About Those Editors

Seeing Harper Lee’s need for an editor, as I noted in my last blog, started me thinking of how many editors I’ve worked with. I turned up quite a few with a fair range of hands-off and hands-on styles. Some made minor changes without bothering me, which is okay. I follow Chicago Manual of Style for “Sunday school,” but if you want to do “Sunday School” for your publication, fine by me.

I’ll go ahead and get out of the way that I was once frustrated to see one small piece published with my byline that didn’t look either like what I sent, or like anything I would have written. I wasn’t consulted about the changes. I’d worked happily with that editor several times on two different publications. I have no idea what got into him. If you leave out the inevitable rejection letters, it’s the only bad editor experience I remember.

My first regular dip into professional writing came in different church curriculum and devotional assignments that ranged from children through adults. Once an editor emailed me about something that wasn’t working and asked if I’d like to fix it or have her make changes. As you might guess, I fixed it. During those days of writing to word counts, another editor taught me to save precious words by turning prepositional phrases into one extraordinary adjective or a precise noun.

My submission to Highlights of an Ezra Jack Keats story came back with eight or nine questions or recommendations. It ended with an apology for the long list but an invitation to resubmit if I cared to take the trouble. Of course, I did! The biggest change I made was reflected as my original title “Stamp Our Sameness” became “Celebrate Variety.” The negative tone toward uniformity in the article flipped to the positive one of diversity. I saw the remarkable improvement myself before I resubmitted the piece and enjoyed working with Kim Griswell over the next few months as we polished for publication.

Sometimes the editing has been for style of that particular magazine as Lonnie Plecha replaced my KFC with Tastee Chicken in a story I wrote for Cricket magazine. (They don’t use real brands.) I answered his authenticity questions about whether metal detectors go “beep” and “click” at our Gander Mountain store and whether crinum lilies (aka milk-and-wine lilies to gardeners or Papaw’s lilies to our family) go on for generations with Mississippi garden expert Felder Rushing. They do and they do.

My experience with editors overwhelmingly has been satisfaction as they have pulled out my best and given the kind of encouragement that keeps a faded note from an early editor on my bulletin board for discouraging days. The editor, moving on to new horizons, ended her note, “You are an editor’s dream, and I hope many have the joy of discovering you!”

And so do I  . . . and so do I!