Sunday, August 13, 2006

Steeple Hill Guidelines and Editors (or Showergate 101)

If you're thinking about submitting to Steeple Hill, you may have heard various rumors about the strict and constraining guidelines forced upon authors who write for the publishing house.

As with any rumor, there is both truth and fiction in what is being said. Steeple Hill, like any other publishing house, has guidelines that must be adhered to. However, the guidelines generally aren't a problem for those of us writing from a Christian world view. Most of what we're asked not to include in our writing is stuff we wouldn't include in our daily life. Curse words, men and women spending the night together (even without sex involved!), descriptions of certain body parts, terms that might be used for those body parts (and I'm not talking the kind cut off and lying in a ditch by the side of the road, hidden in suitcases, or pickled in jars out in potting sheds). Think of books as having ratings. A Harlequin Intrigue might be PG13 or R. Steeple Hill is looking for PG.

So, that's not so bad, right?

Also, for those wondering, we can (and are even encouraged) to use scripture, prayer, the name of Jesus, Christ, God, Holy Spirit in our writing. The purpose of these books is to entertain a mostly Christian audience by sharing stories about men and women who struggle to live their lives for God. Each story must have a vital faith element. That doesn't mean a mere mention of a prayer or a Bible verse. That means spiritual growth throughout the story. Without that, you simply don't have a Steeple Hill book.

In the years I've been writing for Steeple Hill, I've been blessed to work with three different editors. I'm happy to say, I've enjoyed the experience immensely. I don't have a problem with the guidelines, and tend to stay within them without a thought. However, there was one time when my editor and I had a difference of opinion.

I was writing EVEN IN THE DARKNESS. My poor heroine had been tortured, forced to ride on an unairconditioned bus for hours, run through rice fields, and traveled steep mountain passes on a motorcycle. She really did need a shower. And, I thought, what better place to have her think about all that was happening? The only quiet time I get during my day happens to be when I'm in the shower. I do my best thinking, praying, and plotting there. So why not let Tori do the same?

The answer, though not obvious to me, was obvious to my editor. She informed me that my readers wouldn't want to be in the shower with Tori.

In the shower? They won't be in the shower, they'll be in her head. Right? Besides, which, Tori needed a shower. Just the thought of her sweaty, blood stained clothes made me wrinkle my nose. A shower was a necessity. Other wise, my readers would be wrinkling their noses, too.

That made sense to me. And so I told my editor. Who informed me that the reader might feel s/he was in the shower with Tori. Which, of course, would mean imagining such things as the above mentioned body parts. So could I please not have Tori thinking in the shower.

I wanted to argue. I think my editor knew I wanted to argue. Instead, I cut the scene and had Tori stand in front of a mirror, blood trickling into the sink.

And the book was a lot better for it. Because, really, I didn't need the shower scene at all. My editor knew it. I did not. Which, of course, proves a point I made in an earlier post - editors know what they're talking about. They want the best book we can produce. 97% of the time they're right. I say 97% because no one is right every time. I wish I could give you an example of a time when my editor has been wrong. Alas, I cannot. And that's including all three of my editors.

Sadly, I can think of at least twenty times when I have been wrong. Thankfully, my editors have called me on those things each time.

Long story short - your editor is your greatest asset. Treat her (or him) accordingly. With respect, with humor, and with the kind of professional courtesy with which you would like to be treated.

1 comment:

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Shirlee. I can see why that scene wasn't needed, now that you've explained it.