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Writing Excuses Season Four Episode Eight: Working with Editors

Writing Excuses Season Four Episode Eight: Working with Editors


Key points: New authors worry about editors demanding cuts that threaten artistic integrity, or being asked to add in sex and violence. However, editors buy a book because they like it, not to fix it. They usually tell you before buying what their vision of the book is, and you don't have to agree. They may suggest that you've established a certain type of book, and that you cut or add things to match that. Relationships with editors are a dialogue, where you can talk it through. Publishing houses and editors will ask for changes. Your job is to think about them and decide whether or not to do them. Look for an editor with a vision that is consistent with yours. Talk to the editor before you sign the contract about what you are willing to sacrifice, what you're willing to cut or add to get published. BUT don't worry too much about this. Editors buy books because they like them, because they agree with the vision of the book -- not to torture writers. Consider it, plan on working with an editor, and write.

[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Jessica] I'm Jessica.
[Brandon] We have special guest star Jessica Day George with us, author of numerous YA and/or middle grade novels. We're not sure which they are. We're going to talk about that. Thank you for coming, Jessica.
[Jessica] Thank you for having me.

[Brandon] A lot of people that are new writers ask me questions about working with an editor. They seem very panicked either on one side or the other. That they're going to turn their book in and the editors are going to demand all sorts of things get cut that they want to have in it to maintain their artistic integrity, or the editors are going to come and say, "This doesn't have enough sex and violence. Add a lot in." You'd be surprised at how often I get both of those. So we want to do a podcast. Let's just throw it... have you ever had either of those situations happen?
[Howard] Nope.
[Jessica] I wish I had the second one. I could add some swears and...
[Dan] Your books would be awesome with way more sex and violence in them.
[Jessica] I think they would. I'm gunning for that next time we are...
[Brandon] You need some more girl on dragon action, I'm telling you.
[Jessica] Ew. I read that [garbled] book. It was not good. It was not good.
[Dan] Goodbye, iTunes.
[Howard] By the way, this podcast is supposed to have a clean rating.
[Dan] Let me change the subject very briefly...
[Jessica] I'll just say not good.

[Dan] By saying, I actually while selling my first novel, of course, I had an offer from Tor first. Then my agent said, "Yeah, that's great, but let's shop it around to other people." I had an editor warn me in advance and say, "I love this. I would like to buy it. I would pay more than Tor is paying, but I want you to change this. I want you to take all the supernatural elements out of it." He warned me beforehand. In my experience, that was a really great thing. Because then I was able to look at it and consider what I wanted to do before signing the contract.
[Brandon] In that case, the editor actually came to you and said I would buy this if... it wasn't I buy this and now change all these things.
[Dan] I wasn't locked into a bad situation.
[Jessica] I was turned down by Harlequin because there wasn't enough sex in the romance novel I wrote. They would have taken it if I had added sex to literally every odd numbered chapter. They just told me to add sex...
[Brandon] They said that?
[Jessica] To all the odd numbered chapters. In one of those chapters, there was...
[Howard] Jessica, you could have added sex to every odd numbered page.
[Jessica] Probably could have. There were actually no people in one of the scenes. I actually said to the guy, I'm like, "What about this?" He's like, "I don't know, some farmers off to the side?" It was like a pastoral scene, as we're approaching the manor. I'm sort of describing the scenery. And he's like saying, "There could be farmers in the bushes." I just couldn't do it. I cracked.
[Brandon] I guess we're establishing that it is something of a legitimate concern that people have when they come to me saying this. Yet at the same time, in both cases it was a "I would buy this if..." not, "I'm going to buy this and then force you to compromise."
[Jessica] I told them no. They said that's great. If you ever do anything with a lot of sex in it, we'll take it.
[Brandon] At least you've got a backup plan.
[Jessica] I do. I have Harlequin in my pocket, should I ever feel like going over to the dark side.
[Brandon] I've actually never had any of these... either situation. I've only ever had arguments with editors over little things, and we'll get to that later. But I think one thing that new writers need to understand is if the editor buys the book, they like the book. They're buying it because they like it. They're not buying it to fix it. That doesn't mean that an editor won't look at something and say, "Okay, I see potential in this. We're going to work on it." But my experience has been they're always upfront about the sort of things that they're going to want. In fact, when I had Alcatraz out for bids, the Alcatraz series, we had a bidding war going. I talked to each editor before and I asked what do you envision doing to this book, what revisions. They were all very upfront with me about what they would want to do. I actually picked the one that wanted the most number of revisions because I thought that their vision was the best. I guess one thing I would say to new writers is working with an editor... an editor... it is a relationship. It's... like any other relationship you have, you're going to get along with some people better than others. In some ways, when you're shopping your book around, trying to meet editors to find out if this is someone you could work with might actually be very useful for this aspect as well.

