June Third Thursday Wrap-up: “The Author/Editor Relationship”

by John A. McDermott

Watching the video of WLT’s Third Thursday conversation, titled “The Author/Editor Relationship” was a gift. It was like sitting in a coffeeshop and eavesdropping on a fantastic conversation among three smart, lively professionals: Becka Oliver, the WLT’s Executive Director, Katherine Center, best-selling novelist of books such as “Happiness for Beginners,” “The Bodyguard,” and the forthcoming “Hello Stranger,” and Jennifer Enderlin, President and Publisher of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Oliver guided the chat with inspiring questions and the guests, even with their impressive credentials, were amiable and practical.

The conversation began with amusing anecdotes about their professional beginnings: Center’s confession to writing Duran Duran fan fiction in sixth grade was charming, and Enderlin was born to edit—reading Sidney Sheldon in middle school and realizing during college creative writing classes that she didn’t love to create, but she loved to react to other people’s writing. She cleverly compared reading for pleasure vs. reading as an editor as the difference between being a passenger on a plane and piloting one—one is just there for the ride and the other needs access to the dashboard. I plan on using that one to explain the difference to my own writing students.

Enderlin entered the publishing business right after finishing her undergraduate degree, and—heeding her passion for genre fiction—rose through the ranks. Center’s entry into a writing career was a longer haul: an MFA, eight discouraging years after that, the busy life of a parent with young children and a complete manuscript in a desk drawer but no time to market it. A fortuitous meeting with a successful novelist in a city park helped her find an agent—a fairy tale meeting, preceded by the grind most every writer recognizes.

Now Enderlin has been Center’s editor on a number of romantic comedies and the pair seem a marvelous fit. What does Center do to be a good client to the editor? Meet deadlines. (This warmed my punctual soul and seemed particularly important listening to Enderlin later describe how the wheels of publishing “turn early” in a very complicated process of getting a novel from draft to new release).

The meat of the conversation—this particular author-editor relationship—was fascinating, too. Center bounces her ideas off Enderlin before beginning a new project, then Enderlin weighs in. Afterwards Center goes off to write for months at a time, Enderlin only editing the manuscript when it’s good and ready. My favorite anecdote was how Enderlin inspired one later novel by connecting with a passing character in an earlier book and suggesting an entire story based on that fleeting character. The peek into how a big New York publisher lays out the schedule for a new release (from early editing to cover design to advanced copies) was exceptionally informative.

When Oliver asked for each woman’s advice to new writers, I found real inspiration. Center’s reminder to “practice the art of self-encouragement” was heartening. She knows how hard writers can be on their own projects and while developing a critical voice regarding our drafts, that “internal compass,” is crucial, her advice to take joy in our own story’s craft was uplifting. It’s easy to get down on a project, and reminding yourself of what you do well can be the boost needed to keep improving.

Center’s most direct advice: write because you love to write—not for fame, money, or, ha! even revenge—but because you love the practice. As a teacher of writing who frequently encourages my students to fall in love with the process, I couldn’t agree more. Writing, especially novel writing in a highly competitive market, can feel daunting, but if you remember to love the act of writing itself, then you are practicing your passion.

Enderlin’s advice struck a similar note: read. Read as much as you can, as widely as you can. Look for the style, the mood, the tone of the work you love and emulate it. Finish that draft, polish it up, then start another manuscript. Writing novels takes time and patience and your first book may never sell but keep at it. Will it lead to riches? Probably not. But listening to this conversation reminded me why I love to write—because I loved to read fiction first and wanted to try my hand at something that gave me so much joy. Write because you love to write and keep honing your skills.

If you’re like me and you can’t always make it to WLT events at their scheduled time, tuning to this conversation via the YouTube page was convenient, informative, free, and fun. From little practicalities (paginate those manuscripts!) to plain-spoken advice (“pay attention to what you love”), this is a conversation worth your time. And there are more jewels there now, waiting for when you have a free hour!

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