FROM YOUR EDITOR Hurray for Editors!

The recent announcement of the shortlist for this year’s Branford Boase Award has got W&P Editor Claire Watts thinking about how first-time writers feel about being edited.

The Branford Boase Award is awarded to an outstanding first novel for young people. Nothing so unusual about that. What is unusual is that the prize goes not just to the writer of the book but also to the editor. It marks the vital contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent.

The award is named after Henrietta Branford, a gifted children’s novelist who died in 1999, and for Wendy Boase, Editorial Director of Walker Books, a passionate children's book editor credited with bringing on many new talents, who died the same year. In their memories, the Branford Boase Award celebrates the crucial early development of new writing talent. Now in its nineteenth year, the award has an impressive record in identifying talented authors, with previous winners and shortlisted authors including Siobhan Dowd, Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Philip Reeve, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Patrick Ness and Frances Hardinge.

I wondered how writers felt about the role of the editor in their debut novel. Did their input feel like an intrusion? Was yet another round of changes unwelcome? Or did it feel more like a knowledgeable hand leading them to get their vision fully formed onto the page? So naturally, I turned to some SCBWI-BI writers to answer these questions.

First up is Jacob Sager Weinstein, who, along with his editor, Gill Evans of Walker Books, has been shortlisted for this year’s Branford Boase Award for his novel, The City of Secret Rivers.

Jacob’s a great fan of his editor.
A great editor acts as a surrogate for your readers,
Jacob says, “forcing you to fill in narrative gaps that are clear inside your head but make no sense on the page. A great editor also acts as a surrogate for YOU, pushing you to be the writer you would be, if only you had the patience to read your own work as thoughtfully as your editor does. Also, sometimes, they treat you to lunch.”

Rachel Burge’s debut YA novel, The Twisted Tree, will be published by Hot Key Books in e-book for Halloween this year and mass-market paperback in January 2019).

Rachel says,
I think a good editor will encourage you to think about the big questions – what’s your story really about – and then make sure that the heart of it shines through.
“So far, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editor (Felicity Johnston at Hot Key Books). She started by asking me lots of questions about my inspiration for The Twisted Tree. She felt that some of the themes/symbolism I'd based on Norse mythology were fascinating, but that I had been too subtle - she helped make sure that what was in my head actually appeared on the page.
“For me, working with an editor feels like a conversation. Felicity might raise an issue but it’s up to me to find the best solution. If she suggests a change that I’m not sure about, then I look for another solution. Working together in this way, you hopefully arrive at a much better book!”

Kathy Evans, SCBWI-BI’s Joint Regional Advisor, and author of YA novel More of Me published by Usborne says,
A good editor flags up areas of weakness in your script – they're aiming to make your story as strong as it can be, not trying to make your life a misery.
“For me, I love the first meeting when you hear someone else’s take on your story – a book is nothing without a reader, and they are your first reader. If you like, they add the fourth dimension. That can give you a whole new take on your story and that can be a good thing – and very exciting.
“For me, the editorial process is like a collaboration and a gift. We all want the same thing, to produce the very best story we can.”

Moira McPartlin, author of the Sun Song Trilogy, the last volume of which, Star of Hope, will be published in 2019 by Fledgling Press, agrees that it’s a collaboration.
My experience with editors has been mostly positive.
“I have found it very much a collaboration, where something was suggested and I either agreed or disagreed. I mostly agreed. If I didn’t agree and could give good enough reason why the change wouldn't work then the editor was happy with that. I have only had one bad experience and that was an editor who suggested something so drastic (giving Sorlie a sister) it would change the dynamic of every relationship in the book. I pushed back so hard the editor refused to work with me.”

So even if your heart sinks when you first see the comments all over the ninety-ninth – and perfect – draft of your novel, let’s celebrate editors! They’re story-midwives.

Claire Watts is Editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the run down on how to appreciate an editor. As a newannabe I'd really like to know how to get an editor that might "mid-wife" my story. Is there a list of editors on stand-by just waiting to discover me? I've paid for an American editor to look the original over (once I thought it was perfect) who added a lot of comma's and suggested I'd actually written two stories but she didn't invite me to get back to her with the story if I did get ahead and divide it - now one half is done - the one she thought might be of interest I'm kinda stuck without the encouragement to return. Any suggestions? I really know nothing about these things!


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