Ooh, Baby, Yes! Enticing An Erotic Editor: Part 2


When I first started submitting pieces, I was completely ignorant about the process. Sure, I’d read the books, I’d looked at the markets, and I thought I understood what happened after a piece got accepted. But, in reality, I didn’t know a damn thing. As ashamed as I am to say it, I am pretty sure I believed that my first acceptance would go something like this: The editor would love my short story so much that they would send it to their agent and I would be asked to write a best-selling novel with a huge advance. Jump to rich, famous and living on an island somewhere in the Pacific.

It wasn’t that I wanted that life, necessarily, it’s just what I believed would happen after my first acceptance.

In reality, it was more like this: They loved my story, they wanted some revisions, if this was okay I should sign this contract, they would pay me twenty dollars after I filled out a tax form, a bio and a medical history. Okay, the medical history part I made up—but it sure felt like I was filling out a million forms and signing dozens of papers just to see my story in print. There was no fame, little money, and certainly no island in the Pacific.

In truth, I learned what most of you probably already know: Getting a story accepted is just one of the first steps in getting a story published. If you’ve already established yourself as a professional, courteous writer (see my last column), then you should have a decent relationship with your editor, something that will make the next few steps easier.

There are three major steps between getting accepted and getting published: Edits, Contracts, and Payments. Let’s look at them one at a time—in this column, we’ll tackle the editing process that happens post-acceptance.

Good Editor Vs. Bad Editor

A good editor, in my opinion, is one who wants to make your story the best it can be. A bad editor wants to make your story hers. It’s a very subtle difference, and sometimes it can be hard to tell what kind of editor you’re working with.

Typically, a good editor will use some type of editing program (usually Track Changes in Word) that allows you to see the changes she’d like to make to your story. She will send the document to you full of additions, subtracts and comments and will say something like, “Please let me know if these work for you, or if you have questions on any of them.” She will give you a few days to look over her work, and will be willing to negotiate and talk with you if you have questions or concerns.

A bad editor, on the other hand, will change your voice, your character’s names, and your plot without asking. They will make these changes the day before the book goes to press and will not let you see them beforehand. Or, if you do get to see them, you will not be allowed to make any additional changes to the text, nor will you be allowed to question her edits. (Note: This is different than “final proofing”, in which the only changes you really should be making are ones that fix grammatical errors. This usually does occur right before the book goes to press, and is a courtesy that ensures that there aren’t any last-minute errors).

In my experience, there are far more good editors than bad editors in the industry. I have run into my share of inexperienced or incompetent editors, however, who fall into the bad editor category not out of any spite on their part, but because they just don’t know any better, they’re over-worked and up against a deadline, and they get overzealous with the red pen.

Good Writer Vs. Bad Writer

Editors aren’t the only ones who wear good and bad hats, however. There are good writers and bad writers—not a judgment of skill in this case, but in level of pain-in-the-assness. Good writers look their pieces over, they take into account that every change the editor has made is (hopefully) in the best interest of the story, and they will choose their battles. If an editor makes a change that I don’t agree with, I mention it in my return email to her, something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for the thoughtful edits of my story. I accepted all of the changes you made except for the one in which you turned Marice’s internal dialogue into external dialogue. My goal was to…” I then explain what my hope was in that section and ask her advice for a way to make it truly do the work I’d meant for it to do.

Bad writers argue over every single change (again, this is assuming that the editor was competent) without a reason to back up their argument other than their inherent creative rights. Bad writers lose their professionalism, their ability to spell and their sense of respect in emails and phone calls (see my last column, Enticing An Erotic Editor, Part 1 for vivid examples). Bad writers also assume their editor is “out to get them,” “to ruin their career” and to “make them look stupid,” when in truth, that writer is doing a fine job of that all on their own.

Working Together

So, if you have Good Writer and Good Editor, then things are about as smooth as they’re going to get. Consider yourself lucky, pat yourself on the back, tell your editor how delighted you are to be working with her.

But what if you’re wearing your Good Writer Hat and your editor is wearing their Bad Editor Hat? What do you do now? You don’t want to piss anyone off, and you certainly don’t want to make your story worse. How do you get the best results for you, your editor and your story?

First, you remain courteous and professional. Then, you explain exactly what the issue is. For example, if you chose the name Stella because it means star and that’s the whole theme of your story, then your editor’s choice to change the character’s name to Erica just isn’t going to work. Gauge the editor’s response—does she seem willing to work with you to fix things? Sometimes there’s an external reason for the change (like, she just happened to accept three stories with characters named Stella, and yours was the one she arbitrarily changed), and she may be stuck between trying to appease you and trying to appease the publisher. In the end, open and honest communication are your friends. Explain why you’re having trouble with the edits and ask what can be done.

If the editor isn’t willing to work with you on the piece, then you must ask yourself: Are these edits so ridiculous that you would be ashamed to see this piece in print with your name on it? Is it worth having this printed, just to get a sale? Is it too late to pull the piece from the anthology? And, perhaps, most importantly, who else can you talk to? It might seem odd to go over your editor’s head, but if you’re having trouble, that might be the last resort. You should also check your contract (more on this next column) to see if there’s a clause about pulling your story if the edits aren’t to your satisfaction.

As always, editors are people and they’re your employers, so even “bad editors” should be treated with respect and understanding. Don’t lower yourself to someone else’s level—try to bring everyone else up with you, through education, patience and professionalism. I have a friend—someone who’s a Great Writer (skill-wise) and a Good Writer (professional-wise) and his favorite saying is, “A rising tide floats all boats.” By which he means that if we reach out a hand to help others, we help ourselves—and our entire industry—as well.

Come back next month, where I offer tips for the process of deciphering, changing and signing contracts!

Shanna Germain
October 2010

“The Fine Art of Submission” © 2010 Shanna Germain. All rights reserved.

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