Monday, April 9, 2012

The Importance of a Great Editor

by Erin Cashman

            I began my writing career in elementary school, always jotting down stories and poems. It has always been my dream to be a published author, but my father encouraged me to go to law school, so I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years. And then one night I had the strangest dream, and a story popped into my head.  I just had to write it down. I finished it a year later, and sent it off to agents and publishers, convinced I would realize my dream. Three years and thirty rejections later, I put it aside and started fresh.  I wrote a middle grade adventure novel, certain that this one would be published. Wrong again. And then I wrote The Exceptionals. I sent it out to only ten people; pretty sure it would not be published. About a month later I got a call from my fabulous agent, Erica Silverman of Trident Media. She was so enthusiastic about the book and she offered to represent me. I was absolutely thrilled! I was so excited to finally have an agent, especially one as talented as Erica, and to be at Trident. The very next day, Pam Glauber, an editor from Holiday House called, and said she read The Exceptionals and loved it, and Holiday House wanted to publish it. I couldn’t believe it! As Erica and I discussed whether to take Holiday House’s offer, or to submit it to other publishers, I kept thinking about how much I liked Pam when we spoke and communicated through email.  This was one of the major reasons we went with Holiday House. 

I really had no idea how important an editor is to an author, or to a novel. I thought they crossed some things out, and wrote in the margins – like a graded paper in college. Although an editor does do that, a good one does so much more. Pam really helped shape the book. In her first editorial letter to me, she pointed out that I had too many characters. A couple would have to go. I thought it over, and she was absolutely right. Since each of the characters had a purpose in furthering the plot, I had to do quite a bit of re-writing! I painstakingly went through her letter, edited, edited and edited some more, and sent it back to her.  Surely I was almost done, right? Wrong. Pam went through the manuscript again, in detail. She pointed out parts where the plot dragged and secondary characters that were not memorable enough. During one conversation Pam told me that one of my characters, Billy, needed to be more than just a good big brother, and suggested that he play a sport. I mulled that over for a couple of hours, trying to decide what sport fit his personality. And then it occurred to me – since The Exceptionals is about a school for students who have “special” abilities, shouldn’t his sport involve that?  I came up with the idea of the Telekinesis Tournament, or the TT, which many readers have said is one of their favorite parts.  

With each draft, the novel improved. I would often call and run an idea by Pam, or send her two versions of a scene and ask her advice. When the line edit came (which is the novel with the editor’s notes written on it), she not only corrected or crossed things out, but she also jotted things in the margin, like: “I loved this part”, or “this was so suspenseful”, or “I couldn’t stop laughing”.  She was always very kind and encouraging. I learned so much from Pam, and I know my writing improved through the editing and re-write process. I was very fortunate to have such a great editor for my first novel.


  1. Great post Erin! It's amazing how helpful another set of eyes can be, isn't it?

  2. Having a great editor makes ALL the difference. So glad you had such a positive experience and an editor who was/is so devoted to your story!

  3. Erin, I love my editor's insights. When you finish a draft and then discover that there is even more inside!
    Nice post.

  4. I don't know if you've ever heard of JB Rhine before or not? When I started reading your book, that's immediately who came to my mind. He founded the first scientific research institute in parapsychology at Duke University in the 1930s. My father completed his PhD under him. My mother was his secretary. I sat in a basinette under her deak (so I'm told) and Dr. and Mrs. Rhine would rock me from time to time when I got fussy. From a very early age I recall my father playing mind games with me. We'd sit with a deck of cards and he'd look at a card and I'd tell him what it was (club, spade, heart, diamond) or sometimes I'd just look at the card before it was turned over and tell him what it was. Of course, I was never an "official" part of their statistics. They had very scientific regulations on what passed for mind-to-mind, mind-over-matter and mind-into-the-future experiments. While I never heard of mind-to-animal communication, when I read your book, I thought why not? It made reading it very believeable to me.

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