Trust, Serendipity, and of course, Editors

Reading Cynthia’s wonderful post on Monday, in which she tells of her three day trip to Birmingham with her editor from Peachtree, I had to think how brave Cynthia was. Being a wee bit introverted, and a wee bit prone to giggling like a big dork in unfamiliar social situations, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to make such a journey. But Cynthia was. She put her faith and her trust in the process, and set out, and what an amazing experience she had as a result.

And here is the cool thing about writers. They are really trusting people. When you stop and think about it, there’s a whole lot of faith and trust required in this business. You have to:

Trust your pen and your characters to guide you through the story

Trust your voice and your creative vision

Trust your critique partners to be honest in their comments to improve your work

Trust your agent to circulate your manuscript to the right houses

Trust an editor to love your story and improve it

Trust a copyeditor to know more about commas than you do

Trust librarians, teachers, and booksellers to get your book into the right hands

Trust yourself to start the process all over again.

Whew. A lot of that isn’t easy, believe me. Fortunately, however, the universe likes to give us writers little signs when, entirely trusting to the unknowns of the process, we do the right thing. Ask any writer and they can tell you of at least one serendipitous occurrence surrounding their writing.  Like, for example, when I named a character who interviewed a real historical figure named Tom Lee. Later I discovered that the interview of Tom Lee at the Colorado State Historical Society Museum, was conducted by a man of the SAME NAME I gave my character! And it wasn’t a common name, either. Weird? Maybe, but if you write you are used to these little messages from the universe, reinforcing your faith and trust.

For me, I have never met my editor. And unlike Cynthia, I did not have multiple houses simultaneously interested in my novel, so I did not get to choose the editor that would be the best match for me.  I just had to trust that my agent had sent it to her knowing she’d be a good match for me. Blindly, I signed the contract, hoping that she loved my manuscript enough to do right by it.  No sooner than I did, the signs started.

Seriously, how many professional people from New York do you think come here on vacation???

It was late September when the folks at McElddery met and decided to acquire my novel. I was told that an offer would be made, but it would be delayed because my editor was going out of town for several weeks on vacation.  Turns out the vacation brought her to Colorado, where I live. She visited old mining communities and on a whim, the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.  My book is about miners in Colorado. Hmmm. Maybe a coincidence? Maybe my book inspired her vacation? I prefer to think of it as serendipity.

In early December, we had a conversation on the phone to discuss a first revision, in which she told me of her visit to the museum, and her concerns that the museum displays were out of date and poorly maintained. As it happens, I am involved with the museum community in my day job, and a few days later a job posting crossed my desk, for someone to renovate and improve the very exhibits we’d been discussing. Another coincidence? Or is it just possible that our conversation gave rise to enough good museum karma to get those exhibits spruced up?  I kind of regret now that we didn’t discuss world peace.

From her editorial comments and questions, I have learned so many interests we have in common, even bits of knowledge I built into my story that are things that impacted her Polish grandparents. Most recently she emailed to tell me the manuscript is headed off to copyedits. In the conversation I learned from her that she finds the rules regarding commas “particularly gruesome.”

Uuughh! Gruesome!

That was the moment I truly fell in love with this woman. I might have even swooned. In fact, we may be the very same person–except she’s got a really cool Eastern European name, and I just write about people with cool Eastern European names.

So I’ve never met my editor, but I trust her completely, and the universe backs me up on this. And I think the whole trust thing goes both ways in this business. So let me just say:

Thank you Erin Murphy for trusting me enough to represent me.

Thank you Karen Wojtyla and McElderry for trusting my book enough to see it to print.

And thank you, universe, for the magical coincidences that assure me my trust is not misplaced.

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17 Comments

Filed under Agents, Editor, Publishers and Editors

17 responses to “Trust, Serendipity, and of course, Editors

  1. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Upon reading this, I wanted to throw my hands in the air and cheer! However, I was holding hot coffee, and well…

    Loved the post, Jeannie! You are right–a lot of trust is required on every level possible. And sometimes we’re unsure, but you close your eyes and take the step because you have to! About seven years ago, I stopped believing in coincidences. Too many weird things happened after the passing of my mom and events around my own writing career. So, I think that this career of yours–this book about ready to fly into the world, and your relationship with this wonderful editor or yours are all meant to be! There’s a lot of power in “meant to be.” Congrat’s!!!

