Ego-Deaths May Be Needed to Work With an Editor for Your New Book
My husband always knew when I’d gotten off the phone with my editor. He would walk in from the barn and see me slumped over my desk with the look of someone who had just lost everything.
“Just talked to your editor?”, he’d ask.
“Yes”, I could barely muster.
“Hmmm… maybe you need something stronger than coffee right now.”
“I just hate this.”
Editor #1: The One Who Had to Break Me
My first book, What If You Could Skip the Cancer?, is the story of my journey through cancer in 1999. My mom had just died of breast cancer a few years before, so when a teacher/guru appeared to help me through this, I was all in. The journey ended in a miraculous healing and many inner shifts that changed me forever.
After retelling my story a thousand times, I came to a place where I just didn’t want to tell it any longer. I was sounding like an automaton with no excitement or juice in the telling. So, I thought that it would be a good idea to write out the whole experience in a book. Then, I could leave it all behind me and get on to the next chapter of my life.
I wrote out my whole story, combining journal entries, “aha moments”, experiences I remembered with my teacher, the challenges of life as a young mother on the farm, etc. Then, I did research into spontaneous remissions which lead me to quantum physics, chaos theory, and studies of metaphysics and consciousness.
Soon, I had a 350-page manuscript that I had no idea what to do with. It was such a hodge-podge of information, statistics, true-life stories, and random quotes from things that inspired me along the way, there was no way anyone would ever get through it.
Plus, I just couldn’t figure out what angle to write the book from. I had always told the story completely differently depending on who I was talking to. So, finding a common thread that would weave all of this together was completely daunting.
Luckily, I met a man whose son-in-law happened to be an editor for a book publishing company. I contacted him, pitched the book to the owner, and was accepted. I was hopeful that he could find his way through my confusion.
You never realize how much of your heart and soul is in your writing until you hand your baby over to another human with the intention of them critiquing it. I had always been pretty sensitive to criticism anyway. This was literally like a great soul’s test of strength and fortitude.
The first thing he did was suggest an entire re-write. He said that our goal was to have the reader actually make it all the way through the book — especially since most people seldom read past the first chapter of self-help books. So, he said to allow my story to span the entire book with the final chapter being my healing experience. Then, we could spread out the science and consciousness findings throughout the chapters.
First of all, I’m not terribly great at taking orders from others. Yes, he was my editor. But man, there was something in me that didn’t want to be told how to write my book — especially when the re-write was a massive job! But, I got over myself and did it, and resubmitted my manuscript to him.
Next came the heavy bleeding. He told me that perhaps entire chapters weren’t needed. He would say that I was missing backstory and that I was assuming that people knew things that they didn’t. He pointed out all the places where I would lose the reader and that I had to try to keep them nodding instead of making a harsh point.
But he also told me that I should argue whenever I disagreed with him because, within that argument, I would find the backstory I needed to rewrite the chapters that were on the chopping block. I knew that he was right. But wow, this was my first time actually having to work with someone going through my thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions with a fine-tooth comb, and my ego was taking a real beating.
By the time we had gone through the many revisions, I was sure that this book wouldn’t even sound like me. I couldn’t even read the words anymore. They just floated on the page sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I didn’t even care. I just wanted it over and published.
To my total surprise, it was all to the good. Every person who read it loved it. People who barely read books would read it in one sitting. Old friends would sit with it and tell me that it felt like we were just relaxing chatting together.
It still sounded like me… All my points came through… Every moment of torture was totally worth it. Phew!
Editor #2: I Was Ready This Time
Ten years later, I decided to write a new book: Tantric Intimacy: Discover the Magic of True Connection. I had been teaching tantra for a number of years and people had often asked me to recommend a book for them to get started with. Well, because what I taught didn’t come from a book, I didn’t have an easy answer… except, of course, to write my own.
So, the compiling began again — the teachings, personal stories, feedback from students over the years, quotes, and other new thoughts that came through meditation and very long baths. Again, I found myself with a huge manuscript. But this time, I thought I had sorted it into an excellent order for the reader — one that truly took people on the journey of becoming tantric.
This was in 2017 and the book industry had changed radically. So, instead of trying to find a publishing house, I self-published and hired an editor myself. Maybe it was because I was now paying out of pocket for editing or maybe I had just grown a lot in 10 years, but I didn’t feel so much the victim of the editing process. I was truly looking forward to what she would say.
I sent her my manuscript and waited two weeks for her to get back to me. I would be lying if I said that some familiar ego-deaths weren’t recurring. Did she like it? Is it too much? Maybe it’s too wordy. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe I was so lost in the process, I had no idea how much it sucked!
When she called for our first “overview”, she was super quiet. She said that she really liked my book. She said that it was filled with great content. But there were these pregnant pauses — like she was trying to choose her words carefully.
I said to her, “I’m really interested in your thoughts. I had a great experience with my past editor. So, I want you to be totally honest with me.”
She kind of exhaled and said, “Well. I don’t know how to say this… because I really like the book. But I think it should be in an entirely different order. I think you need to take the sexy story about the soldier and move it to the front to grab the reader, then move this chapter here and that chapter to the end…”
Then, she paused — like she was waiting for a bomb to drop. I realized that we writers may become quite passionate at these kinds of moments and that she had suffered our wrath before.
“I think that sounds awesome!” I replied. “All I care about is that people actually read my book. If they never get to the deeper chapters, then what’s the point?”
I re-organized the book, had to delete some chapters that no longer fit in the flow, added some things that now were needed… and again, a book that I’m so happy and proud of was created.
Do You Need an Editor for Your Book?
The funny thing is that, although I’ve had amazing experiences with editors, my answer is “sometimes”.
A couple of years ago, I was writing another book about my travels around the world. The truth was that I didn’t have the money for an editor and I couldn’t convince myself that I was actually going to make the thousands of dollars back from this book that would make having an editor worthwhile.
I wrestled with this for a long time and then the book Moby Dick came to mind. Well, I have tried to read that monster of a book many times. First of all, I couldn’t believe that it was actually about whaling — which I wasn’t interested in — plus, it was just so boring! I had no idea how it became such a classic.
At that moment, I thought to myself, “There is no way that anyone actually edited Moby Dick. In fact, I’ll bet that many of the great writers like Mark Twain never let anyone mess with their masterpieces.”
I had no idea if this was true. But it gave me a new license to simply publish whatever I wanted in true artistic freedom. I had a ton of friends who I could send my manuscript to through google docs for them to comb through and find any errors or obvious omissions. Maybe I could skip the whole process (and the money that I didn’t have) and just write a book and put it out there.
Truthfully, I loved the process. I loved the freedom. I loved not having to worry about whether the book was a best-seller just to at least break even.
All that being said, if I had the money, I would definitely hire my last editor again — especially if a new book had some serious meat in it and would likely be very successful.
The simple process of discussing the topic, fleshing it out, adding, deleting, and massaging the content really did make for amazing books that I’m thrilled with… and in the immortal words of every author in their Acknowledgements page: “I couldn’t have done this without the help of my amazing editor”.