Monday Advice from Agents and Editors: An Editor’s Take on Criticism


The Wakeup Call

Many new authors, shiny new publishing contract in hand, think all the hard work is over. And then they get the first editorial letter. The one that’s a dozen pages long. The one that starts “I really love this” and then goes, “But there are a few things I think you need to change.”

worry tinyIt’s even worse if the writer has won some contests and has an agent who keeps saying he/she is brilliant. (Note: that’s what agents are supposed to do.)

If I’m so brilliant, why is there so much red ink on my manuscript?

Constructive Criticism

annemcneill            Today’s comments come from editor Anne McNeil, Publishing Director at Hachette Children’s Books, speaking at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Ireland this year. She talks about the role of the editor in shaping the final book.

McNeil believes even an “immensely strong” writer, like writer David Almond, celebrated for award-winning children’s and young adult novels, can benefit from a fresh look by an editor. She said this with Almond sitting right beside her. In fact, Almond himself said a writer needs “a sense of someone beyond [himself]” – being part of a publishing team.

Editing is not a simple job. One of the complexities, according to McNeil, is “stripping a book down to its nuts and bolts.” Similar in concept to that discussed in my blog on killing your “darling, puffy babies,” this part of the job may involve taking out dialog or whole scenes that don’t move the story forward—in the opinion of the editor.

This horribly bruising experience may be accompanied by the editor’s suggestions to expand some parts of the story, broadening the author’s vision.

McNeil calls her approach, “constructively critical,” hopefully ending up with “the best of what the author wants.” Notice, she didn’t say everything the author wants.

Sometimes You Just Have to Trust the Editor

In an earlier interview, McNeil said

            Astonishingly, passion still lies at the heart of this business. This, coupled with a good awareness of market – and a tenacity about putting the original voices at the heart of what we do. It’s not a science, although nowadays we do mix intuition with strong consumer data.

graph, chart, bar, office, business, company, market, stock            Hmm. Strong consumer data. Sounds like something that could turn a good book into a bestseller. Something an editor would know and an author might not.

McNeil also mentioned that today’s editors have to take a “360 degree” view of each project – looking at apps, enhanced e-books and other digital platforms. Something else authors might not know much about.

When you add everything up, all that red ink might actually be a good thing.

About Donna Maloy

History, Mystery... and sometimes a touch of Fantasy. Historical adventures for Teens, Tweens and Young Adults.
This entry was posted in Criticism, Editing, Editorial Criticism, Revising, Taking out fluff and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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