Friday, December 11, 2009

Editor: Friend? Or Foe? by Tamera Alexander


From the moment you’re assigned an editor or editorial team, your most important publishing relationship begins. The success of your book may not ride solely on how well you and your editors work together, but that relationship certainly contributes to the finished product, as well as to your enjoyment of the process—not to mention future projects!

Before I dive in, I want to thank my writing critique partner, Deborah Raney, for all she’s taught me about this important relationship. In fact, much of what I’m sharing today comes from an online course that Deb and I taught together (through American Christian Fiction Writers––

Perhaps first, we should talk briefly about how the editing process works once you’re working with a publishing house. Each house does things a bit differently, but the editing of a manuscript will look something like this:

The substantive edit (also called editorial overview, editorial letter, macro edit, etc.) of your manuscript may come from your acquisitions editor, or the line editor may also do the substantive edit. This edit may include the comments of two or more editors, or it may be just one editor.

The substantive edit is an overview of the issues your editor(s) sees needing work. This might include plot holes, story pacing issues, characters that need strengthening, issues of plausibility/credibility, overall writing issues such as point of view, grammar, etc., or other encompassing issues of the overall book. Sometimes the substantive edit is presented to the author in an eight page single-spaced document. Not that I’ve ever received one of those…

Personally? I LOVE this “rewrite” stage! The opportunity to go back in, now that you know the whole story, and really deepen the characterization, the themes, the romance, the suspense. Give me rewrites over that blinking computer cursor any day!

Once you receive the substantive edit and have rewritten your book according to these editorial directions, the next phase is the line edit. Just like it sounds, the line edit is the editor’s comments and suggestions line by line. These are often done in Microsoft Word’s Track Changes program, and involve changing words, phrases, asking clarifying questions, suggesting additions or subtractions of paragraphs, etc.

Usually the decision of whether to accept your editor’s changes is as simple as clicking “accept” or “reject” in Track Changes, but sometimes you’ll need to consult with your editor to clarify, nicely argue your case, or suggest a compromise. (These consultations are usually done via e-mail––which creates a great written record for future reference. But if you think a phone call is necessary you can work out a time to call that suits both of your schedules).

Also, not all houses use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes. Some houses still work from the “hard copy” and they send these questions to you (incorporated into the body of the story) in the form of a printed manuscript (loose pages) that you mark only if you have a differing opinion.

After you’ve sent back the corrected line edit, your manuscript will go to the copy editor. This edit is for punctuation, grammar, usage, consistency, clarity, mechanics of style (in keeping with your publishing house’s style.)

Many publishers will also have a group of readers going over the manuscript during this edit, in an effort to get as many opinions and catch as many mistakes as possible before the manuscript goes to press.

Galley proofs are also called page proofs, first pages, bluelines, first pass, author alterations, etc. This is the author’s last chance to view the manuscript before it goes to press. For most houses, this is not a place to make major changes (say like changing your hero from a doctor to a vampire), but only to catch printer errors, typos missed in the first pass, issues of clarity or continuity, hyphenation, etc. Usually, these galley pages will look exactly the way they will in the printed book—including page design, chapter headings, decorative dingbats, etc.

Some houses allow for more changes at this point in the process than others. For instance, I publish with Bethany House who handles the galley process a bit differently. My editor(s) insert comments within the body of the manuscript [[like this, in double brackets]] and as I’m reading the galleys, I address those questions in handwritten notes in the margin and make whatever changes are necessary. There have been times when I’ve even inserted paragraphs or only a sentence or two, but Bethany House still allows that type of alteration at this stage if necessary.

Typically this process (from submitting your first draft to the final galley stage) takes anywhere from seven months to a year, or more.


When I signed my first contract with a publishing house, I was thrilled! And still so new to the writing world, I hadn’t been around long enough to hear the rumor that writers were supposed to be (according to some) “frightened” of an editor changing their “author’s voice.” Huh?

I went blindly into the relationship thinking we’d be a team, my editor and I—a writing partnership—and that we’d benefit from each others’ strengths while collaborating on the story to fix the weak spots. I believed my editor would bring a perspective to the table that would lend perspective to my writing and that would help me to become a better writer. I didn’t have an inkling that I should be worried about him/her altering my writing style in such a way that my story would lose “my voice.” I was naïve in understanding I was supposed to be wary of that—and with good reason. It has not proven true for me in the least! Quite the contrary.

I’m blessed to have been partnered with fabulously gifted editors who “get” my voice and my style of writing, and who are big encouragers (and correctors, hey, we need both in this process) than I ever dreamed.