[Brandon] But also at the same time, once... let's say you've sold your book. Books that you've sold, have you ever had arguments with your editors over what should happen? Have you disagreed with your editor?
[Jessica] I'm disagreeing with my editor right now. I disagree very strongly. Because my first book, Dragon Slippers, ended up somehow being marketed as middle grade instead of YA, despite the fact the girl is 16 years old and by the end of the third book, she is married and pregnant, they are still marketing it to 10-year-olds. So now my editor is trying to make all of my other books also appropriate for 10 year old fans that I have. Every single swear is being taken out, anything beyond kissing is being taken out. In this latest book that's coming out, there was a scene where she plays poker... essentially she is playing poker for her life against these evil beings. They made me take out because 10-year-olds shouldn't gamble. The book is not appropriate for 10-year-olds. I don't think 10-year-olds should be reading it, I don't want it marketed to 10-year-olds, but my editor is adamant that they should.
[Brandon] What do you do in this situation? What have you been doing?
[Jessica] My agent and I are calling her left and right and going please put the poker scene back in right now before she starts crying and screaming.
[Brandon] Did they take the poker scene out on you without...?
[Jessica] They had me take it out and see how I liked it. I took it out and I really hated it. So did my agent, and so did a couple other people that I had read it. It was really fun, and it was a great climax to the book, and a great way to end it and stuff. My editor is like, "But... but the 10-year-olds can't read about poker." I'm like it is not for 10-year-olds. We're kind of struggling.
[Brandon] Is this book under contract from a previous contract where you sold a number of books and then they gave you a contract or is this...?
[Jessica] No. It's in its own contract. It's the same publisher that all my books have been under, it's my same editor. It's actually the copy editor's fault and I blame her for everything.
[Brandon] Copy editors are easy to blame.
[Jessica] The copy editor will... at the last minute... we were fine up to the galleys. The ARCs are out. We got to the galleys...
[Brandon] [whistle] Really?
[Jessica] Yeah. The book comes out in six weeks. The copy editor said do you think these couple of swearwords and this poker scene are really appropriate for 10-year-olds to my editor, and my editor went, "Oh, I think she's got a point there."
[Dan] See, that seems like a case where... it's because you've already established yourself as a certain kind of author... or at least the publishing house has established you as a certain kind of author towards a certain market...
[Jessica] They did it. It wasn't me.

[Dan] Yeah. I actually had the opposite case, and it actually was also the copy editor for Mr. Monster, which comes out really soon. There's a scene where John walks into a room where a woman has been tortured, and there is a pool of like dried blood on the floor. The copy editor said, technically, there would probably also be urine and vomit all over the floor as well.
[Jessica] Ew.
[Dan] I thought, "You know, you're right. That's awesome..."
[Jessica] How does he know?
[Dan] this was Teresa Nelson Hayden, by the way, so everyone can know.
[Brandon] Oh, was it? Thank you, Teresa, for adding vomit...
[Dan] That's also I think a similar situation. Because I have been established by the first book as this kind of very dark, very edgy thing. They just wanted to make sure it was still hitting those same notes.
[Jessica] Really gross.
[Dan] So now there's extra urine and vomit in the book.
[Jessica] I want that on the cover. Now with more urine and vomit.
[Dan] Now with 10% more vomit.
[Howard] Now with... no, 200% more bodily fluids.
[Jordo] I think I'm going to go to iTunes and remove our clean rating.
[Jessica] With vomit? Come on.

