The Publishing Process, Writing Advice

What’s it like: working with an editor for the first time?

A shelf of books with a gap to fit an Evans book in.
Oh look, a space on the book shelf for an Evans

I remember the many questions I had, but didn’t like to ask, when friends got their first deals. I thought I might start a series of posts about the process of getting a debut novel from acceptance to the book shelf. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

Fortunately, my agent, the solid and determined Sophie Hicks, took me to my first meeting with the Usborne team, I can get lost in a  cinema  and my sense of direction was further impaired by  being ridiculously over excited. Sophie’s guiding hand was really a Very Good Idea.  The first meeting took place in a tiny room filled with books and people, publicity people as well as editors and I felt at home straight away.  I do wonder if my editor, Sarah Stewart, thought she’d accidentally bought a book from an over-eager puppy.  I found it very hard to sit still and not flap my hands about. We didn’t talk  much about the actual  book in that meeting,  it was mostly about time scales and book covers and other things my puppy brain couldn’t distinguish over the internal noise of  ‘I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe I’m here’ .

I’d calmed down a bit by the time the real book chat happened over lunch.

Yes. My editor took me out for lunch. I might just say that again, it sounds so nice. My editor took me out to lunch so we could talk about my book.  And I’ll tell you this,

It was blimming BRILLIANT.

Not only did my editor take me out for lunch so we could talk about my book,  not once were her lovely words followed up by


‘It just isn’t right for our list’


‘Paranormal cow stories are a really hard sell right now’


‘We’ve already got a book about ghost squirrels coming out next year.’

No. I didn’t get my  script back in a bin bag, I got it back like this:
A beaitofull;y decorated Usborne bag containing a paper scriptWith notes on it and ticks and things like this:

Note saying 'brilliant' with a tick
I swear I didn’t write that myself.

We talked through all the weak areas, the areas of poor continuity, the down right odd bits and Sarah took me seriously. She talked about my characters  as if they lived in her head as much as they live in mine. Even before I’d eaten the funny little tea-flavoured chocolates we’d decided to share for desert, I was itching to get back to my desk to start work. Yes, really.

And I got  a proper deadline, not one I’d made up to con myself into getting on with some work. A deadline I could not miss  or I’d look like an unproffessional twit – especially when Sarah let me set it. I gave myself just under two months to get the first edit done. Fortunately, there was no risk of slacking as I also gained a line supervisor:

Usborne duck in a tiny bucket
Where’s Duck? Stop procrastinating and WORK woman.

It was a new joy to get up and write every morning, Sarah has a bilateral way of working – I had notes on my script and a detailed discussion document to work from. She had seen so much that I’d missed, it was a whole new journey to see the book through her eyes. The smallest comment triggered a train of change that enriched my story.  In fact, I changed so much so that I was a tiny bit worried I may have over done it. Here’s another great thing though, at this stage you can send it back to your editor even if you’re not quite sure it’s where it needs to be. There’ll be more edits to do, it’s a work in progress for both of us.

So I hit my deadline and the book has gone. I can’t do anything with it until I hear back from Sarah, but, there is this  old script I’ve been thinking about….

17 thoughts on “What’s it like: working with an editor for the first time?”

  1. Kathy this is gold, thank you! How long did your agent work with you on MORE OF ME (if at all) and is it the first MS of yours that your agent saw? Isn’t that BRILLIANT that your editor can sense the characters are as alive as they are to you. Wonderful. I love the bit about new joy. Got to get me some new joy!

    *gutted, regards ghost squirrel manuscript and puts back into drawer*

    — Sheila

    1. Hi Sheila, Oh my, do you not know the saga of how long this has taken me? This is my fourth novel with my agent, I’ve been with her five years. My first novel didn’t sell, don’t know why, I still love it and so does my agent! The second was based in the Eighties and Sophie didn’t think it was right for the market so that went in a drawer. Then I wrote a series for 7+ that we’re still mulling over. Then came another novel that got a couple of rejections and actually looking at it now, I can see why. I want to rework it and will! Then I wrote More of Me, very fast, after showing three chapters to an editor at a SCBWI 1 to 1. Sophie didn’t feel it needed any further work so we sent it to that editor and she also sent it to Usborne. The first editor turned it down despite being initially keen and that gave me cold feet. I asked Sophie not to send it anywhere else while I looked at it again. I took it to a couple of 1 to 1’s and both editors at those loved it too but then Usborne came back with an offer and a wheelbarrow of enthusiasm. I am living proof of the ‘dont’ give up’ mantra x

      1. No I I hadn’t heard that story before. That’s something else. Gosh you must have a very thick skin by now. I don’t know how you dealt with all the false starts but I guess having a faithful agent helps you keep faith. You are my hero!

      2. Having an agent with a strong backbone helps HUGELY I didn’t see a lot of the rejectiosn – she filtered them I’m sure!

  2. “itching to get back to my desk to start work”- I never knew editors could be like this either (until I started working with an editor on my first long fiction). The joy and renewed excitement for writing may not be an experience for debut authors only – Could it depend on the story and editor too?
    I’ve only just scrolled back to the top and realised it was you writing this, Kathryn! Your concept does sound brilliant – so pleased you have found a home for your book and an editor you can work with.
    All the best – can’t wait to read more,

    1. Thank you Sue – I’m sure you’re right – I feel so lucky to have found a honme with Sarah at Usborne 🙂

  3. Thanks for taking us through this. I know what Candy is saying – if people thought writers need thick skin to get rejections, wait until you get the acceptance and gets loads and loads and loads of editorial comments – you need to think of it as a joint project at that time. A book is like a child – it is raised by a village – not by one person.

    1. I so agree! But I’ve been yearning for this part of the process, i think that’s why I’m loving it so much!

  4. Such a lovely post, Kathy. And I’m glad you are enjoying the process of editing your fabulous book! x

  5. Yey – so glad you are writing about the process! I’ve been hoping someone would do this to give us some fly-on-the-wall moments. Look forward to reading more – and gagging to get my hands on MORE OF ME. Best of luck for the next steps.

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