So, in short, do NOT fear the editor/author relationship. Look forward to it! It’s a great gift and privilege to work with these professionals. They’re here to push us to be better, most certainly, but it’s only because they want the very best for us. And our books!


Last week, my editor from Bethany House, Karen, called to check in with me and to see how this current book was coming along. After a few minutes, she said, “Okay, I’m taking off my editor hat and putting on my friend hat. So, how are you doin’?” LOL! I love that. In addition to being my “publishing writer partner,” my substantive editor and I are also very good friends.

I hosted her and her husband in our home when they visited Nashville a while back, and we had a blast visiting antebellum plantations and seeing the sights. We’ve orchestrated a wonderful and workable balance in our friendship while maintaining a clear distinction between that and our working relationship.

We’re both professionals and realize that writing books—while a very creative and artistic process—is, at the end of the day, a business. My book becomes a “product.” And it’s her job to make sure that product is the very best it can be by pointing out the weak areas, and the areas where she believes I could do better. I never take her comments or suggestions “personally.” I learned long ago (first in life, and then carried this lesson into my writing) that until the moment I breathe my last, I will always have a lot to learn.

I’m committed to remaining teachable, which isn’t hard for me because I have so many areas I need to improve in (ending sentences in prepositions is only one of them ). I truly think that’s one of the most important parts of being successful in your writing, and in any area of life—realizing that you’ve never arrived.

I love this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

UNDERSTANDING THE EDITOR’S RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER DEPARTMENTS WITHIN THE PUBLISHING HOUSE (crucial as you navigate concerns regarding cover art, back cover copy, or in marketing aspects of your book)

Along with the practicalities and logistics of communication, there’s something else to keep in mind. Depending on which publishing house you’re working with, it may encompass a large personnel base or it may be smaller and have a more “family feel” to it. Either way, remember that when you’re speaking to someone in that house (whether it’s the President, the Marketing Director, or the assistant’s assistant’s assistant in the Shipping and Receiving Dept), you are speaking to “the publishing house as a whole.”

Essentially everyone who works in that publishing house is working “with” you because every area in that company has their “hand stamp” on the success of your book. Treat everyone in that publishing house with deserved respect and gratitude. There are 1,984,978 writers out there (last I counted) who would gladly take your place (and mine). To illustrate…

I was recently in a workshop when the editor giving the presentation said (very nicely, of course) that life was too short to work with an author who was “a pain,” and that their publishing house would have to seriously consider whether to contract (or re-contract) an author who was difficult to work with. Ouch! But honestly, don't you agree? Who wants to work with someone who's a pain in the you-know-what? Life's too short.

So bottom line…play nice! CBA is a small market, and editors from one house are often friends with another at a different house. Or they may change houses so you might see them again somewhere down the line. News in this industry travels fast, as does the reputation of a snarky or demanding author.

Now, ahem…speaking of remembering to be nice, I’m off to complete my Christmas shopping for my editors! Thanks, Mary and all, for allowing me to guest blog!

Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will be entered into a giveaway for a copy of Beyond This Moment (Bethany House Publishers, a Timber Ridge Reflections novel).


  1. Great information, Tamara. Thanks for taking the time to share on this blog for those of us, like me, who are still struggling to get to that stage in our writing.

  2. Beyond This Moment sounds wonderful.Please enter me in the giveaway. Have a great weekend.augustlily06(at)aim(dot)com.Thank you.

  3. I'm amazed at all the steps involved once you get to this stage. Isn't it amazing that you work so hard to get your MS in perfect shape and then lo and behold, there is so much more to do!

    Tamera, your books have such lovely covers!!!!

  4. Tamera, sage words from a talented gal!

    Welcome to Seekerville, kiddo. So nice to have you here, and your books are delightfully soulful and beautifully written.

    And it's FRIDAY!!!!

    Oh, yay, what a wonderful thing to celebrate!!! Tamera's here and it's Friday!

    I brought coffee, tea, chai and a full Friday "New York" repaste of really good stuff.

    Croissants, stuffed with strawberries and cream...

    Breakfast frittata, The Ruthy Blend of sausage, eggs, potatoes, onion and cheese.

    Oh my goodness, a heart attack on a plate!!! :) Walk a little extra today if you indulge too much.

    Fresh fruit. Bagels, very Yiddish, freshly baked and delightfully chewy, oh my stars, so GOOD!

    Any and all contributions to the food table are gratefully acknowledged and always welcome!

    Tamera, I'm loving those covers. Beautiful artwork, great colors, totally inviting. Wonderful!


