Why Authors Love Editors by Laurie Wallmark
We authors love our editors. A lot. When we submit a manuscript, we think it’s pretty darn good. (Otherwise we wouldn’t have submitted it.) But after an editor get ahold of it, we realize just how much better our story can be. They help us polish our manuscripts, so they sparkle.
I thought I’d share with you just a few of the suggestions that my amazing editor, Marissa Moss, of Creston Books, made on my latest book, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics. Marissa Moss is known for having her authors do multiple revisions on their books, and take my word for it, we appreciate it. With each revision, our manuscript gets better and better.
For those who don’t know, there’s no law that says you must take your editor’s suggestions. It’s definitely worth considering them with an open mind, though. Sometimes, even if I don’t take my editor’s suggestion, her comments show me where I need to make a change. My feeling is, I’ll take whatever help I can get to make my book the best it can be.
The first feedback I got from Marissa, before she acquired the manuscript, was, “I like this very much, but…” It’s always nice to receive a compliment, but it’s better to get to the part of the email that will help me improve my manuscript. Here are some of the points Marissa brought to my attention over the course of several revision cycles, along with my thoughts about them.
- It needs some streamlining. Absolutely. She was right, of course. I always feel as if I’ve removed every possible bit of fluff from my manuscripts, and I’m always wrong. There are always places you can tighten up your writing–from removing unneeded words to even complete scenes.
- It needs a stronger ending. It’s hard to craft a great ending for your book. In just a few sentences, you need to finish the story’s through line, tie up any loose ends, and find a way to make your readers feel satisfied when they read those last few lines. My ending changed several times over the course of revising. It took a while to find an ending that worked. “Sophie had always known that women plus math added up to a powerful equation. Now the rest of the world knew it, too.”
- We need more of a sense of Sophie as a person. I thought I had already done this, but clearly my words hadn’t conveyed what was in my mind. Children will not be interested in reading a biography if they can’t connect in some way to the subject. Finding how to do this also took several revisions to get it right.
- Let us know how old Sophie is in the opening scenes. Well, I obviously knew the answer to that, but clearly my words didn’t share that information with anyone else. Yes, picture books have illustrations, but it helps to give a hint. In this case, the story starts with Sophie as an adult. Then, two spreads later, I go back to her childhood and proceed on from there. Not learning from my mistakes, I then repeated my error later in the text by not giving an indication of her age when she was a teenager. Oops–another place that needed revising.
- Remove the memory scene. I had Sophie remembering the feelings she had and actions she had done as a child. This was unnecessary. The scene was already there. We don’t need to see it again.
- Use alternate word choices. In one place I wrote, “stared in amazement.” Marissa suggested “gaped at,” which is not only a more evocative phrase, but it’s also shorter. Remember, space is at a premium in picture books.
- Replace some narrative with a single sentence. Again, there’s not much room in a picture book. Sometimes a single sentence helps provide the transition needed to move from one scene to the next.
- Don’t name emotions, show them. We all know the adage, “show, don’t tell.” Does that mean we always remember to do that? Of course not. I wrote that Sophie was disappointed. It was better to show she wasn’t going to let a setback stop her, and she would find a solution to her problem.
- Move some information to the author’s note. One of the most difficult parts of writing a biography is figuring out the focus of your story. Sophie was an amazing mathematician, so that had to be a big part of the story. But Sophie was also a writer. Although this is important to know, putting it in the text slowed the flow of the story, so now it’s an author’s note.
- Provide back matter about her mathematics. I love math, so I loved having the opportunity to explain more about her mathematics. By putting this information in the back matter, I had space to explain not just her math, but why her discovery was so important.
Let me end by saying, thank you editors everywhere!
Laurie Wallmark is the author of several award-winning STEM picture books about women, including Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine. She teaches Computer Science when she’s not writing books. Visit her website for more information about her books and work.