Swimming in diamonds

There’s an analogy for editing I like (mostly because I made it up):

Editing is a lot like swimming in a pool full of diamonds. It seems glamorous and enviable from the outside. People might wonder what the heck you did to deserve the right to swim in diamonds all day, and want to hear about it all the time. They might feel like it’s not that hard, that if it were them they’d go faster or not throw so many diamonds in their wake. Or just leave the diamonds glittering in their pristine state.

 But the reality is that swimming in diamonds is really hard, really painful a lot of the time, and when you get out, you’re covered in glittery dust, but also bleeding from hundreds of cuts you didn’t know you had.

Okay, that last bit is new to the analogy. You see, I’m not an editor anymore, per se. I got laid off. I’m not going to use this post to beat my breast and bemoan the decisions that led to this. In fact, I dearly hope they’re right, because I did love my job and my co-workers and my authors and I want all of those things and people to succeed. I’d like it better if all  those things happened and they didn’t need to eliminate my position, but that’s not the offer on the table.

What I do want to talk about is editors.

 The short version is I’m really frustrated by readers who assume that editors do nothing but water down their favorite authors. I’ve read more than a few reviews where books I worked on were either praised for something I more or less strongarmed the author into doing (in which case the author is a genius*) or eviscerated for something I argued long and hard and persuasively as I could to get the author to change and they wouldn’t (in which case the editor obviously decided to make this thing happen). And I’ve read a few forums where the general consensus is that editors must be cackling over their wringing hands at how to make fans of the D&D novels miserable.

(Seriously, guys? I mean, on Evil Wednesdays, sure, but constantly? Cackling’s hard on the throat.)

So I’m not going to talk about the books I edited. A) It seems gauche. B) It skirts a little close to breaking contractual obligations I had. C) 98% of the time, the stories I have are dull. So I’m going to tell you about my editor.

Susan J. Morris is the Forgotten Realms line editor. A lot of people seem to forget this because Phil Athans was for so long, but she’s actually been in charge for the past three or four years. She knows an insane amount about the Realms. She’s whip smart, and she always shares her tea.  I suspect she’s secretly a ninja and I know she can kill a man with her bare hands. She’s explained it in too much detail to be faking.

And without Susan, I (and I suspect many others) would be a much poorer author. She’s directed me in a hundred tiny ways, some of which I’m sure I don’t know about,** but here are a few things my editor definitely deserves a little more credit for.

(And for those of you who haven’t gotten out and bought a copy of The God Catcher or read “The Resurrection Agent,” here be spoilers)

Susan told me how to end “The Resurrection Agent.” In the first draft, the Harlot just kills Na and then gets on with holding Reshka back. She doesn’t actually have much emotional response at all to killing what is essentially her own body. Just *sword!* and go. And she certainly didn’t feel sorry for Na. In my defense, I was about 2000 words over my limit and freaking out, but I managed to skim what was a critical part of the character’s arc! Maybe if I’d had another year to write I would have worked out how to do it and made the same choices. I needed Susan to sit me down and say, “What’s going on in her head here? You started her toward this goal. Finish it.”

Susan found Nazra for me. In the outline of The God Catcher, she only showed up at the very end. Pretty much a character to gasp and say “What? What’s going on?” I needed someone wealthy who could have *something* stolen from them–I hadn’t figured out the dragonstaff yet–and I thought maybe it could be a woman to mirror Nestrix. I had completely missed the section on Masked Lords in the Waterdeep Story Bible–they weren’t going to come up at all! Susan pointed out the two women there and I fell in love with Nazra. And if I hadn’t used a Masked Lord, I wouldn’t have thought of the dragonstaff, and then the whole story becomes a lot wimpier.

Susan stopped me from writing the worst sentence ever. “Tennora’s boots hissed across the floor as she sprinted after her.” Her boots hissed. HISSED.  I have no defense for that. It just slipped out. Susan caught it with a “No, they didn’t.”

And perhaps most of all, without Susan, I would be mired in Brimstone Angels. I can’t talk about it in detail, obviously, but I’m thrilled to be writing this book. But where Waterdeep was a corner I carved out and had clear rules on, this book is simultaneously more open and more bound up in other people’s rules. I need to check everything three times. And more than once, I’ve told my editor I’m stumped on how to keep my characters as the most important thing in the book. And she’s talked me through it every time, reflecting back the ideas I can’t organize myself into something coherent and useful.

So seriously: be nicer to editors. They’re fabulous people who make the books you love even better. I’m not perfect; no author is. But with good editors we get close to faking it.

*And to be fair, regardless of what the editor insisted on or let slide, let’s be perfectly clear: the author still wrote it that way. So if it comes off as genius, it’s still the author who did that. I use this example as a counterpoint. If the reader liked it, the author did it. If the reader didn’t like it, an evil editor did it. Oy.

**True story: I knew with The God Catcher that there would be line changes. There always are. A paragraph needs one more sentence, a sentence needs to be flipped, a piece of dialogue needs a different tag, etc. So I was determined to find the line edits when I got to the final pass. Every single thing that I was positive my editor had changed or added…was something I wrote and forgot I wrote. I never did find what she changed. I’m sure they’re in there. I’m not perfect, after all.

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2 Responses to Swimming in diamonds

  1. Aw, thank you! That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s said to me in a long time! I’m saving this page for when I have a bad day.

    For the record, I’m sure your authors could write a BOOK on all the ways you’ve helped their manuscripts… And then you could edit it :).

  2. Sorry to hear you lost your job. I hope things work out well for you! Good luck with the book you’re working on.