  5. LOVED the detail of the editing world! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Tamera, thanks for all the great advice and insight into the publishing process. I work with a small publisher, getting larger by the months (ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers). They definitely have that family feel, but are very professional and simply lovely people.

    Ruthie, is this a virtual breakfast feast? I'd like to bring my cranberry scones and chocolate/almond biscotti.

  7. Cranberry scones?????

    Almond biscotti????

    Oh mylanta, honey-girl, step right up to the table!!! These are lovely, just lovely!

    (beaming here!)

    Cathy, thank you! This biscotti is perfect to pair with the chocolate velvet coffee Sandra's bringing. A mid-morning feast!!!

  8. Tamera, I wish I could've read your post two years ago. Lol. I'm currently reading Beyond This Moment and LOVE it. Thanks once again for endorsing my book, The Jewel of His Heart.

  9. Ruthy,

    I read the flavors with interest as I "indulge" in my early morning plain 100 calorie bowl of oatmeal sweetned with a smidgen of Splenda.

    My thighs are paved with evidence of real brunches from days gone by. Thighs, pies? I choose pies for the 12 days before Christmas.

  10. Tamera!!! Welcome to Seekerville! Love the blog this morning.

    And I'm with Maggie ... could've used your post several years ago when I was clueless. I'm still pretty clueless, mind you, but not as much. :)

    Oh, and move over, because I absolutely LOVE the revision stage too! It's a fun challenge (usually!) to implement an editor's suggestions and still keep the feel and intent of your own story. And for me, the galley stage is the best because this is the first time we get to read our books like a reader would, allowing us to lose ourselves in the world we've created. Soooo much fun!!

    And anybody who hasn't read Beyond This Moment is in for a WONDERFUL read!! I love Tamera's work anyway (yes, she IS one of my favorite authors!), but Beyond This Moment is at the top of my list because I like LOTS of romantic undercurrents (SURPRISE, SURPRISE!), and of all Tamera's books, I felt this novel radiated the most romantic tension. Loved it!!


  11. Good Morning Tamera, What super information. You are soooo right on with your insightful info about working with editors.

    All of my experiences with editors have been so helpful and fun. That is why I love to go to conferences and meet editors. So I can picture with whom I'm working so diligently.

    And yes Ruthy, I did bring the chocolate velvet coffee. I brought some flavored cream cheeses to go with the bagels. yum.

    Thanks for all the other goodies. The nice thing about virtual food Cathy is that it stays off the thighs. Even the pies. (oh I know that is corny, but hey its early here in Palm Springs. I'm not awake yet)

  12. Tamera, thanks for sharing all this information! I appreciate the comments about keeping your author voice. I've been struggling to learn that in my critique groups, so I guess that's just preparation for when I enter the publishing world some day. :-)

  13. Wonderful to have you in Seekerville, Tamera! Thanks for your detailed post on the editing process. And for your wonderful books!

    Like you, I've been blessed to work with terrific editors who've helped me make my books better. My substantive edits have varied from practically no changes to a major overhaul. The latter was intimidating, but exactly right for the story.

    Ruthy, the buffet is amazing! Thank you!


  14. Thanks for walking us through it, Tamara! I CAN'T WAIT for the day I get my substantive edits! The thought of working with an editor to make my book better is very exciting to me!

    Thank you for being here and sharing your knowledge and experience.

    I do have a question. Whenever you're doing edits, if you change something the editor didn't ask you to change, do you have to call their attention to it and let them know specifically, "I changed such-and-such on page 156 and added a paragraph on page 231"?

  15. SORRY! I meant Tamera.
    Julie has me looking forward to reading your book!

  16. Tamara excellent insight! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Just when I think the posts can't get any more exciting....they do!

    My Christmas book wish list is growing by the day. I hope Santa has room to put them all in my stocking!


  17. Tammy, thanks so much for being here today! What an interesting article! I'm still learning the process myself. But I totally agree with what you said. I love my editor! And I love what she does with my books making them so much better.

    Okay, Ruthy, my mouth is now watering for the fritatta! Yum.


  18. Wow! What fabulous food and fellowship! I'm never going to leave! ;)

    Melanie asked: Whenever you're doing edits, if you change something the editor didn't ask you to change, do you have to call their attention to it and let them know specifically, "I changed such-and-such on page 156 and added a paragraph on page 231"?

    Yes. And no. ;) It depends on which stage the edit is in at the time. If it's substantive edit, then no, obviously, because I'll be sending them the entire manuscript again when I'm done, newly revised and with their suggested changes. But if it's during the line editing process, then yes. Karen and I often have emails flying back and forth during this stage. Again, great to have a written record.

