Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for September 4th, 2013

Dora Machado’s Guest Blog — “What an Editor Can Do for You”

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about four current titles available from Twilight Times Books (TTB for short)  — The Curse Giver by Dora Machado, Don’t Let the Wind Catch You by Aaron Paul Lazar, Lucid by Natalie Roers and Dina von Lowenkraft’s Dragon Fire.  I worked on three of those four titles, and said so.  But I was proudest of the work I did for Dora Machado’s The Curse Giver.

When I received The Curse Giver from TTB’s publisher Lida Quillen, I quickly recognized that much of the book was very good.  Some of it was exceptional.  But there was a problem at the beginning of the book that might’ve stopped a reader cold from understanding that the hero of the story, Brennus, is actually a good guy.  (Suffice it to say that Brennus does many things he’d rather not do for the best of reasons.)  Ms. Quillen wanted me to see what I could do to help Ms. Machado’s book, and gave me ample time to think about it.

Anyway, I edited Dora Machado’s book and suggested a number of things at the beginning that I thought might help in addition to the usual comments as regards to copy-editing and consistency-reading.  I made so many comments at the beginning that I was a little worried that Ms. Machado would get upset, even though I also pointed out where I thought the story worked particularly well to balance things out.  (Unless I’m really pressed for time, I always do this.  A writer needs to know that her editor understands her book.)

Fortunately for me, Dora Machado did understand, and was appreciative of my efforts.  She thanked me publicly in her book for helping her — those of you who are editors know how rare that is.  Then, she asked if she could write a guest blog discussing the editorial process from a writer’s perspective, discussing her experiences with me in specific, and I said, “Sure.”

I hope you will enjoy this blog as much as I did, even though I blushed to read some of it.

So without further ado . . . let’s bring on the guest blog!

*********** Guest Post Separator ***********

What An Editor Can Do For You . . . If You Let Her


 Dora Machado

When it comes to editors, I haven’t always a believer. As a writer, part of me assumed that if you needed an editor, you weren’t ready for prime time. The smarter part of me suspected that the cocky part of me was being—well—cocky. So a few years back, I decided to challenge my assumptions and hired an editor to review my manuscript prior to submission. Wow. The mind-blowing, eye-opening experience resulted in the award-winning Stonewiser series.  I realized that, no matter how well you write, every author can benefit from having an editor, and a qualified, experienced, insightful editor can impact both a story and an author in profound and lasting ways.

Of course, the editing experience has a lot to do with the quality of the editor, the interaction between the writer and the editor, and the author’s ability to capitalize on the editor’s advice. I have been extremely fortunate to work with some of the best editors in my genre, but I have to credit my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books, for making this latest match. When she assigned Barb Caffrey to edit The Curse Giver, she brought together two experienced, opinionated, passionate lovers of the fantasy genre with stubborn streaks, high standards and even higher expectations. I have to wonder: Either Lida Quillen is a troublemaker or she’s the wisest publisher on the planet.

Generally speaking, an editor’s contributions range from the very simple to the very complex. Writer’s ego aside, a good editor will always remind us of the basic principles of writing and the pesky details we might overlook when submerged in our manuscript’s depths. I’m always surprised—not to mention embarrassed—by the simple finds, the nits, typos and common mistakes my editor catches. I blame writer’s myopia for those easy-to-fix bloopers. When you’ve read the same paragraph twenty-six times, the eye doesn’t see what’s before it anymore, but rather what the mind thinks the eye should see. I might be sharp and thrive at self-editing, but once the eyes go numb, self-editing becomes a delusion.

Beyond the simple contributions, an editor has a lot more to offer, not just to the author but to the story. A good editor can offer perspective and objectivity, which can often become casualties of the creative process. Objectivity is an important quality when evaluating a story. It’s not about how well the story is written. It’s about how well the story reads, how it flows—not in your author’s mind, where the movie has played so many times—but in the virgin mind, where the story runs what can sometimes be a very different course through a new geography.

This is exactly what happened when Barb Caffrey read The Curse Giver‘s manuscript. She pointed out the strengths right away—assets I immediately wanted to preserve during the editing process. But she also sensed a weakness, a kink in the story’s flow, a blind spot for the reader that didn’t exist in my author’s mind because I knew the story’s outcome all along.

Barb recommended that I add a new point of view to the story. I gasped when I got her e-mail. I imagined my word count—the bane of my writer’s existence—soaring. I thought about all the work it was going to take to integrate this new point of view into the story, the details I would have to tweak, the time and energy I would have to spend . . .

I sat on my author’s indignation for a whole five minutes before I began to consider the suggestion in earnest. I had been sort of wondering if The Curse Giver‘s first few chapters were strong enough to capture the reader’s mind and launch them into the grand adventure that awaited them. You know an editor is gifted when she jabs that needle directly into your nerve. You know she is exceptional when she answers the very question you feared asking.

“Okay, all right.” I took several deep breaths and forced my mind open. “So maybe Barb has a point.”

I had the perfect character built into the story to develop a new point of view.  As Barb pointed out, I could keep my word count down by using the new point of view sparingly in a ruthless and utilitarian approach. She kindly encouraged me to at least give it a try. It doesn’t hurt when your editor combines excellence and kindness, so I sat down, wrote out the new POV, and tested it by inserting it in the story.

I purred like a satisfied kitten when I reread the amended story. My questions were answered. My doubts were put to rest. The story flowed beautifully. The new point of view strengthened and clarified the opening chapters, supporting the early development of the reader’s trance. Added bonus? Readers loved Severo, and they routinely tell me how much they like this quirky character who got his own POV at the last minute, courtesy of Barb Caffrey.

If you are a writer, you know that writing requires continuous self-development. Our trade demands the highest standards of critical review and our stories are improved by a rigorous editing process. An editor can provide all of that and more, especially if she has tons of practical experience in the genre, is a good fit to your style, and has secured your trust with high-impact recommendations. In addition, a good editor helps you build confidence in your writing. But remember, editing works only if the author is open to changes and suggestions. Take it from me:  An editor can improve your writing and your manuscript . . . but only if you let her.


Thanks, Dora, for that excellent guest blog.  I truly appreciate it.

As for the rest of you, please go buy THE CURSE GIVER without delay if you love fantasy, dark fantasy, romantic fantasy, fantasies that feature complex yet realistic world building, or just are up for a great read.  Trust me — THE CURSE GIVER will not disappoint.  (Further editor sayeth not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm