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Meg's Blog

THESE ARE NOT THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

I know I said I'd write about Valentine's Day in my next entry, but my diabolical Valentine's Day scheme isn't quite ready yet. Which is a shame because if you want to take part in it, you're going to need a couple days to prepare. But I figure if I post it next week, a few days before V Day, you'll be able to get ready in time.

Instead, I thought I'd write about editors.

A lot of you write to me asking about editors. Admittedly, most of those who do are aspiring authors. But I thought all of you might enjoy hearing about editors, what they do, and their Jedi mind tricks–which explains the above quote. Remember, from the original Star Wars movie? Obi Wan says it to a stormtrooper who questions him about C3PO and R2-D2. “These are not the droids you're looking for,” Obi Wan says. And the stormtrooper, totally brainwashed by Obi Wan, agrees.

An editor is the person who buys your book. She then reads it, and makes comments on it, trying to make it into the best book she can. A lot of people think you just hand in a book, and that's it. Not so. The book goes through editing, copy-editing (like fact checking), then page proofs. It's a very long, tedious process which contributes to why it takes so long for books to come out. The editor supervises all of this, and is the one who gives the manuscript the initial green light.

There are some authors who need very little editing. I've heard that Robert B Parker, one of my favorite authors because he was the only writer both my dad and I could agree fully rocked, needs little or no editing. He turns in what's called a “clean manuscript,” meaning it has no mistakes.

Not to brag, but I myself have turned in a number of “clean manuscripts.” This is always the author's goal, because if you don't turn in a “clean manuscript,” your editor gives it back and makes you rewrite it. I hate rewriting almost as much as I hate going to the dentist. So, in the same way it behooves you to floss, it behooves you to turn in the cleanest manuscript you can.

But normally, I get my manuscripts sent back to me with what's called an editorial letter. In it, the editor lists the problems she sees within the manuscript (usually small, because you have discussed the book beforehand with her, so she knows what's going to happen in it) and suggests changes.

These changes can be the bane of the writer's existence. Because we, of course, feel that our book is totally perfect—probably the best thing ever written in the history of time—and doesn't need any changes. This is when the editor steps in with a well-timed, “Yes, it IS the best thing ever written in the history of time. But–”

Editors have a lot in common with a Jedi master. Probably not as much as some of them would wish. But still, they can pull a mind trick faster than just about anybody.

In the hands of an editor who has embraced the dark side, this can be a very, very, very bad thing. Fortunately, I've never had an Evil Editor. Although I've been rejected by some. I'll tell you about one of those in a minute.

Still, even an editor who has embraced the Light will not hesitate to use her Jedi mind tricks when she feels the need. Let me cite an example:

When I wrote the second Princess Diaries book, it's original title wasn't PRINCESS IN THE SPOTLIGHT. Oh, no. It was called PRINCESS OF PUKE.

You laugh. But there was a reason it was called this. In it, everyone was throwing up. Mia's mom, because she was pregnant. Grandmere, because she ate a bad clam. And, at the end, Lana, because she was so very, very drunk.

My editor, the glamorous Abby, called me and, using full-on Jedi mind control, said, “Yeah. About the title. No.”

I was horrified. “BUT THE TITLE SUMS UP THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE BOOK,” I cried, in artistic anguish.

“Yeah,” Abby said. “Not anymore. Take out drunk Lana. And the part about Grandmere and the clam.”

Do you see? Do you see the way she Vulcan Mind Melded me into taking that stuff out?

But wait. There's more.

In the same book, Lilly dresses up as Prom Mom for Halloween. In case you don't know who Prom Mom is, she's a girl who, a few years ago, had a baby in the ladies room at the prom, then went out and kept on dancing like nothing happened.

So I had Lilly dressed in a prom dress, holding a bloody baby doll, for Halloween.

Until Abby called.

“Yeah,” she said. “About Prom Mom. No.”

Me: “BUT PROM MOM IS TOTALLY CUTTING EDGE! NO ONE ELSE IS PUTTING PROM MOM IN THEIR BOOKS!”

“Yeah,” Abby said. “And you're not going to either.”

I hope you're starting to understand from this the intense mind games that editors play with their authors. I don't know if they teach them this stuff in graduate school, or if there's like some seminar they all go to where they learn hypnotism-through-the-phone. But you can see how an innocent author would be powerless against it.

Here's another example:

In the original ALL AMERICAN GIRL, I made Samantha's art teacher gets cancer, and almost die. Abby read it, then called me:

“Yeah,” she said. “About the cancer. No.”

Me: “BUT PEOPLE GET CANCER IN REAL LIFE!!!! AND THE TOUCHING WAY IN WHICH SAMANTHA RUSHES TO HER SIDE IN THE HOSPITAL COULD WIN ME A NEWBERY AWARD!”

Abby: “Yeah. Take it out.”

Now, if you've read either ALL AMERICAN GIRL or PRINCESS IN THE SPOTLIGHT, you might be saying to yourself, “But…those books really ARE much better without the cancer, Prom Mom, and the puke.”

And you would be right.

BUT HOW DID ABBY KNOW THIS????

THAT is what makes a good editor. When an editor asks you to change something, you might balk at first. But then you remember the mysterious way in which their changes improved your last book.

And doubt creeps in. You WANT to stay true to your artistic vision. But just how well WOULD Princess in the Spotlight have sold if it's title had been Princess of Puke? And how many irate letters would I have gotten about Prom Mom, anyway?

This doubt is where the editor's power comes from. It is their dilythium crystals. You can see why, in the hands of an evil editor, this power can be totally abused. For instance, I have received many, many, many rejection letters from editors. One of them, which was for THE PRINCESS DIARIES, read:

“This book is not fit for children. Or anyone.”

This is the kind of rejection letter that might make a writer want to shrivel up and die, never write another word, and spend the rest of her life staring catatonically at the Game Show channel.

Fortunately, I recognized this for what it was: the work of the Dark side of the Force. I knew this editor was trying to pull a Jedi mind trick on me, and I resisted with all the strength I had, and kept sending out my book that wasn't fit for anyone, which thankfully soon landed on the desk of a Jedi master who remains firmly in the Light—Abby.

Why would an editor use her powers for Evil instead of Good? This remains a mystery. Especially since I recently noticed that that evil editor's publishing house was putting out what can only be called a number of Princess Diaries clones.

But I digress.

Of course, even a good editor can make a mistake. One time an editor suggested that a book I wrote would be much better if the setting was changed to the Bahamas. Since the setting WAS the Bahamas, I just agreed with her, added some more bougainvillea, and turned the book back in. She complimented me on what an excellent and extensive revision I had done. This editor was not, needless to say, Abby.
But you see what I mean.

So that, in a nutshell, is what editors do. They actually do a LOT more than just read books and suggest changes to them. They also write the cover copy for the book, work with the art director on the book's layout and design, pitch their books to the sales force, go to fancy conferences, hold the hands of cry baby authors who are freaking out for whatever reason, cut the checks to pay us…the list goes on and on. Being an editor is very hard work, and not just anyone can do it. You have to know what people want to read about, and you have to know how to make a story work, and that's not the kind of thing you can learn in college. You just have to KNOW it.

But most of all, you have to know how to convince an author that you are right and she is wrong. And that is one of the hardest things to do in the entire universe, because, being an author, I can tell you that 99% of the time, we are right.

But then there's that pesky 1%….

Which is why when an editor says, in just the right tone, “Yeah. No, I don't think so,” a good author should simply open her mind, and see what happens.

Next time: Valentine's Day: Lovely Romantic Holiday, or Corporate Manipulation of the Masses? And How You Can Fight Back.

Much love,

Meg

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