    I keep track of every change I send to her [I have an email file that's entitled "Line edits, then title of the book" and I toss all the emails pertaining to that stage in that file], then as I'm reading through at the galley stage, if something comes up and I think, "Hmmm....did I really write that that way?", I can go back and check, and tweak if necessary.

    If the edit is in galley stage, then I'll simply note the change in the galleys in the righthand margin and it will be incorporated into the final copy before the book goes to press.

  19. Wow that's a lot of editing! I never realized how much went into that process! I have to admit I hated editing in college so I can only imagine what it is like when writing a book!

    Thank you for sharing Tamera! I love your work!

    xoxo~ Renee

  20. I just finished...I guess I think of it as line edits. All the different terms confuse me.

    I get substantive edit. And the galley edits. Those are what I call them. The line edits...I think those have a lot of different names.

    Anyway, I just finished mine for Wildflower Bride, which comes out in May and in the end there's a confrontation between the hero and his father's housekeeper in which they both admit that SHE was co-dependent (I didn't use this term because it didn't exist-the behavior existed)with the hero's abusive father.

    That was implied before but I felt like, on rereading, I was to subtle with the implication, I wanted clarity. So I added extensively to that scene and it was fine with Barbour.

    Also, in the end of The Husband Tree, when feisty Belle finally admits she needs and loves her husband and should have trusted him when he seemed to be failing her, in that case the EDITOR said he didn't like the tone of Belle's abject apology because the hero was at fault too and could I make him take his share of the responsibility.

    It was a great insight in a scene I was mostly playing for humor, but a chance to make it much more powerful. So that scene I changed at the editor's request.

    So working at this stage is a very mutual effort.

  21. Thanks for the answer to my question! I love revising and I can imagine getting carried away and changing things that we hadn't talked about changing!

  22. This was an excellent post! Thanks for sharing!!!!!!!

  23. Tamera,

    It's nice to cyber-meet you! Your books sound and look wonderful.

    Amazon keeps popping your name up to me, so I must be meant to read your work! LOL.

    Thank you for all this valuable information. I had no idea all the work required behind a book actually arriving on the shelves. No wonder the time between a sale and being available to buy takes so long.

    As a new reader/fan, which book do you recommend I start with? (Now there's a tough question!)

    I'll be making two different kinds of fudge today, both variations of chocolate, so come back later for a sample!


    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  24. Tamera,

    Thanks for all the steps and descriptions of editing. It's a great reminder to writer's not to be "married" to each word, sentence or paragraph because it can always be made better.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  25. First-Welcome to Seekerville!!

    We are really honored to have you.
    Thanks for so generously sharing with us!!

  26. Welcome to Seekerville, Tamera! What a great post!

    Thanks for the glimpse into the inner workings of the publishing world. Hmm, resist revisions? The concept hasn't really crossed my mind, not in the fictional work I submit to editors!

    Now, my personal journals are another matter entirely, but I don't think I'll be offering those to the public : )

    I realized a long time ago that editors and agents are people, too. I love how you mentioned the changing of the hats. How depressing to think your editor is not your friend!

    Thanks so much for coming to play with us!

  27. Wonderful post! I love my editors. They are so gifted and dedicated. We're all on the same team with the goal of making my book the best it can possibly be.

  28. So much goes into the publishing of a book, thanks for a peek behind the scenes. Your positive outlook is wonderful!
    Please include me in the drawing. Thanks. worthy2bpraised[at]gmail[dot]com

  29. Hi, Tamera & Mary! What a great informative post regarding the editing process. Lots of food for thought : )

    Tamera, your website & blog are great!

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  30. Thanks for the insider info on working with editors, Tamera. Like Melanie and some others, I'm looking forward to when I reach that day myself.

    I've loved all your books and am ready for Within My Heart and the fun of seeing how you'll tie the series threads together. And then another series afterwards -- yea!

    Merry Christmas and Igbok! :-)

  31. Tamera:

    Thank you so much for the behind-the-scenes view of the editing world. Much appreciated.


  32. Hi Tamera:

    Very interesting post.

    Are the people who have the power to buy a book usually the same people who edit the book or are these functions kept separate?

    As a marketing person, I wonder if there is any specific editing procedure to make the book sell better. For example: change the hero in this way and the book will sell better; change the ending in this way and readers will be more likely to buy your next book; add an epilogue and you will double to effect of the HEA and that will leave the reader with a higher appreciation of your work.

    As a marketing ‘editor’ I’d have every romance have an epilogue as some of the best selling authors seem to always do.


    P.S. I wish you had a little blurb about what each of your books is about. The cover art is outstanding.

