What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.
Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.
To answer your question first, I was thinking this year I’d celebrate your birthday by sending you a puppy. I know you’ve already got two, but really, that’s the only gift I can think of to top a month’s blood, sweat, and tears. Thoughts?
In the mean time, I got to thinking about something you mentioned in your most recent letter:
“Genres have distinct rules with distinct formats, and again, if the editor is writing in a different genre, they may disagree with something you’ve written because it doesn’t fit the rules of their genre.”
I definitely agree. Mostly.
I have a complicated relationship with genre. On one hand, bookstores have a horrible habit of not stocking their shelves with a separate section listed “BOOKS KATE WILL LOVE.” On the other, genres put up boundaries that don’t always strictly exist in literature.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am generally a proponent of guidelines, policy, and order. As a reader, when I want to sink myself into a puzzle, I head straight for the mystery section of my local library (quite frequently as those who catch my weekly What’s Your Read posts will recognize), and as an editor, I advise writers to be mindful of the different needs of different genres. When outlining a mystery, I suggest working backwards from the moment the culprit is revealed; this creates delicious opportunity for foreshadowing, viable red herrings, and a surprising but believable guilty-party.
However . . .
If we stick with “rules” we miss the golden opportunities of borrowing from other genres to enrich stories, introduce writers to a wider range of readers, and move a genre forward. Sticking with the example of mystery, it can be a very dynamic contributor to any genre, but adding a mysterious element will potentially require breaking the rules of the original, intended genre. Or at least widening the rules to include some additional ones. You don’t have to be writing a full-fledged whodunnit to employ the technique I mentioned above, but your mysterious element will fall flat if you don’t consider it.
It’s a tough balance, and an author should absolutely advocate for his/her own work. But I would be a poor editor if I didn’t also mention that it is possible to hold too tightly to genre. Time and again, I firmly believe that that tricky balance is maintained through consistent, open, and considerate communication between writer and editor. The editor should never usurp the writer, and the writer should be receptive to input in order to make an informed decision. Editing should strive to be a conversation.