Why I Love My Editor….

Back in January, I mentioned on the blog that I thought my editor really deserved a Hugo nomination.

Imagine my delight when the list of Hugo nominees for 2012 came out, and there she was on the short list of nominees: Betsy Wollheim.

Weeks later, I was surprised to discover that in the 30+ years Betsy has been an editor, this is the first time she’s ever made it onto the shortlist.

It was more than a little startling to me. I mean, Betsy is Editor-in-Chief at DAW, one of the few publishers I knew about before I gave a damn about getting published. She’s never been nominated?

I think part of the reason she’s been overlooked is that while DAW is a great publisher, it’s not one of the hulking monoliths in the business. In fact, DAW is one of the very, very rare publishers that’s still privately owned. Betsy’s dad started it back in 1971. The “W” in DAW stands for Wollheim.

The other part of the reason I think Betsy’s never been nominated is that she’s not a big self-promoter.

I get that. Being from the Midwest, I’m not a big fan of self-promotion myself.

Now before people get their knickers in a twist and go pointing out that I have at times been a big old self-promoting whore, let me clarify.

Yes. I do promotion. Doing promotion is, unfortunately, a big part of being a published author.

So yeah. I do signings. I do readings. I run the blog. I go to conventions, sit on panels, and talk about writing.

But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as I’m comfortable going. I make myself visible in the hope that if someone finds me interesting, then they’ll be tempted to pick up one of my books.

What I *don’t* do is run around trying to sell people my book. Neither do I try to convince people that I’m awesome. I try to *be* awesome, and hope that people will notice.

Maybe that’s a fine line, but I’m more than willing to draw it in the sand.

Similarly, Betsy does promotion. Of course she does. It’s even *more* part of her job than it is mine. She promotes books. She promotes her authors. She promotes DAW.

But, generally speaking, she doesn’t promote herself.

So I’m going to put in a good word for her.

And I’m going to do it the same way I do everything, by telling a little story…

*     *     *

Back in the late summer of 2007, I was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I didn’t even know it.

On the surface, things were great. The Name of the Wind was getting really amazing review. Sales were good. Foreign countries were buying the translation rights. I had grown-up money for the first time in my life, and I used it to buy a house with my girlfriend.

In fact, things were so great, that I didn’t realize what a mess I was.

I’d been doing every bit of promotion that came my way. All sorts of conventions. Every interview somebody asked me to do. Readings and signings all over the place.

And whenever people asked about book two, I told them the same thing: that I already had a good solid draft, and that it would be out in a year.

This is in 2007, mind you.

When I finally sat down to work on the book, I realized the draft was *much * rougher than I remembered. The truth was, I’d been focusing all my energy on Name of the Wind for years while book two just sat their gathering dust. It was pretty shabby when I took a close look at it.

So I realized I had a lot of work to do. I quit my job teaching. I quit teaching fencing at the YMCA. I quit advising the College Feminists.

I kinda quit everything except for writing.

Aside from the roughness of the draft, my other problem was the fact that I’d never written to a deadline before. I was going from 14 years of being a hobby writer, straight into being a bestseller, and it was a huge mental adjustment. I was also a bit of an emotional wreck because my mom had died just a few months before the book came out.

And I’m not just saying that. I remember one night when I was writing frantically, I felt a pain in my chest and a numbness in my left arm.

My first thought was kinda surprised:  “I’m having a heart attack.”

My second thought was one of relief: “If I have a heart attack, nobody can blame me if the book is late.”

Seriously. That was my immediate thought. Not, “Oh shit, I’m gonna die!” Not, “I should call 911.” Not even, “Oh man, I’m never going to be able to cross ‘catgirl threeway’ off my bucket list.”

(In my opinion, it would be a shame if I never got to use this pic in a blog)

Anyway, my point is that when you’re *glad* to have a heart attack, something’s going wrong in your head.

I don’t tell Betsy about any of this, of course. Because I’m a newbie and I’m scared to death that I’m going to ruin my big chance with my for-real publisher. So I keep telling her everything is fine, and she keeps asking to see the draft of book two.

But I put her off again and again. Another month. Another two weeks. Four more days….

Eventually she says she *needs* it. Seriously. Now.

So I send it to her. It’s a mess. The beginning 100 pages are just a tangle.

Just to make it clear how different it was from the finished version:

1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.

2. Vashet didn’t exist. At all.  Bredon didn’t exist. At all.

3. There was no Adem hand talk. No tak. No ring rituals in Severen.

4. There are whole chapters that were nothing more than this:

Chapter 31: [need title]

(Something happens with Ambrose here.)

That’s how bad parts of it were.

So anyway, I send it off to Betsy, nervous as hell. She calls me a couple days later, real concern in her voice, and says, “Pat, this is really rough….”