  33. Tamera,

    Very informative, and a reminder of all I still have to do even after I get contracted.

    How could I ever be a pain to anyone? LOL I think I run people off already.

    After years writing, I still feel pretty naive, but I guess it's a constance learning process. You're right we never do really arrive.
    But I'll keep heading that direction.

  34. Hi, Tamera! What a fantastic and thorough overview of the editorial process! I have to step in line with you and Julie as another author who really enjoys digging into revisions, especially under the guidance of an insightful editor. It's all about bringing out the very best story and the best writing you're capable of, a process that only helps us grow as writers. Thanks so much for sharing of your wisdom and experience today!

  35. Very interesting and informative. I enjoyed reading it.


  36. I'd love to win one of Tamera's books. Thanks

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  37. Hi Tamera,

    Thank you for sharing the 'behind the scenes' making of you masterpieces. I learned a lot.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.


  38. Thanks for the post Tamara ! it's a Great post !

    and count me in the drawing please :)

    uniquas at ymail dot com

  39. This was great information to read, thank you, Tamera for sharing your hard earned knowledge! I knew editing was a lot of work, but I didn't know all that went into it, nor how long it took. I am certianly going to appreciate the books I read a whole lot more for sure!

  40. Thank you so much, Tamera. What an excellent article packed with information that I will tuck away and hope to get to use someday!!

  41. Thanks for the terrific post, Tamera!

    f dot chen at comcast dot net

  42. Wonderful post about working with publishing houses and editors.

    Thanks for the insights, Tamera!

  43. I would love to win this book!! Please enter me:) Thanks!!

  44. Vince asked: Are the people who have the power to buy a book usually the same people who edit the book or are these functions kept separate? 

    Tamera says: The “publishing board” are “the people” who make the final decision about whether or not to purchase a book. The senior editor (the editor who will either edit your work or oversee the editor who will) “pitches” your book to the publishing board, which is typically comprised of executives (VPs) in Sales and Marketing, and the editor tells them why your book is different, why your book (out of the 1,497 other manuscripts piled atop their desk) will touch readers hearts and result in sales.

    That senior editor puts THEIR neck on the line for you and your book. And remember, yes, it’s about ministry and sharing the message of hope. But bottom line, it’s about selling a product. Because a company can’t remain in business if no one is purchasing the products they’re selling.

    Vince commented: As a marketing person, I wonder if there is any specific editing procedure to make the book sell better. For example: change the hero in this way and the book will sell better; change the ending in this way and readers will be more likely to buy your next book; add an epilogue and you will double to effect of the HEA and that will leave the reader with a higher appreciation of your work.

    Tamera responds: Story. Story. Story. It’s all about story. Story trumps poor writing. Story trumps poor editing. (But shame on us writers for giving God anything less than our best.)

    There are books that have sold millions of copies that have phenomenal stories, but just “so so” writing. Then there are books that are well written out the wazhoo, but they simply don’t contain compelling stories. I believe we should strive to deliver both, while realizing of course that we can only write the current book with the skills we currently possess. That’s fine. Write the book with where you are now, grow during the process, then strive to make the next book even better!

    Again, it’s a process. And we never “arrive.”

    Now to your question, Vince. [Is there any specific editing procedure to make the book sell better?] As one of my editors once said, “If publishers knew the secret formula to what makes a bestseller, every book would be a bestseller.”

    That said, there are certain “givens” in any genre that are like “unspoken contracts” with the reader. I’d encourage you to read Jim Bell’s book “Plot and Structure.” It’s an excellent source for learning the components of a great story. For a full list of books that are my writing favs (and there are a few), go here:

Vince commented: I wish you had a little blurb about what each of your books is about. The cover art is outstanding.

    Tamera says: Sure thing (and thanks for the comment on the covers)! Go here:

    Thanks again to everyone for welcoming me so warmly. Your comments were so appreciated, and the bagels and fudge and scones were delicious!!

    Now...for the winner of the free book....

  45. I'm coming in a day late, but I am sooo glad I did! Tamera, you're a gem. I am saving this blog post for future reference, in hopes that it may apply to my writing one day.
    : )

  46. Hi Tamera:

    Thanks for your very detailed response to my post. I found your comments very helpful.

    I went to you site and it is outstanding! I saw the trailer for “From A Distance” and it is the best I’ve seen. I want to see the movie. I hope you sell the movie rights. I am going to put “From A Distance” on my Christmas list.


  47. I see the winner is Kerri C at CK Farms. Hope you enjoy the book, Kerri!

    Blessings all, and thanks again!