Okay, maybe nothing so drastic as that. Though having been on both sides of the writing bed, I can relate—and yet offer little sympathy either to myself in writer mode, or when I don my editor’s hat and deal with my authors. Sorry, guys (they know who they are). Sometimes you have to employ tough love.
After all, it’s a tough business, this writing thing, and editors don’t always make it any easier for the authors under their care. We kind of can’t, you see, because the book that just passed into our hands is somebody’s baby and yet the kid still needs to be potty trained, for want of a better analogy. We’re there to make sure everything gets cleaned, polished, and prettied. Yes, your manuscript is not unlike a soiled bottom. That’s what every author wants to hear, I’m sure. ::grin::
Because I’m an author myself, I can see the author’s side of things very clearly. But authors can’t always see the editor’s point of view, though they toil mightily on their manuscripts before they submit them anywhere. A good rule of thumb: what I, Author think is plenty of editing, usually doesn’t begin to scratch the surface once I, Editor, get my hands on the soiled bottom (nee manuscript). Frustrating for Author, and a moment of resigned reality for Editor.
So, I get this bottom, er, manuscript. It’s sort of clean, and yet spotty. I have already decided I want it because I can see the promise under all the, um, stuff-that-needs-to-be-cleansed. After the easy fixes—reformatting, correcting punctuation, EM dashes and ellipses, the usual editor checklist that authors receive at the start of the process—I can begin, chapter by chapter, to make that manuscript pretty. We all know the process. Authors start writing their next WIP while they wait (at least, I hope they do), and when their first round edits are ready, they begin revisions.
It’s just that easy!
It hurts to delete, remove, pare down, revise. Nobody really wants to see their words flushed or watch in dismay as a ‘heavy-duty wipe’ erases months of hard work. “Dang it, that editor wants to remove a hundred and five instances of ‘that!’ Never mind, there are still fifty that are in place. Whew! Thought that I’d lost them all.”
I’m not even kidding.
Beyond the standard do-and-don’t of editing guidelines, every editor has their own personal list. Call them ‘pet peeves,’ if you like. I’ve got several I promise you all my authors have experienced. Silly romance novel clichés probably top the list. Over the years these clichés have given romance reads a bad name. My two absolute, don’t-write-it-or-I’ll-kill-you, pet peeves are:
1. Releasing the breath he/she didn’t know he/she was holding. If I had money for each time I’ve read this in a romance novel, I could retire to Tahiti in style. Not only is it impossible to achieve in any character’s POV, but it’s irritating because it’s in so many books.
2. He/she captured her/his lips. Okay, break out the butterfly nets, because all I can picture is a few men in white coats going after the local nut case at the insane asylum who’s running amok. Toss in a ‘slanted his/her lips over hers/his,’ and you have added images of a playground seesaw into the mix. Which way will they slant next? Whee!
Here’s the thing I believe romance authors need to remember: it’s all been done before, using the exact same wording, for the last fifty years or so. Readers get bored very easily. My top advice for any author is to remember they’re authors and as such they need to get really creative. You’ve got the talent, otherwise you’d be doing something else, something not creative at all.
I spoke with one of Soul Mate’s editors, MJ Compton, also a published author. It’s always good to get another editor’s take on things. I loved her response.
MJ said, “Looking and breathing are two of my pet peeves. The English language is replete with strong verbs. If your characters must look, find another word that suits the particular situation: scan, skim, stare, glare, peruse, study. Try to eliminate the word “look” from your prose. Looking isn’t active, and your characters should be doing other things besides looking and breathing.
“Limit gasps and sighs, unless your character is having an asthma attack. In my day job, I work with a woman who is a heavy and frequent sigh-er. The habit is just as annoying on the page as it is in person. And don’t forget to include a sense of smell. Fragrance is often the touch that can make a good scene great.
“Watch out for character traits used by more than one character. You want each character to be unique. Sharing a habit lessens the impact of the ‘toothpick in the corner of the mouth.’
“Be specific. Words like “it” and “that” are vague. “He had a knife. It was thin,” versus, “He held a knife. The blade was narrow.” And you shouldn’t use that either, because it’s passive. “The narrow blade flashed silver in the moonlight,” would be better.”
From MJ, I can jump right into another editing snafu: the dreaded ‘repeat word.’ As she said above, there are so many other words to put into play. There’s the creative-author thing again. If you search for them, you’ll find them and if you use them, your editor will love you forever.
Editors want you to succeed. They want readers to pant for every word you write, and then come back for your next release. So many romance readers are collectors; if they like an author, they’ll dig through backlists to find everything published by that author usually regardless of genre. Because they know what they’re going to get when they open up that book: the same quality they found when they took a chance on someone maybe they’d never read before. Senior Editor Debby Gilbert has said it many times: create a solid, well-constructed bookshelf of your releases and the readers will come.
It all starts with a manuscript needing its cheekies polished, an editor determined to apply those heavy-duty wipes . . . and a willing, eager author. I liken it to a phrase from a favorite show of mine:
‘Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.’
Char Chaffin is an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate, a multi-published author, and a displaced Alaskan who regularly plots to return to the Last Frontier, preferably when hubby Mr. Don can travel with her.