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What does a romance editor do?

editor, editing, romance, novels, writingWhen I first started writing romance novels, I had no real idea of what a romance editor actually does.  Well, I had a vague idea in my mind.  I pictured an editor sitting in her office, reading through manuscript after manuscript, and rejecting pretty much all of them.  Occasionally she accepts a novel, gives an ecstatic writer the phone call of her life, and then it’s back to the slush pile and more rejections.  I thought of romance editors as sort of like an  ancient schoolmistress:  putting red pen through everyone’s work, and giving top marks to a few class favourites, whilst the rest of us sit in the corner rewriting our homework.

Well, I’ve come a long way since those early days, especially now I’ve had my first novel published.  Now, when I talk to family and friends about the editing of The Silk Romance, some of them express surprise at just how much involvement the editor has in the writing process.

If you read and enjoy romance novels, you might find it interesting to know how the whole book comes together.

There are three elements to the editorial process.

First of all, there’s the acquisitions editor.  This is the person who decides which novels to contract, out of the many manuscripts sent to her.  The acquisitions editor is usually bogged down with work, and sadly if she decides not to go with your manuscript, she very rarely has time to go into the details of why not.  She will usually send you a form rejection, and you are left guessing as to why she didn’t like it.

Some lucky writers get a personal letter from an editor explaining why she’s rejected them.  If this happens to you, treasure that letter!  It happened to me once, and I was ecstatic.  It meant that my manuscript was good enough to get all the way to the top of the pile, and to be discussed seriously with the editorial team.  An editor had given up some of her valuable time to write to me with advice.  That rejection letter made me even more determined that one day I would succeed in getting published.

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The acquisitions editor can also ask you to rewrite certain key elements before resubmitting your manuscript.  There’s still no gurantee you’ll get accepted even then.  It’s a tough old world for us writers :(

Once your novel is accepted – yay! – your writing of it is still not over.  Oooh no.  If only.  The next thing to happen is you get assigned a content/manuscript editor.  This editor can ask you to make major changes to your manuscript.

The sort of elements you might be asked to rewrite are things like examining each scene, and making sure what’s happening/being said actually has a purpose.  If you’ve put in a few pages where the heroine plays with her cute puppy, for example, you’re probably going to be asked to take them out.  It might sound nice, and everything, but it probably has little to do with the story or furthering the romance between the main characters.

I’ve become pretty adept now at making sure every scene I write, and every piece of dialogue, has some purpose.  But for The Silk Romance, I was asked to rewrite a couple of scenes.  The first was when the hero and heroine are reunited in France, after losing contact for four years.  My editor felt that after their initial distrust, the relationship developed a little too quickly to be believable. I agreed, and rewrote this scene to show more reasons as to why they are beginning to grow close, despite their history.  I made the hero more sympathetic, for example, and showed a little of his point of view.

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Another scene I was asked to rewrite was towards the end of the novel.  My editor felt the pace slowed down.  I wouldn’t have noticed this myself.  I’m quite a wordy writer, and if left to my own devices there can be a lot of introspection and dwelling on people’s thoughts.  Sometimes that’s good, but other times the reader can start losing interest.  I tightened this up, cut out a few paragraphs and inner dialogue, and created more of an element of suspense.  This editing must have done the trick, because several readers have commented that it’s a fast paced read.  Phew!

When I’m reading romance novels now – or any type of novel, for that matter – I often find myself looking at the writing and wondering if it could have been better edited.  I’ve come to realise that the editor has a very important role in polishing the final manuscript.

Once the content editor has done her work, then it’s time for the line editor.  The line editor’s job should be basically just picking up on style – looking out for repetitions of words in a paragraph, for example, checking for typos and grammatical errors.  Most of these should be picked up by the content editor the first time around, but with the best will in the world, some things get through the net.

For example, I’m OK with using ‘OK’, but my publishers prefer ‘okay’.  I tried doing a find and replace, but some ‘OKs’ still got through, and were picked up by my eagle-eyed line editor.

Actually, the elements that an editor looks out for, and which you might get asked to rewrite, are so many and varied that I’m thinking of examining each one, and writing separate posts for each.

Point of view, for example, was a major headache for me in the editing stage.  You wouldn’t believe the trouble this caused me.  So much so, that next Friday I’ll  give some examples of when a switch in point of view is acceptable, and when not, and how I’ve really had to tighten up on this aspect of my writing.

If you’re interested in what a romance editor does every day, you might find this blog interesting:  http://romanceismydayjob.wordpress.com/  I’ve been following this blog for a while, and really enjoy it.  The main writer is Patience Bloom, senior editor at Harlequin US.  She seems really likeable and down-to-earth (not at all like the school ma’ams of my imaginings!) and she gives great tips on what an editor looks for in an author, and in a manuscript.

I hope you’ve found this small insight interesting.  If you have any questions or comments at all, please let me know.  If you find the technical side of writing of interest, and would like to read more posts on just what editors look for, please also let me know.  I’m a bit of a language geek, so it’s a subject I find fascinating…but I don’t want to bore people!

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11 thoughts on “What does a romance editor do?

  1. Helena, this is a fascinating read. As someone who is an avid reader I take my hat off to you authors who have the strength to write a manuscript and submit their work to publishers. I did not realise how ‘hands on’ editors can be and had no appreciation of the different roles that they played. I guess it all goes towards helping authors perfect their craft. :)

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  2. Thanks for your kind comment, Tina. I think the editors’ work is often unsung, but they are crucial in running a dispassionate eye over a manuscript, and tightening it up. I often wonder if editors have the same influence in other genres, besides romance, but I suspect they do. If any editors are reading this, in any field – music, journalism – it would be lovely to hear from you!

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  3. Very interesting post, Helena. I’ve already bitten off my fingernails in expectation of all the changes that will be made in Hemphill Towers. I’m looking forward to reading more on this topic.

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    1. Thanks Leona. I was a bit daunted when I first saw my edits, but actually in the end I didn’t mind rewriting – especially as the changes made my story much better. Am looking forward to the release of Hemphill Towers!

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  4. A very interesting post, Helena! I remember the utter panic I felt when the first round of content edits came back for ‘Angel Heart’ last August. I thought I’d never get through the whole process when I opened the file on my computer! I was really blessed to have great content and line editors for both my novels. It is so important to have a good relationship with your editors. As you so rightly said, they do a crucial important job!

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  5. I would love to read any other words of wisdom you have about your experience in writing and publishing your novel! I have been reading a lot of books by indie authors lately and I have noticed a huge difference in the quality of the writing. It makes me wonder if they don’t have access to the 3-part editing system. I noticed so many typos and grammar issues, and I’m not even an editor!

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    1. Oh, thanks so much for your interest! I think I will write more posts on this theme, as it’s only since having my first novel published that I’ve really appreciated how important the work of the editor is. And you’re right – poor editing in a book is really noticeable, and so off-putting for the reader

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