[Brandon] Let's move off of this topic. I had an interesting relationship with my various editors that I've worked with. It's always been much more of a conversation that I think new authors think it's going to be. I've never had an editor call me up and say you must do this. Never in my career. That's not to say it doesn't happen. I'm certain it does. But I've had editors call me up and say I've been thinking about this, what do you think? We will talk it through, either on the phone or in e-mail. It often ends up with me saying okay, let's give it a try. So far, every time I've said let's give it a try, I've actually liked the result better. But it's not the editor changing things, it's not the copy editor in most cases changing things. They are raising inquiries. If it's larger than just change a grammatical mistake, they don't change it, you change it as the author. That's just the way the relationship goes in most cases. It's been a conversation. There are times when I have disagreed, and I have tried to talk my editor out of making a... or having us make a change.

[Brandon] We should probably run an ad right now. Why don't we go ahead and do a promo for our book of the week which is going to be a book by Jessica.
[Jessica] Yes. Woohoo!
[Brandon] It is Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. Tell us why they should read this book?
[Jessica] This book is my baby. It's the only one of my books that I intended to actually write. I decided to write a version of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon when I was about 12 and discovered the P. J. Lynch illustrated picture book. It is my favorite story. I really threw a lot of stuff in it. In fact, I learned to speak old Norse so I could have the trolls speaking old Norse.
[Brandon] You can speak old Norse?
[Jessica] I can speak old Norse.
[Dan] All right! Book promo in old Norse?
[Brandon] Say something in old Norse.
[Jessica] Banahogg. It means deathblow.
[Dan] Nice.
[Jessica] Yeah. One of the trolls is named Deathblow because I was in love with that word. Banahogg. It's an awesome book and it's on audible.
[Brandon] It's on audible. It's a standalone, young adult-ish... may be middle grade, we're not sure?
[Jessica] No, it's not. That one they...
[Brandon] It's middle grade? They allowed that one to be...
[Jessica] No, it's young adult. It is very much young adult. Do not let your children read that book.
[Howard] Unless your child is a young adult.
[Jessica] unless your child is a young adult. Yeah.
[Brandon] to download your free audio book and give audible's book club a try.
[Jessica]] Oh, nice.
[Brandon] It's a wonderful book. You should read it. Jessica is an awesome author.
[Jessica] Yes, I am.

[Howard] Can I just say I'm feeling really left out because I don't have an editor and...
[Jessica] Oh, you love it that way.
[Howard] You published authors with your editors and your royalty checks, just quit whining and write.
[Dan] Thank you, Howard.
[Jessica] You love it.
[Howard] I do.

[Brandon] What do... When you agree to publish a book with a publishing house, they're probably going to demand some changes. What extent does... how much will you compromise artistic integrity? Is this a consideration for you? Do you think about this? Dan?
[Dan] Yeah. That one experience with the publisher that wanted all the supernatural stuff taken out, I did consider it long and hard because it was significantly more money, but in the end, it just didn't work for me. The vision of the book, the relationships between the characters didn't work the way I wanted them to if I took that out. So I said no. On the other hand, the editor I went with, Moshe, he has requested lots and lots of changes. None of them that sweeping. And I have been pretty okay with all of them.
[Howard] But those changes have been consistent with the vision that you have for the book. It's growing on the vision.
[Dan] I was just going to say, that's one of the reasons I chose him as an editor, even though it was less money, is because I knew that he saw the book the same way I did. It became a very good relationship. I could see before the contracts were signed that it was going to be a good relationship because we both wanted the same things out of the book.