I say, “Yeah. I know. But I can do it. I can put in the hours.”

Betsy says, “It’s going to be a *lot* of work. There are some real problems in here. Some parts are really skimpy.”

I say, “Yeah. I’m making good progress though. I’ve got my new workspace set up and everything.”

She says, “Book two has to be really solid, you know. People have high expectations. It’s really going to determine the course of your career.”

I say, “I promised book two would be out in a year. I just need to knuckle down and write hard for the next five months. No breaks. I can do it.”

She says, “That’s not really how your process works though. You’re a reviser. You like to get feedback from your readers and tinker with things. There won’t be any time for that if you’re still drafting the book now….”

I say, “I promised though. And I’ve scheduled it out. I’ve been writing 14 hours a day, and so long as I can keep that up….”

She says, “I really don’t think you can make this book as good as it needs to be.”

I say, “I can. I know I can do it.”

She says, “I’m pulling the book out of the production schedule.”

I’m stunned into silence, just standing there in my kitchen. I suddenly feel… good. Like someone had been standing on my chest and they just got off. “You can do that?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she says, “I’m pulling it. You can’t disappoint people with the second book.”

I say, “Oh thank god.”

*     *     *

I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course.

After that she gave me the space I needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. Time to get my head together. When I gave her the much better draft of the book, she argued with me about some of the bad choices I’d made, and we hammered them out together.

In a nutshell, she saved my career. Probably saved my relationship and my mental health, too.

Needless to say, I think the world of her. She’s an editor that really cares about her authors.

Last year in April, she had her first #1 New York Times Bestseller. (Me)

Last year in October, one of her authors won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. (Nnedi Okorafor.)

And now, after 30 years in the business, she’s just had her first Hugo nomination.

Betsy has my vote. And if you’re eligible, I’m sure she’d like to have yours too.

She’d never say so herself, though. That’s why I’m saying it for her.

Later Space Cowboys….




This entry was posted in awards, My checkered past, my terrible wrath, the man behind the curtain, things I shouldn't talk about. By Pat37 Responses


  1. JeanneGrrl
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:41 AM | Permalink

    Great story. She has my vote. :-)

    • guessingo
      Posted July 9, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Permalink

      how is best editor chosen? I am not sure how you can tell how good of a job an editor does unless you work with that editor. Are these nominations made by people who work with these editors?

      • IvoryDoom
        Posted July 9, 2012 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

        Here is how you tell if they had a good editor.

        Did you like the book?

        They had a good editor.

        The End. :)

      • Kendall
        Posted July 12, 2012 at 1:02 AM | Permalink

        The Hugos are basically a fan-voted award; see The Hugo Awards web site for more information. (I mean, professionals and fans join Worldcon, so it’s not like there aren’t pros voting.) This isn’t the Oscars, though, so no, it’s not an industry insider thing like it sounds like you’re thinking.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Permalink

      Thank you for recognizing Betsy for her outstanding talents and amazing career. Like her father Don before her, she is a champion for new voices and discoveries. I’ve known Betsy since she was a teenager, when I worked with Don Wollheim first at Ace Books, then later at DAW Books. Fortunately for everyone whose life she touched and transformed, she took over the reins of DAW Books and spun off from her father’s vision to make it her own. Betsy was in Florida when the NY Times named your book Number One, and I was privileged to celebrate it with her and her co-publisher Sheila Gilbert. They were jubilant at your success! Congratulations to you and DAW Books, and to Betsy!

  2. Lani
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:56 AM | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful :)
    Voting for her now

  3. RoyceShatzel
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:56 AM | Permalink

    As a Space Cowboy it would be my honor to give her my vote.

  4. Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:58 AM | Permalink

    Sounds like she might have saved your physical health too. Wow. I guess we all owe her a great deal of gratitude, without her we wouldn’t have you’re wonderful books. Or at least we wouldn’t have them in theirbest possible incarnations. I hope she wins.

  5. Gleeful_Imp
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 8:05 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this. I wish I could vote for her- she sounds wonderful.

    Your words of being awesome and hoping people will notice rather than trying to convince people you are awesome put me in mind of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure…”Be excellent to each other”. I envision a future time of peace and artistry based on life mantras influenced by science fiction and fantasy culture. ;)

  6. Marcus Cox
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 8:59 AM | Permalink

    I’ve always wondered how much of the book changed between the point where you started the revisions and the final draft. A lot of what you listed I considered to be some of the most memorable points in the novel. When the rings where explained I remember thinking “I need to get me a set of those.” I became so much more conscious of my hand movements after reading about the Adem, mainly wondering “Does this mean anything?”

    It’s awesome that she gave you the time and advice you needed to make this novel what it became. It’s one of my personal favorites and I got a rather large desire to reread it just by reading this blog post. If I could vote I’d vote for her.

