Do you know Jess Lawson? You probably should. Not only is she a brilliant writer, whose debut THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER will pub in July, but she’s a great member of the writing community. If you’re new to the industry, her blog is a great resource for information about agents, contests, and interviews from other authors.
Today Jess has agreed to share what she learned from her editor Kristin Ostby of Simon & Schuster BFYR.
Me: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your book.
Jess: I’m a stay-at-home mom with two little ones and two teenage stepchildren. I love to hang out with my kiddos (taking walks and hitting the library are our main activities) and cook, and I sometimes have grandiose plans to get in shape. I used to enjoy watching television and movies, but since I’ve started writing, my free time finds me fairly glued to the computer. I live in a small town in Colorado where we have to seasonally inform our landlord about bear damage to the trash bin at the end of our driveway, and I regularly see a fox family trotting around the neighborhood (which makes me feel like I’m in one of my favorite Roald Dahl books). My debut middle grade novel, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is both an origin story and a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s coming from Simon & Schuster in July of this year.
Me: How genius is that? When I heard her idea, I remember thinking, “Why couldn’t I have come up with that first? Give Becky Thatcher a voice and a character?” But since I’ve read her book, I can tell you she wrote the story much better than I ever could have. It’s beautiful and heart-warming and painfully sweet.
When you had your initial call with your editor, did she give you an idea of how she wanted the story to change or the vision for the project?
Jess: Kristin is everything a writer could hope for in an editor. Not only is she incredibly smart and savvy, but she’s so easy to speak with and was gentle in her initial guidance. She went over the editorial letter to make sure I understood any requests (for more tension in scene X, or a bit more inclusion of side character Y) and we discussed a few newish possibilities that she’d suggested incorporating.
I got very lucky and her vision for the story was consistent with what I’d turned in. I know that won’t always be the case— it was a serendipitous entry into my experience with the editorial process that left me excited (rather than nervous) for future editor/client interactions.
Me: So when you got your editorial letter, how did you plan your attack? Was there any special method you used to work through the changes?
Jess: My first order of business was to NOT dive in. I took a solid three days to think about the letter and allowed myself to make notes on paper, but didn’t touch my computer. Then I was fairly methodical, going through each point one-at-a-time, being careful not to let myself get distracted. Once everything had been addressed, I read through the entire manuscript to see if the changes were incorporated smoothly.
Interestingly enough, her notes caused me to make changes and additions that she didn’t even ask for. It’s like her thoughts sparked a bit of creative power that had been untapped without her encouraging/coaxing notes.
Me: How has working with an editor changed your writing?
Jess: Well, it’s certainly made me more paranoid about my manuscript submissions. Kidding, kidding. Seriously, though, it’s opened my eyes to a list of questions that I wouldn’t have necessarily asked myself. Now I find myself taking the feedback and suggestions my editor made on my first novel and trying to incorporate those things into other works. It really is a learning process that has affected the way I look at writing stories, and I find myself trying to touch on those lessons learned—to tease certain things out of the manuscript myself, so that she can spend her time looking for more ways to help me polish the story.
Me: What kind of mistakes have you learned to avoid?
Jess: I’ve learned to avoid living in my own head too much as I write/revise. Just because I can picture my setting or know exactly what a joke means doesn’t mean my readers do, unless I make it clear.
Me: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve gained from working with a professional editor?
Jess: That a story can always benefit from more depth. And “depth” doesn’t mean adding paragraphs of description or including long monologues where a character waxes poetic about their true feelings, etc. It means teasing out the core of your book’s characters, plot, and theme, and finding the essence of what your story is “about”… and then translating that essence to the written page in a way that your readers can connect to. And tension. There is almost always a way/place to add tension to a manuscript.
Me: YES! I totally agree! Working with an editor made me see so many layers to every character and in the plot. I think the best books probably have pages of scrapped material where the author has created backstory that isn’t essential to the story, but is to character development.
Jess: Thanks so much for having me on the blog!!
Me: Thanks for being here!!