Lunch with an Editor

When my agent called and told me that the editor we were in negotiation with wanted to meet me to talk about the book, my first question was “Really? Why?” I had never heard of such a meeting, and when I asked my other writer and agent friends, they too had never heard of a writer sitting down with an editor who had not yet bought their book. Or even then. Editors are busy. They have multiple projects coming in at once, many of them late. In spite of the Carrie Bradshaw mythos, editors rarely meet with authors they are working with. Email and phone calls are the methods of communication. Two martini lunches are long gone, if they ever existed at all.

As it was, when we met, the editor had to run out after an hour and a half to go to a meeting at her publishing house. (We met at a restaurant near her office.) Of course, an hour and a half is a long time, especially with someone I had only just met, but as soon as I saw her, I knew that she was my kind of people. Just an instinct, a feeling, but one I always live by. My internal, instinctive watch dog, the one that judges every person I meet within the first seconds I meet them, did not bark, but welcomed her.

This feeling of certainty only got stronger as we ate, and we talked about my novel, not as if it was a manuscript in my computer, where it had been living for the last two and a half years, but as if it was a collaboration in progress, as if it was going to press in nine months and we had to hammer out the last details of the copy.

Of course, we were not discussing sentence structure or where a comma should go. We were talking about the larger issues: the shape of the conflict of the novel and my characters’ reactions to it. And at this meeting, the character who had come to me and knocked on my inner door, came and sat beside us. Eleanor of Aquitaine offered herself as the second protagonist of the novel, in addition to Alais, Princess of France. This editor and I had the same idea on the same day; two days before our meeting, we independently concluded that not only was Eleanor to be the second voice in the book, but that her experience directly mirrored Alais’. Combined, the stories of these two women would bring the novel to greater heights than I had ever before conceived.

At that point, I was relieved. I was certain that the editor and I would be able to agree finally on a direction for the novel, though she was careful to assure me that until she saw the first fifty pages and a new synopsis, she would not be able to even discuss making an offer. This was no surprise to me, but by then I had stopped thinking of offers and money, even of the future of my career. I hoped only to bring the novel as I was beginning to see it to life, and to then be able to lay it in this woman’s capable hands. She was a kindred spirit, a member of my greater tribe, a woman who knew at once who Mary Renault is, and who loves that writer’s work as much as I do. When I spoke of my favorite author, and the editor welcomed the sound of her name, I knew that we would be able to work together.

But it was up to me to take the notes I had made during our meeting, and the thoughts we both had concerning Alais and Eleanor, and write a synopsis that would convey the new scope of the novel, with all its intricacies and power plays, with its complex relationships filled with love and fury. So much for one book to do. Two such strong and different voices to convey to the reader. But sitting with that editor in a light-filled tavern in the West Village, I knew that I could do it.

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