I am fortunate – I’ve worked with some tremendous editors on my novels. Because of that, I’ve come to realize that a good editor is a writer’s best friend. Trust me. They make your writing better. They dig through your work to bring out the best it can be. They make even the sandcastles of fiction stronger and more beautiful.
Accepting criticism is never easy, of course. But when I realized that my editor was the initial glimpse into how a new reader would interpret and accept my work, it got easier. Editors are among the first people to read your prose, to judge whether you’ve achieved getting your story out of your mind and onto the page in a coherent way. They look at the work for understanding (not just syntax, spelling, grammar, and punctuation – although that’s critical too). They help determine if you’ve conveyed the intended message. If your editor doesn’t interpret your words the way you want, your readers won’t either. And my ultimate goal is to have readers see what I see, feel what my characters feel, participate in the action of my books as if they are standing in the character’s stead. Good editors have guided me there.
In one scene of my pre-Civil-War novel, A Peculiar Peace, my protagonist is asked about the policies of a local hospital with respect to runaway slaves. In the first draft, I had her say she didn’t know. My editor, Valerie Valentine, called B.S. Really. She said it was disingenuous of me to have my character deny such knowledge. Because she was a medical student and a champion of social justice (on display extensively throughout the novel), my heroine most certainly would have known the hospital policy. Based on Valerie’s input, I re-wrote – and achieved a far more powerful scene than the original.
Lucky for me, Valerie was not hesitant to call B.S. Lucky for me, Valerie knew how the sandcastle should look and compelled me to do it right. As all good editors should.