Editing an Editor

By Shelley Thrasher

As an experienced teacher and editor, I’ve spent years coaching others who are caught up in the creative process. However, as a new author, suddenly I feel like a college freshman again. Scary.

I do have help, though, and I love my editor!

She’s on my side, she wants me to do well, and she hates to tell me when my writing stinks—but she does it anyway. And after I suck my thumb for a while, I dig deeper and come up with something a lot better than what I originally wrote.

I don’t question or object to any of the major revisions she suggests. I have to admit that I love to research, which makes me attempt to include historical facts, characters, and events just because I think they’ll fascinate my readers as much as they intrigue me. Wrong. When my editor points out that they detract from my story, I reluctantly see her point and cut them, even though it hurts.

While growing up, I always hid my emotions, both from others and myself. So even now when my editor questions how my heroines feel, I do a double- take. I appreciate her encouraging me to explore the realm of emotions, though. I immediately dig in and try to empathize with my characters and express what’s going on inside them.

Or my editor will ask me to expand a scene, and I’ll gladly do it, again grateful for the opportunity and encouragement to explore a situation in more depth. Such major suggestions help make my story stronger.

Our most lengthy discussions usually concern small matters. For example, while writing my upcoming novel The Storm, I discovered that in England, Philip Morris targeted women as consumers for Marlboro cigarettes as early as 1847. Years later, the same company tried to interest American women in Marlboros, using the slogan Mild as May. It fascinated me that the Marlboro Man I grew up hearing about was once a woman who smoked “sissy” cigarettes.

However, my editor checked the facts and spotted one I’d overlooked. The American campaign didn’t take place until 1924, several years after the 1918-1919 setting of my novel. After I tried to determine what kind of cigarettes one of my main characters, Jacqueline (Jaq), would choose instead of Marlboros, we finally decided to simply say that she smoked cigarettes. We did specify, however, that her husband smoked Lucky Strikes, since they and Camels became very popular brands among soldiers during World War I.

That’s a small example of the kind of collaboration that occurs behind the scenes during our editing process, and it requires a lot of back-and-forth time. Although most readers wouldn’t give such details a second thought, you never know when someone may Google trivia about Marlboros or Camels, or even be an expert in the history of cigarettes.

My editor and I also talk about punctuation minutiae such as ellipses and commas quite a bit, but I won’t bore you with those discussions.

Suffice it to say that she’s the greatest.

27 Responses to “Editing an Editor”

  1. 1 Vic November 6, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    Great insight, Shelley. I always thought you were perfect but maybe that’s because you’re my editor. 🙂 Can’t wait to read The Storm.


    • 2 Shelley November 6, 2012 at 7:02 PM

      Thanks, Vic. I hope we continue to work together for many more years. It’s always a pleasure for me. Hope you enjoy The Storm. I’d love to know what you think about it.


  2. 3 Connie November 6, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Good blog.


  3. 9 SA November 6, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Has this transition to being an author impacted how you approach your role as editor for other people’s works? Did your past editing experience help smooth some of the wrinkles for the editor of your work? Am looking forward to reading your story!


    • 10 Shelley November 6, 2012 at 7:17 PM

      Great questions.

      Empathy is the first word that springs to mind. My mom always told me how important it is to walk a mile in another person’s moccasins, and that’s exactly what I’ve done with my authors. Hopefully now I’m more aware of and sensitive to what they’re trying to express.

      My editor didn’t have to teach me to use Track Changes or explain any of the other basics of being edited. But she did have to point out my weaknesses and strengths, as she does with any other fledgling author.

      Hope to hear from you again after you read my story. Enjoy.


  4. 11 Erin Saluta November 6, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    It seems that each author-editor relationship is special and takes the interest of both parties to make the best book possible. I’m glad that you found one as dedicated to the details and research as you. Congrats on the book!


    • 12 Shelley November 6, 2012 at 7:19 PM

      I agree about the importance of the author-editor relationship. It’s exhilarating to have someone read your work with as much passion and excitement as you put into it.

      Thanks for your comments.


  5. 13 Kathleen Knowles November 6, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    haha. I know a little something about those historical details too and im with you- fascinating. But then again, maybe not to everybody. Great blog and i’m really looking forward to reading the book. Kath


    • 14 Shelley November 6, 2012 at 7:22 PM

      Yes. From reading your novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I could tell that you have a love affair with history too. It’s affirming to know others with the same bent.

      Hope you enjoy the book. I hope to hear from you after you do.


  6. 15 Sheri Campbell November 6, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    The image of you, a grand southern lady, and the image of you sucking your thumb was just not possible to picture but did tickle my funny bone. To me you are the bravest of all authors by writing your own book and presenting it to be edited by a fellow editor: Brave, Scary, Risky come to mind. Enjoyed this blog and looking forward to reading The Storm.


    • 16 Shelley November 7, 2012 at 12:33 AM

      Even grand southern ladies have their insecurities, though they don’t usually admit them. 🙂 I view myself myself more as a tomboy with skinned knees than a lady, which my mom would love for me to have become.

      Appreciate your kind words and your continued support, and I really look forward to hearing what you think about The Storm.


  7. 17 Devlyn November 6, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    WOW, interesting facts about ciggies, thanks for sharing. Thanks for writing and editing.


  8. 18 Shelley November 7, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    My history teachers emphasized war and politics so much that I didn’t care for the subject much when I was in school. But then I realized that everything has a history, and I can’t stop wanting to learn more.

    Thanks for your comments.


  9. 19 Carol November 7, 2012 at 6:10 AM

    Thanks, Shelley. Great blog. Thank you for sharing your talent. I’m looking forward to reading The Storm.


  10. 22 Kim November 7, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Thanks for your blog. Can’t wait to read your new book.


  11. 24 Lynda November 8, 2012 at 12:39 AM

    Great post, Shelley! I feel really grateful for having started on the writing side and coming to editing later. I fully agree…empathy is the biggest holdover.


  12. 26 clifford henderson November 13, 2012 at 1:39 AM

    Fun blog. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been wondering what the process it like for you.


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