[Howard] In 2004, Steve Jackson Games was going to publish Schlock Mercenary books. I remember sitting in Steve's office and talking to him about this first Schlock book we were going to do. He was begging me for a bonus story. I did not want to do a bonus story, because that's extra work. I had already written the contents of the book. I don't want to write more...
[Jessica] For free.
[Howard] Well, it's not for free. He thought it would sell more books. I don't know if it has or it hasn't. I've sold enough books obviously to pay the bills. When Steve and I went our separate ways... it didn't pan out for me having him publish me. But I kept that idea because I realized that it was the right idea. You have Steve Jackson to thank for the bonus stories in the first five Schlock books.
[Brandon] Thank you, Steve Jackson.
[Dan] Yes.
[Brandon] Because of Steve Jackson, we get to see... oh, I can't tell you because...
[Dan] We can't say what it is yet. It's good, though.
[Brandon] I've seen the new bonus story, first.
[Jessica] How do I get to be in the secret boy club?
[Howard] Clean ratings. Clean ratings.
[Jessica] Hey, now.

[Brandon] This is a consideration I think that every author should make and make a decision, as new writers, to consider what am I willing to sacrifice and what am I willing to cut or add in order to get published. I think it's something you need to be aware of, but at the same time, it should be something that you talk about an editor with before you sign a contract. This shouldn't be a panic worry. It should be something to consider, but instead of saying, "Oh, what's going to happen if they say add this word or take this word out or put this violence or sex in or things like that..." I would say on the add violence or sex thing, you really don't need to worry, our dear listeners. Most of you probably don't care, but those two dozen of you that have come to me in kind of a serious... that serious look in your eyes, half panicked, that only violence and sex sells and so of course if you write something clean, they are going to say, "No, this won't sell." You don't really need to worry. If the editor likes the book, they're going to like the book because of your vision for the book. That's going to have to do with whatever you are doing. If you are writing a book that is somewhat more on the risque side, that's probably something the editor is going to like. If you are not, that's probably something the editor is going to like. They're not going to come to you and say, "Sex sells. Add more sex." They may come and say you are writing this type of book. It's a serial killer novel, you've established this sort of thing. I think it would be appropriate in this scene to add this in. Or they may mistakenly come to you and say we've decided that you write middle grade because of this and you need to do this and this. Most of what I have had arguments with editors over are very small things.
[Jessica] Yeah. Until this point, it really has been. It just seems to be escalating. They had no problems with this stuff in Sun and Moon, Ice And Snow which is... let's be serious, it's just a PG-13 type of thing. They had no problems until just the last book or so. They're like, "You know what? A lot of your fans are 10-year-olds. Let's make this all good for 10-year-olds." Which just does not suit the book. I don't think it suited the Dragon book, honestly.
[Howard] I think they're underestimating 10 years old. If a lot of your fans are 10 years old, that's because those fans are reading your existing books as is and are enjoying them.
[Jessica] Exactly.
[Brandon] We should do a podcast on that.
[Howard] If you dumb down the books for all 10-year-olds...
[Dan] Can of Worms!
[Brandon] We're going to can of worms.
[Jessica] I've had a 10-year-old come up... at the end of the third Dragon Slippers book, I did not come out and say she is pregnant, but it is hinted at in the last paragraph. I've had 10-year-olds come up to me and go, "I'm so excited. She's going to have her baby. Are you going to do a fourth one where she has the baby?" 10 years old. They can spot it. So a little friendly poker to save your life? I really don't see anything wrong with that.
[Dan] I've had an 11-year-old read my book. She told me it was really funny.
[Brandon] That 11-year-old scares me.
[Dan] Yeah.
[Jessica] Neil Gaiman always says little kids love Coraline and the parents always say that was the freakiest book I've ever read in my life. But little kids love it, they think it's hilarious.
[Brandon] There we go. Don't worry about this quite as much as you think you need to, dear listeners, but it is something to consider.
[Dan] It's something to consider, and I think it's something that you need to plan on in a lot of ways. That's the reason the editor is there.

[Brandon] All right. Can we have a writing prompt? Let's have you write a story about a time where an author and editor disagree about something that no one else would ever disagree about. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
Tags: editors, integrity, middle grade, sex, swears, violence, writing excuses, young adult
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