I’m thrilled to have been the editor of Melanie Rachel’s new Pride and Prejudice variation Courage Requires. I loved her first book, Courage Rises, about Elizabeth Darcy’s assumption of her role as mistress of Pemberley during an influenza epidemic while Darcy is away with Colonel Fitzwilliam, who’s fulfilling a debt of honour searching for the missing Hawke sisters. Elizabeth is front and center in Rises, but Requires focuses on heiress-turned-soldier-turned-estate owner Sophia Hawke, who comes to visit with the Darcys at Christmas. Melanie writes my favourite kind of heroines – smart, fearless, and badass, but still willing to be vulnerable – and Sophia and Elizabeth are no exceptions.
Melanie put her first book out without an editor and Requires with one, so I wanted to get her take on the editing experience – why she wanted an editor, what her expectations were, and what the reality of having one was.
Why did you want an editor for Requires?
The more you write, the more you know that writing is only a solitary activity at the beginning. You know what’s supposed to be there, you know what you’ve think you’ve written, but until someone else reads it, you don’t know what’s coming across. You can’t be an editor of your own work; I’m a firm believer in that.
You need another pair of eyes because if you’re going to publish something, you want to give the people buying it the best possible experience. A better product is going to sell more, get better reviews, and help you sell more in the future. And you want to be proud of it too.
I just don’t ever think it’s a wrong thing to hire a professional [editor] if you can afford it. It saves money in the long run. You can spend your time more profitably and do the work you want to do. If you’re working full-time, it’s like paying someone to clean your house. It’s not worth it for you to be spending three hours on Sunday scrubbing your floors when you can hire someone to do it cheaper. You can spend that time on your work [and work towards] promotions, better money, better benefits.
What were your expectations of editing? Did the expectations match the reality? How did the story benefit from editing in your opinion?
I wanted the copy to be clean and I definitely wanted to make sure I didn’t have any stupid errors! Having you hit on the major issues was really helpful, so yes, expectations met reality.
For example, I always knew [a certain section of the book] was weak – I needed a reason for Sophia to be left alone in the room and had to devise it around that. I’m kind of a backwards writer – I know where I want to wind up and I have to backfill how to get there. I needed some to point out that yeah, this is a weak spot. It was helpful to have someone to speak to about it who had read the book, really understood the characters, and could offer some advice. And it gave me time to think about it. Sometimes you just have to put it in the back of your brain and let it simmer for a while. But having that perspective made it a better story.
Another example: The original opening chapter of Requires was slowing down the pace of the story, which you pointed out, so we moved it to the epilogue of the first book instead. Not only did it help the second book, it helped fill out the first book.
How is receiving feedback/criticism from an editor?
I’m used to [receiving criticism] and I have a very thick skin. I just want the product to be better. Criticism is not levelled at you as a person but at the product – if you can make that separation, then it’s easier to kill your darlings.
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