Do Editors Really Edit?

My second panel at SLICE Conference consisted of another group of editors.

Moderated by Michelle Brower, an agent at Folio Literary Management, the panel consisted of Sarah Bowlin, editor at Henry Holt & Co., Laura Perciasepe, editor at Riverhead/Penguin, and Alice Tasman, agent at JVNLA.

Basically, editing is developmental. It focuses on structure, pacing, voice, and characters. The challenge, Michelle said, is that we “see lots of books that are well written but just ok.”

Editors like to be surprised by a book, have a sense of place, and read good, realistic dialogue. They want to be committed to a story and have conviction, because they need to sell it to the rest of the publishing house.

One thing writers should do is trust the reader and not give away too much. Know when to cut, show don’t tell, and have a sense of authenticity. The characters have to be engaging, and writers should be able to sit back and look at a manuscript objectively.

There’s a vicious downward pressure in publishing. You have to do well the first time around or you may not be published again. Publishers and booksellers know how much your first book sold, which means they will print fewer copies, buy fewer copies, and have less promotion the next time around. If that happens, you need magic (like a celebrity endorsement or a movie tie-in) to pull back up.


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