Susan Vaughan here. Occasionally readers ask me what book editors do and how they work with authors, so here’s a general explanation on the subject, including some input from other Maine Crime Writers.
Book editors receive book proposals and manuscripts from writers and make decisions on which of those should be published. Editors most often have degrees in English, journalism, or related fields. Fiction editors need to possess an overall sense of story, a command of language, and creativity, along with other skills. Once a contract is signed, the acquiring editor reviews the draft in detail for a developmental or content edit. This detailed examination of the manuscript focuses on larger elements such as story structure, characterization, conflict, pacing, and viewpoint, taking care to respect the author’s individual style and voice.
Afterward, the editor conveys suggested changes to the author. If the author has worked with that editor for a while, this part of the process is often collaborative. Here’s what some of the Maine Crime Writers said about collaborating with their editor.
Kathy Lynn Emerson, also writing as Kaitlyn Dunnett, said that her editor at Kensington lets her know well in advance what the art department is thinking. Twice now the scenes the art department and her editor thought would be perfect for upcoming books (Overkilt and next year’s Clause and Effect) didn’t actually represent any scene she’d planned to write. In both cases, she hadn’t yet finished writing, so the simple solution was to add those scenes. Kathy’s current release in her Deadly Edits series (writing as Kaitlyn Dunett) is Crime and Punctuation.
Kate Flora described an instance when an editor worked with her to improve the book. When she was working on her suspense novel, Steal Away, which she published as Katharine Clark, a rare time when she wrote multiple points of view and not just that of the protagonist, her editor pushed her hard to make the husband (a character Kate hated) more rounded and complex. In the end, she felt that the editor’s urging made it a better book, and in some ways made him a better character than the wife, of whom Kate was very fond. She added that the best advice she received from a fellow writer was in response to sharing her elevator pitch about Steal Away. He said, very thoughtfully, that it sounded great but he thought she was starting the book in the wrong place. And he was right.
Bruce Robert Coffin said that his editor gave him the best advice while working on the manuscript for Beyond the Truth was, by far, the toughest book he’s written. In addition to the subject matter, writing the novel brought out some very real emotions in him. The editor advised him to focus on those things that were most important to the story and cautioned against getting caught up in the bits that weren’t. Bruce took his advice to heart and feels the novel is far better for it. Bruce also told me he feels that his editor and he have a great working relationship. From the start the editor has understood what it is that drives him. He appreciates Bruce’s ability to keep the reader guessing. The editor always pushes him just a little more on each book, and Bruce hopes the good fit continues.
I too have appreciated collaboration with my editor. For the book that was first published by Harlequin and is now reissued as Dark Memories, my editor loved the story and my voice, so she worked with me to make the government agent hero more rounded and, shall we say, more heroic rather than macho. She also thought the hit man’s identity was too obvious, and once I changed that, it improved the suspense aspect of the plot immensely. Readers have consistently told me that they couldn’t guess the hit man’s identity. Yes!
Now I’ll wrap up the editing process. After the content or developmental edit and once the author has revised, the manuscript moves on. A copy editor handles grammar and sentence structure, and a line editor then covers grammar, style, and fact checking. These two jobs are sometimes combined. Finally, an eagle-eyed proofreader corrects any other mistakes that remain.
If you’ve noticed, as I have, errors in published books recently, keep in mind that all of the above and more (cover design, printing, and promotion, for example) must be completed by a deadline, the date the book is scheduled for release.