    I DO wish you’d discussed world peace, though. Could you two do something about the Red Sox? Oh, but world peace is good, too. Very good, in fact. Forget Boston. Wait…Did I just say that???

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    • I used to have a soft spot for the Red Sox, Lynda. Until they so rudely swept the Cardinals and the Rockies in back to back years. Not to mention my daughter pointed out to me that that big green monster made their fielders lazy. And since my editor is in New York, I wouldn’t dare say kind things about the Sox in front of her.

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  2. Sometimes I think writers are as superstitious as baseball players. Other times, I believe — I trust — with my whole heart that things happen as they are meant to. Jeannie, your post made me well up. Maybe it’s just the snow that makes the world seem magical today, but maybe not…

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    • As an anthropologist, Maryanne, I don’t believe in superstition–that is to say superstition is just someone else’s belief that you don’t believe in. I do, however, believe very strongly in belief. I think things happen around us all the time that we don’t see until we are ready and willing to see them. But seeing them depends on us having the trust to put ourselves out there and to have the confidence to trust others as well.

      I can also say that as an anthropologist, I have seen things that I cannot explain, either with my scientific background or my personal worldview. So I would never discount any weird occurrences or people’s interpretation of them.

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  3. J. Anderson Coats

    I’ve never met my editor either, but I feel the same way.

    Also, my immigrant great-grandparents landed in Leadville at the turn of the century and had to fight their way up out of the lead mines. I have pictures of their house. This makes me want to read your book even more.

    I also have a picture of my grandma as a teenager standing in her bathing suit on a freakin snowbank. Your characters should do this at least once.

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    • Actually in Leadville during your great-grandparents era they were probably in silver mines. Not that it matters, but it sounds a little more noble, doesn’t it?

      As for your picture of your grandma, I can easily explain that bathing suit and snowbank in terms of recent events. Day before yesterday we had a record high temperature for that date, of 80 degrees. Today we have a foot of snow on the ground, and the thermometer is working it’s way down toward 20. Welcome to Colorado, folks. Your grandma probably just didn’t have time to change before the weather shifted.

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  4. Susan Lynn Meyer

    Great post! But don’t always trust copyeditors. Assess them! I have known them to be quite, quite misguided in some instances.

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  5. I remember calling a publishing-world friend after talking to my editor for the first time. I said told my friend, “It was sort of like a first date,” and she said, “Honey, you’re married!” It’s true. It’s like a marriage, for richer/for poorer, for better or for worse. When you get lucky, it’s fantastic. Great post.

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  6. That’s a really good analogy, Michelle. The little “oh, you like that too?” discoveries and the moments where I have discovered that we have the same sense of humor have been a lot like those first few dates where you find out all kinds of wonderful things about a person you were initially only attracted to superficially.

    I just hope we never have to leave the honeymoon period. 🙂

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  7. Cynthia Levinson

    Jeannie, I love the way you expanded on my post. I hadn’t thought that i was writing about trust until I heard Kadir Nelson and Rebecca Stead at the Texas Book Festival, while I was sitting with a notepad on my lap and drafting what I would say. Their comments, like the experiences you cite, seemed providential.

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    • The Texas Book Festival sounds like it was a great event! I loved the quote you started your post with, and I agree with it whole-heartedly. Thanks for the great insipration on which I could build

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  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Jeannie, it sounds like you and your editor were meant to be. I wonder–when an author and editor have that kind of relationship, don’t you think you should set up your gift registry? Not at Macy’s in the fine china department, but maybe at Barnes and Noble or Staples? Hmm. I’ll have to ask my editor if she prefers Office Depot over Staples. And there’s that cute little indie bookstore not far from my house…

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  9. Last fall when I was down in the area where my story is set, I picked up a bunch of coal from one of the abandoned mines. I’m thinking of sending her that for Christmas…. At least I THINK she has the same sense of humor as me. But I’ll probably chicken out.

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  10. Fabulous post, especially the part about trusting your pen and characters to carry you through to typing The END. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this great group. Looking forward to more posts and working through Tara’s PiBoIdMo!!

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