My Editor Guts My Heart Out and Hands It To Me On A Plate

Mike’s second rule of publishing is to hire an editor.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m a genius, but sometimes that doesn’t make it onto the page.  There’s no one like an editor who can tease out of your brain what you were really trying to say, to make you laugh at what you had accidentally said, or cringe because he/she is so harsh.

Now I’m not talking about a copy editor here–that comes later.  I’m talking about a substantive editor, a pro who will critique the whole deal.

But danger lies in wait out there for unsuspecting writers.  The predator editors lurk on websites all over the cyber world.  They have no editing credentials, and they know little about writing and publishing.  I read one resume that shamelessly listed “tug boat captain” as if it had something to do with writing.  They will charge you as much as the pros, and they will do nothing for your work.  They are to be avoided at all costs.

So for my novel I went with the devil I know, an editor who’d driven me out of my mind when critiquing my short stories before she’d buy them.  Despite the damage to my scalp from all the hair pulling, my stories always ended up far better when they went to print.

Melanie Fogel spent fifteen years in the editing trenches at Storyteller Magazine.  She waded through piles of slush seeking short story gems.  She encouraged new authors, ruthlessly critiqued their work and fearlessly rejected even well-published authors if their short stories weren’t up to standard.

But Melanie’s credentials don’t stop there: she teaches creative writing, leads writers groups and is also a published short story writer, so she’s seen both sides of the editing process.

Melanie rejected the first short story I ever sent her, but she did something no editor had ever done before: she told me why.  Yup, she gutted out my heart and handed it to me on a plate.

I didn’t like hearing that the first half of my beloved short story was “irrelevant,” but I knew a golden opportunity when I saw it.  I slashed the first half of the story off, wrote another story keeping her comments in mind, sent them back to Storyteller and BAAM!  I had my first two sales: Burning Moose and Beer Truck.  The former even made it onto the 2002 Great Canadian Story Contest short list.  The neighbors must’ve wondered about all the shouting.

But Melanie won’t rubber stamp your stories even if she’s encouraged you to submit more work.  I sent her over a dozen stories between 2002 and 2007, when Storyteller closed up shop, and she published eight of them, summarily executing the others, even a Bony Pete contest winner.

So three weeks ago I hired Melanie to look at “In a Country Burning,” the novel that we’re going to take to e-publishing success, and she threw the first monster monkey wrench into the works.  Yup, she ripped out my beating heart handed it back on a silver platter.

“The writing, the actual line by line writing,” she states, is not as good as my writing of three years ago.  The misplaced modifiers are driving her crazy when they aren’t making her laugh.

What went wrong?  I’d like blame it on sleep deprivation (I have three very young children) but I believe it’s actually because I committed one of the greatest sins of writing.  I stopped.  After my youngest was born I stopped writing for nearly a year.  It shows.

Is it hopeless?  I received this e-mail from her this week: “I’m near enough the end that I’m starting to see what you were trying to do with this thing.”

That’s about as close to praise as I’ll ever get from Melanie, but that’s okay.  I didn’t hire her to pat me on the head.  The idea is to make the novel better.

If all I wanted was praise I’d go to my mother.  Actually, she can be pretty honest too.

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Joan McPherson

Yes dear. You’re too intelligent to accept cream without the strawberries. Never mind. Keep practising (British spelling of “practicing” according to Oxford) and one day you will realize that you do not say “the person that…” You say “the person who…” But that was somewhere else….Love…Mom

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