I thought it might be fun for my readers to get some insight into the working relationship of an author (me) and an editor. The idea came from the writer’s conference I went to in Chattanooga.
I’ll never forget Robert Morgan, the author of “Boone” on stage with his editor, Shannon Ravenel. Morgan struck me as a quiet, intellectual man. (I’m more akin to the Rodney Dangerfield of literature) Ms. Ravenel knew how to coax the best out of him. While he was the author, even a scholar like Morgan needed a collaborative effort and a strong writer/editor relationship to get the project to press.
I figured if he needed help, I knew I was gonna need a lot. I prayed I’d find some tough, honest, but fair editor to polish my project to publishable form. I found her; and her name was Dorrie. Here’s our brief interview.
Bibey: Talk to me about voice. When you finished my edit, it still seemed like “me.”
Dorrie: Pretty much the point of what an editor does, really to make the book work without taking anything away from the author, to make it work with who you are.
To me, “voice” is the author’s ability to show a good story that’s been told thousands of times, but in a different way, his own way. You’ve written a legal thriller with the slow and comfortable rhythms of a small Southern town and county. That voice is also the one you use with your patients and with your family and with your bluegrass bands. Your voice is as much a part of you as your eyes being blue. (Author’s note: one is green)
There are authors who can change up their voices, but it’s not common, any more than it’s common that a gospel singer can comfortably sing heavy metal, or a quarterback can throw with his left hand as accurately as with the right.
Bibey: I am a “Southern” writer. What do you like or dislike about editing Southern fiction?
Dorrie: You’re not a “Southern” writer, really. You happen to be a writer who was born and raised in the South and you sound like it. Your voice has Southern overtones, phrases, slant. I like it, but I also like science fiction from British or Aussie or Scottish writers who put their own sound to their works. I don’t think I like or dislike any sound; I just work with what presents itself.
Bibey: I was impressed that while you were unfamiliar with my subject (doctoring, malpractice suits, bluegrass music) you were still able to get inside my head and understand it. How do you do that?
Dorrie: It isn’t so much getting into your head, though I like it that you think that’s what it is, it’s that I can see what’s missing in the story, and ask you to fill it in, in your voice. I’m only bringing out of you what you forgot to put in . . . and every author knows 100x more about his story than I ever will. I just get you to use that knowledge where it does the most good.
The question here might be: How do I know what’s missing in a story? Truthful answer? I haven’t a clue.
I still don’t know much about bluegrass music, by the way. [I do know more about the Ancient Tones, though.] Your story isn’t about bluegrass, or even how medical malpractice court cases work; it’s about friendship and loyalty.
Bibey: My story is essentially a legal suspense story. What other types of work do you edit?
Dorrie: I work on all genres. Even do trade non-fiction. There is only one genre I stay away from: Pure romance. And I won’t touch sub-genres that include sadistic brutality, especially involving children, nor do I take on works that are pro-Islam.
Bibey: Give me a sense of what different types of editing a writer needs. For me you were a “voice editor,” not a line editor. Also, my grammar wasn’t too bad, but punctuation….. Lawd have mercy.
Dorrie: Oh, that really depends on the book, and every book is different. I offer two services: manuscript evaluation, and full copy-editing. I don’t do any hands-on editing with the eval; I just point out what I think the book needs to make it better. I do that, and everything else that I think a book needs, in a full copyedit job. Some books require a lot of help; I just sail through others.
Just so you know, your grammar and punctuation weren’t major difficulties, so don’t be worrying any more about your mama being disappointed in you. Yes, I had to fix a lot of it, but that’s normal. This may not mean much to you in scale parlance, but I’d rate your book as just two notches below “sail through.” (Author’s note: We’re sailing now!)
Bibey: I went through a number of edits with friends, family, and a creative writing teacher before I brought the ms to you. What level of development do you want a ms to be at before you get it?
Dorrie: At whatever level the author is ready to pay me to work on it, frankly. I don’t take all jobs that come to me, only those I see potential in. I think it’s a ripoff to take money from people who simply can’t write. I’m not totally altruistic, though, for sure I can only take on about 15 books a year; if I’m working and working and working with one troublesome one that will never be right, I can’t take on the sail-throughs that might come my way.
Bibey: How long is your turnaround?
Dorrie: Again, that depends on the book. I do have specific time frames in my contract, but sometimes the author and I determine we’ve got to tweak the timing a bit (it’s always with the author’s agreement), and sometimes I come in way under the time frame. I can guarantee, though, that I don’t do instant edits. Just like the writing process, editing is a creative endeavor and it shouldn’t be hurried.
Bibey: This one starts with a story. A hot-shot rock n’ roll guitar man came through town to do a clinic. He asked for a volunteer among the locals to sit in. The guy we sent up can hold his own with anyone, a fact that was soon apparent.
The hot-shot guy said, “Hey, man, you’re pretty good. What style of music do you usually play?”
Our buddy replied, “Whatever pays.”
It was as true an answer from a musician in two words as I’ve ever heard. Give my readers some notion of the costs involved in an edit.
Dorrie: I’ve no limits on the size of a job, but most authors limit themselves because of the cost. I charge by the word, and I determine that per-word cost based on the book itself. How much work do I see in it? How long do I think it will take me to do the first read and first edit? Will I mostly be doing punctuation, or am I going to be doing a whole lot of fact-checking? Am I going to be doing a lot of chapter rearranging, or does the book have the feel of an author who understands flow?
Author’s note: I believe Dorrie would say she liked the flow of ‘The Mandolin Case.” It wasn’t bad when I sent it to her, but she added just the right touches to turn it to honey. I’m a rough old country boy, and I believed from the start I needed a female editor to give it at least a touch of sophistication. )
Dorrie: Editing can get pretty pricey. The author is the only one who can determine if the cost is worth it.
Well folks, Dorrie’s a good’un. I am convinced without my agent and editor Dorrie my book would have never made it to print. I believe we should always write the truth. The truth is I’m just a country doctor, and I needed a lot of help.
But when the Ancient Tones whistle through the night air and the moon is full, I might just jump in a phone booth and come out as an artist. If you have the right people around you dreams can come true.
Thanks Dorrie. Y’all look her up if you’re trying to get by the last barrier to publication. Dorrie’s a pro.