How Being an Editor Helped Me Be a Better Writer (and Vice Versa)

As a debut novelist who’s also a full-time nonfiction editor, I’ve tried hard to keep my editor and author hats separate. From nine to five (and then some), my job is to publish beautifully illustrated and quirky nonfiction at Penguin Books. I squeeze in writing in whatever hours I can carve out on the side and on weekends.

For me, the need to keep these roles separate is as much about the creative process (it’s hard to write when you’re in editing mode), as it is about being there for my authors (no one wants to hear about your woes when they’re in the middle of writer’s block).


Meg Leder featuredquote-rev_MuseumofHeartbreak_JKTThis guest post is by Meg Leder. Leder is the author of The Museum of Heartbreak, as well as the co-author of The Happy Book and The Secret Me Book. She is an executive editor at Penguin Books, and has previously worked as an editor at Writer’s Digest Books and as a bookseller at Joseph-Beth. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Follow her on Twitter @megleder.


 

However, despite my best efforts, ever since I signed my contract for my young adult novel The Museum of Heartbreak, I’ve found that the two roles have intertwined more than I expected, and in ways that are surprisingly beneficial.

First, the ways being an editor has made me a better writer to work with (I hope!):

  1. Understanding my publisher and I have a shared goal: to make the best book possible. When authors and I disagree about a part of the process (a cover design, an editing suggestion, a publishing plan), I remind them we both want the book to sell. And then I step back and try to understand what’s driving the disagreement, and to find a solution that works for both sides. Whenever I felt unsure about something my publisher was doing for my book, it was invaluable to remind myself that we’re on the same side and that no matter how we approach it, we both want to create a book that will sell.

[10 Meaningful Practices for Every Writer]

  1. Knowing there are actual people on the other end. The authors who are best loved in my job are the ones who recognize that the publishing team they’re working with aren’t a bunch of corporate soul-less people, but book lovers who care intimately about their profession. This doesn’t just go for the editor either—it includes the cover designer and publicist and editorial assistant and online marketing manager and so on.… As an author, I’ve made a point to thank as many of these people as I can because they don’t hear it enough.
  1. Recognizing that it’s a still business. Despite all the warm feelings getting published may engender, it’s important to remember it’s still a business. I love working with agented authors, because I know the agent’s job is to advocate for the author—something I can’t always do because it’s not my job. Similarly, I trust my agent implicitly—he is the only person watching out for both my book and my career as vigilantly as I am.

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How being a writer has made me a better editor to work with (again, I hope!):

  1. The importance of being transparent: I’ve always known there’s a living, breathing, person on the other end of the manuscripts I edit, but becoming one myself has reminded me of the importance of checking in with my authors. As an author, it’s too easy to interpret silence as ominous, even though most times, it’s simply because the editor is swamped. I’ve tried to make more of an effort to let my authors and agents know when I’ll get my editorial notes to them, what’s happening in the book’s production process, and what comes next.
  1. Compliments never hurt: We all need to hear good words, no matter how confident we may seem. When I edit, I dig in hard because I love the book. However, as an author, I’ve been shocked at how thirsty I’ve been for good words alongside the “digging-in” editing comments. I didn’t realize how much compliments can fuel not only your confidence but your writing process as well. A well-placed “I love this!” can be just as valuable as a line edit.
  1. Knowing writing is all-consuming: Even though as an editor I have eight to twelve projects on my desk at any given time, I’ve still had to remind myself that my own book not the only one on the publisher’s list. The team at Simon Pulse is probably not thinking about The Museum of Heartbreak while watching The Walking Dead or doing deadlifts at the gym. That sense of perspective has been essential when it comes to communication and keeping them excited about publishing me.

All that being said, no matter how much I knew going in, I’ve still found being an author to be extremely hard, terribly exciting, often scary, and occasionally very wonderful. Seeing my cover design made me breathless with awe. My first negative review still hurts hurt like heck. I’m considering framing my first fan letter from a good friend.

But experiencing all this has made me respect the authors I work with even more. I’m honored when I get to read their first drafts, thrilled when their revisions surpass my expectations, and over the moon when they hear from readers who loved their books. I’d like to think being an author has made me a better editor, that sometimes two hats are better than one.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

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3 thoughts on “How Being an Editor Helped Me Be a Better Writer (and Vice Versa)

  1. MichaelEdits

    I spent far too many years responding to well-meant negative feedback with “I’m the writer, you don’t understand me, blah blah blah.” Then I spent some years away from writing. Then, I took my old stuff to the free online critique groups, and critiquing the work of others gave me a much greater appreciation of what they had to say about my work. A year later, I was published. I spent the next three years editing novels, and wow did that make me an even better writer. And a better reader. It all works together.

  2. JesPiddlin

    I don’t often comment about the articles I read online, unless they really stand out. This one does. I really enjoyed it. Stay true to your goals. Sounds like you’re getting it right.

  3. Elizabeth West

    Thank you for these observations. I edit technical reports at work, and much of what you say really does ring true. As a writer myself, I try to remember that my goal isn’t to critique my subject matter experts, but to make sure the person receiving the report will understand it and can use the information we’ve presented.

    It IS hard to keep that dry language out of your own work, when you look at it all day! I find reading a little (fiction) before I start my own writing helps. It lets me disconnect from stuff like “The widget must be set to X for the socket to disengage.” Useful, but errrgghh, LOL.

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