you accept them? Do you like them? Hate them?
Kate: Susan, sim subs aren't something I can address
Kate: I haven't had to deal with them yet
LinS: and you accept on first rights only?
Kate: Lin, the newsletter I edit is for writers, published and not-yet-published, on writing.... anything to do with writing
Gail: My feeling is that editors don't like them, but this is where WE have the power. No one is willing to wait their life waiting for a reply, so sim subs are a new fact of life.
kia: I'd like to know how you feel about being an editor, kate? Does it ever give you good feeling? Like you have power?
Kate: Now, to Kia's question: I LIKE editing. It feels like me! I've always been good at seeing how to improve writing
Miriam: I'm glad there are people like you who like to edit. It helps people like me who aren't good at it.
dori: Kate, do you think an editor in a large house recognizes a writer's name if they see it enough?
Kate: dori, I'm not sure ... are you talking about a published writer? or a writer who has submitted lots of mss?
LinS: It can work against you too, Dori..thats my opinion anyway
Kate: I've learned a lot from editing; it's helped improve my own writing
dori: How, Lin?
Miriam: Kate, do you find editing other people's work changes your style at all?
Kate: Miriam... to answer your question... editing has taught me to edit my own work... but also the articles I've been able to edit, don't forget, they are about writing ...
LinS: hey see the same writer over and over..reject reject i can't help but to think it would jade them
zap: Because you can look at it more objectively or from many angles--or both?
Gail: Just a note. No one learns as well as the one doing the teaching. You learn when you edit, correct, help another. that is why we should all be critiquing.
kia: (Only five minutes left, folks...
kia: So we should send a manuscript that is as error free as possible, kate...
kia: Send it to a place that is interested in YOUR style of writing and what YOU have to say....
kia: Give it a snappy beginning and an ending that feels finished and ties everything together...
kia: and make it flow between paragraphs, words and phrases.
kia: Does that pretty much sum it up, kate? Along with what you already said?
Kate: sum up? a good editor/writer relationship is teamwork
Kate: to end up with a piece of work that says what the writer wanted to say in the first place!
EVERYONE SAID: Thanks for a GREAT workshop, Kate!
Copyright © 1998
All Rights Reserved