I hope that you are all enjoying spooky season, ghouls and ghosts! I am so honoured today to have two guest posts to share! One is a brief review of Light from Uncommon Stars, the new SFF release from Ryka Aoki that just came out this past September. I know Aoki from her previous novel, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song), but her new book is altogether a different animal. This review was generously provided to me by Marie Sotiriou, a member of my online book community, the Rogue Book Coven.
After that, I have a post that addresses one of the topics that I get asked about the most as an agent: what is the role of editorial feedback to an author? My client, Tamara Goranson, author of the bestselling novel The Voyage of Freydis, graciously provided this post to me following a conversation that we had about the many people and professionals who helped Tamara bring her debut work to shelves all around the world. I am so proud and thankful to get to support Tamara and her work, and I hope that if you enjoy this post, you’ll check out her no-holds-barred feminist historical fiction as well!
Review by Marie Sotiriou
I listened to the audio of Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, and it’s very good! This is a science fantasy (blend of science fiction and fantasy) coming of age story of a young trans girl, written by Aoki, is a Japanese trans woman. The novel features three queer women. The first is Shizuka Satomi, the Queen of Hell. Satomi is looking for a violin player in order to complete her contract with the devil. She is the violin teacher from Hell with a heart of gold! Next: Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway girl who is also an excellent violin player. Finally, Lan Tran, an alien refugee retired starship captain who now owns a donut shoppe. The story is centered around Katrina, but there is also a romance between the female starship captain and the Queen of Hell. It’s very whimsical, quirky, funny, and there are strong Asian influences threaded thru the tale. Light From Uncommon Stars also exudes love for classical music AND donuts!! I know it sounds weird, but it strangely works. The narrative moves around a bit, but I didn’t think that took anything away from my enjoyment of the book. It is very tough to read at times, since we see the transphobia that Katrina experiences. You just want to wrap your arms around her and protect her from the world. There are heartbreaking and infuriating scenes that include transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and racism, but there are many more feel-good moments of acceptance. Overall, I thought it was a very hopeful story that showed the power of community and found family. And it has a joyful ending!
The Benefits of Working with Great Editors, by Tamara Goranson
Behind every great writer, there is a great editor. Sounds cliché, but as a newly published author with one of the Big 5 houses, I know that my success is due to the help, support, and guidance of a truly amazing group of talented editors.
My journey began approximately five years ago when I had the good fortune to be introduced to a panel of editors who were members of Canada’s leading editorial organization, Editors Canada. After listening to them describe their interests and backgrounds, I hired one of them to review my work. That was the turning point where a creative writing interest was honed into a craft.
My editor recognized that I was new to the world of publishing. She patiently described the editorial process, outlining the differences between manuscript evaluations, substantive edits, stylistic editing, copy edits and proofreading edits. At the time, I recall thinking it couldn’t be that complicated. I convinced myself that I would have the edits done in no time at all.
For me, the editing process takes much longer than finishing a first draft. Just to read and process that first manuscript evaluation took me well over one month. While I was thrilled to receive the feedback from someone who had actually read the draft from start to finish, the detailed analyses and new insights offered were truly mind boggling. The editor asked me to think about the targeted audience, the narrative voice, plot issues, the character development (including major and peripheral characters), the setting, the pacing of the novel, and the timelines. When inconsistencies were pointed out – sometimes with over 50 pages in between – I recall feeling amazed by her talent for tracking trivial details. To give an example, one of my characters lost a baby mid-way through my first novel. In the original draft, the mother was pregnant for “two” winter seasons before she miscarried, and the editor caught this timeline glitch even though the months of the year and the names of the seasons had been written in a different language! I started wondering if I was paying her enough.
As an author, we immerse ourselves into the lives of our characters and the worlds we create. We have so many pieces to weave together that if one thread gets lost, we sometimes don’t notice. A good editor catches these threading errors. A great editor might even ask you to rework whole sections, to discard threads and start again, to weave an even more intricate and beautiful piece.
For me, the first round of editing is usually the most difficult. One has to be willing to part with favorite passages and make uncomfortable changes. My editors invited considerations and prompted me to really think about my underlying motivations as a writer. I like to think of the role of an editor as a lighthouse beam that helps the writer to avoid rough waters, to navigate problematic passages and to see new possibilities. The writer chooses her own route, but the editors help inform the choice. Great editors raise awareness, but they always leave the final editing decisions to the author.
In order to secure a literary agent, I had to face another significant editorial challenge that felt insurmountable at the time. When I was asked to discard the first fifty pages of my novel and use an “in medias res” strategy, I recall tearing up. This was a big ask. It had been time consuming to draft those pages, and in many ways, I felt protective. My editor encouraged me to be flexible, to consider making the revisions, and to embrace the process in a noncommittal way. After the change was made, I was shocked to discover that the opening of the novel was stronger. Sometimes editors make big asks. They usually know what they are doing.
Authors are profoundly fortunate if their agent has the time to offer editing workshops and editing services. I would venture a guess that in the competitive world of publishing, most submissions only attract the attention of an agent after the manuscript has been reviewed by a professional editor. Even so, an invested agent may choose to offer editing suggestions to make the manuscript more marketable.
Once the rights to my book were sold, editors affiliated with the publishing house then went through the manuscript repeatedly. In total, my manuscript was subjected to four edits: a copy edit from my primary editor, an indigenous sensitivity edit, another copy edit from a secondary editor, and a proofreading edit. What a process! With each editorial revision, the manuscript grew more readable, more polished, and more salable.
Editors not only work side-by-side with the author on the manuscript, many of them also help writers monitor their expectations. I recall one of my editors telling me that it is not uncommon for publishing houses to change the title of a manuscript. I have to honestly say that when this happened, I was able to relinquish the novel title with grace only because my editor had prepared me. Editors know the industry. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they can offer words of encouragement to help authors navigate the business side of selling books.
Editors can also become a friends who walk alongside you, who celebrate your successes with genuine enthusiasm, who encourage you to keep writing when it is hard, and who can be as invested in us as people as they are in us as writers. If one is fortunate, an editor can be someone who enjoys the subject matter of your book as much as you do, who enjoys delving into the depths of your book’s characters and plots, and who enjoys sharing creative ideas and conversations about the manuscript. The enthusiasm of an editor can be catchy when they champion your books. Good editors help new writers overcome insecurities while simultaneously offering honest and constructive feedback. It takes such interpersonal skill to be able to do this gracefully.
I often wonder what it would be like to go back in time and re-read that first, unedited draft to see what was reworked and what was added, to see what was discovered, to see what small or large vanities were taken out to make the magic of the manuscript really pop. I often wonder until I reflect on the fact that my work made it into publication. Then I go back and re-read the acknowledgement section of my book and see the names of my brilliant editors who stood in the shadows — working diligently, reading deeply, noticing more than just the words.
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