A Plum of a novel; or, what editors actually do

I was talking to another writer last night, and I was trying to explain what it is editors actually do, and how they don't edit to the standard of "good" (which doesn't really exist anyway) and instead edit to the standard of "appropriate for our audience."

I wasn't explaining myself very well, and of course it wasn't until I was far, far away when the perfect example of what editors actually do came to me: Stephanie Plum.

Or actually, Janet Evanovich. Many moons ago, Evanovich was a reasonably successful romance author. She had written twelve romance books, and she was getting good and sick of the genre. So one day, she wrote a book that had lots of action and adventure...and basically no romance.

She turned this book into her editors.

Did they say, "This is fantastic! Janet, this is your breakout book--you'll be winning awards and topping bestseller lists in no time!"


Did they say, "What the hell is this? This isn't a romance! What's wrong with you--get out of here!"

Dingdingdingding! Yes! Despite the fact that she'd been writing for her first publisher for years and years, Evanovich had to take her new work to a completely different publishing house for it to see the light of day.

Why? Why? you wonder. Why didn't her original editors recognize that this was going to be a really good book?

Because that is not their job. If you are a romance editor at a romance publisher, your job is to make sure you are producing romances. That is your job. If your writer comes in with the most wonderful book you have ever read, and it's not a romance, it is not acceptable. Period.

If you self-publish, it's important that you position your book correctly as to genre, right? You need to get an appropriate cover and an appropriate book description so that people know what they're getting.

The editor has a similar mind-set, but the approach is different. Their imprint only produces certain types of books. Those are the books that are appropriate for that imprint. If a book isn't appropriate, it's no good to that editor, no matter how good it is. The editor's job isn't to make the book better; it is to make the book more appropriate.

Which is why I suggest that, whoever you tap as an editor, that person should be someone who understands and likes your genre. You do want someone who will edit to a standard appropriate for your book--you don't want someone yanking the cowboys out of your Western or anything like that. But nowadays you don't have to toe the line or your book won't come out--that bit of nonsense is of the past.