An Editing We Will Go by Carolyn McSparren

At the meeting of my local mystery writers group, Malice in Memphis, we were discussing the dearth of editing today. Not good editing—any kind of editing.

It’s impossible to tell on Amazon or some of the other email sites whether a book was actually taken up by a publisher, or whether it is strictly an Epub by the putative writer. I’m always looking for writers whose works I haven’t read before. I have found real gems. I’ve also found some real dogs.

Harlequin has never given up its editorial responsibilities. When I receive that five page single spaced revision letter, first of all I scream. Then I do the revision dance, which is a variation on the gold dance in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but with malice. Then I actually read the letter. Then I get really mad, because with few exceptions, it’s right on the money. It’s full of those I-should-have-had-a-V-8 moments when you hit yourself in the forehead and wish you’d thought of that.

We’ve all heard editorial horror stories. One editor (not mine) changed “the ball bounced down the stairs” to “the big round blue ball bounced down the stairs.” Square ball, anyone?  One editor changed (again, not my book nor my editor) “a Nehi orange and a Moon Pie” to “a soda and a cookie.” Southerners know that’s like calling Russian caviar catfish roe.

I have been singularly blessed in my editors. In every instance they have slaved to improve my books. If I have questions, they listen and explain. They see things I have missed and speed up the action where I
have slowed down. They deepen my characters and tighten my plots. Invariably, the book that goes to the printers is better because of them.

After one my minor skirmishes with my first Harlequin editor, the brilliant Zilla Soriano, (I lost and she turned out to be right as usual), she reminded me that the bottom line is that they write the checks. I never forget that.


  1. Carolyn, I love your example of Nehi orange and Moon pie. Editing is one of the things I value about working with Harlequin. After rereading my work twenty times I still miss repetitive words. It astounds me how many times I use a single word and have totally missed it in my editing process. Lately the loops have been full of people complaining about finding skipped words and typos in books they're downloading to read. Editing is an important step writers who are successful in self publishing remind should be factored in as a necessary cost. Thanks for posting this blog.

  2. It is the same way at Carina Press. Even if I didn't like anything else about being there, my editor is scary good. She's also scary young, another long, sad story. :-)

    Great post.

  3. I'm also familiar with the screaming and the dance - and the eventual realization that the suggestions make my story better. It's difficult to remember when you're being prompted to make changes that the editor wants the book to succeed as much as you do - you're riding a tandem bicycle, so to speak. And if the editor's approach is kind and understanding of what you're trying to do - so much the better. Thanks, Victoria!

  4. Great post, Carolyn! I'm so grateful to work with my wonderful editor, Laura Barth. She is so talented and I love collaborating with her. She makes me want to be the best writer I can be:) I hope I make her proud to have worked with me someday.

  5. Great post! I too am blessed with Laura as my editor. And it's amazing the insights I get from her revision letter. And you're so right about the emotional dance: anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. LOL


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