  7. Joe
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:00 AM | Permalink

    Congratulations to Betsy for the honor — I hope she pulls down the award!

    Also, as an aside: “Neither do I try to convince people that I’m awesome. I try to *be* awesome, and hope that people will notice.” If everyone would live by those words, the world would be a far groovier place.

  8. colettak
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM | Permalink

    So, I opened my rss reading app this morning, and this was the headline story. Awesome! A new Pat blog post! The best part, though, was that the menage a paw achievement photo was the thing I got to start the day with. Amazing.

  9. Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:58 AM | Permalink

    In addition to giving Betsy some much deserved spotlight time, I think this post sheds some much needed light on the relationship between author and editor and how good that relationship can be when it is healthy, respectful and long term. Too many author/editor gigs these days are one-offs – whether that’s due to revolving doors at the publisher, or the ad hoc relationships formed when self-publishing. Lesson: no matter what your situation, find a good editor and then cling to them for life.

  10. EricAllgaier
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:13 AM | Permalink

    Let’s also not overlook:

    Without Betsy, we probably never would’ve seen the Catgirl Threeway pic.

  11. damon
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

    I had no idea that Lovecraft was such a dick.

    • Posted July 9, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Permalink

      Heh. Yeah. That post was a bit of an eye-opener for me, too.

    • Posted July 11, 2012 at 3:30 AM | Permalink

      That was back in 1912. One hundred years ago. I mean, come on. Give poor Howard a break. That was mainstream back then.

  12. sortova
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:38 AM | Permalink

    I just wanted to add that many people don’t realize that it is pretty easy to vote in the Hugos. You just have to be a supporting member, which runs about $50:


    Now, many of you will be thinking that is a lot of money, but you get DRM-free digital copies of most of the nominees. It’s easily worth the cost in just the novels alone.

    A friend of mine, Ursula Vernon, is up for her “Digger” graphic novels, so I know I want to vote for her. Pat just gave me a good recommendation for editor (no quid pro quo required, but do check out “Digger” – from Amazon “Oracular slugs, orphaned daemon babies in the form of shadows, blood-sucking fruit, talking statues, and a heroine in the form of a wombat who maybe accidentally stumbles into … a world that reluctantly needs her help” – what more could you want) . Now I’m working through the novels (currently on Meiville’s odd “Embassytown”).

    I highly recommend the supporting membership to anyone who likes Sci-Fi/Fantasy and it is a great way to support the program. Pays for itself, actually.

    • Posted July 9, 2012 at 6:41 PM | Permalink

      Yeah. That’s something they just started doing recently. It is a great deal….

      • sortova
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

        I blogged about it a little more in depth here:


        and was sure to link back to this post about your editor. I hope that they keep doing this because it is a great way to get exposed to some awesome fiction.

  13. Tove
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:46 AM | Permalink

    Hahahah “get their knickers in a twist”! I love the kind of english I learn here!

  14. IvoryDoom
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM | Permalink

    Very interesting blog post. I have often wondered about your editor and thought she must be some sort of maniacle genious to be able to follow and assist in the creation of your novels – I mean, I always thought an editors basic job was to take something that is awesome and some how make it even better…which seems pretty freakin’ hard.

    (Although Chapter 31 seemed like it was probably pretty easy for her to edit :P )

    So even though I cant vote, I enjoyed learning a bit about your editor. I have always suspected she was amazing, I mean I have read the books a couple of times and still find things that I missed and feel add to the overall plot. Some of which I now know was thanks to a little help from her.

    Anyway…nice to see credit go where its due! Hope she snags the award, but I think she is a winner in all our hearts. :)

  15. mysticsavage
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Permalink

    That was lovely, and encouraging to read. I’m glad there are still wise editors out there who care about their authors. Incidentally, you don’t need to tell anyone how awesome you are because we’re out here telling other people for you. My housemate turned on 4 people to Name of the Wind and we all went on to read The Wise Man’s Fear.

    • IvoryDoom
      Posted July 9, 2012 at 2:30 PM | Permalink

      This is so true!
      I’ve (so far) convinced everyone in my book club to read it, as well as forcing my own roomies and boyfriend to listen to the “aloud” version. (Thats what I call it when I force novels upon them by reading them aloud while they play xbox…)
      They actually requested and mostly stopped playing xbox to listen to WMF.

      Which Pat should take as a serious compliment…I mean, he’s right up there next to porn and bbq tri tip. (The only other things that seem capable of distracting them from the blessed murder box.)

  16. ashleydwalsh
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Permalink

    Great post, Pat. She’s got my my vote. It’s also nice to know that your books weren’t completely perfect from the word Go. My book needs a lot of work. As to the self-promotion, I hear you. I’m in the new stages of learning how to build that dreaded author platform before publishing a first novel and it’s a bit nerve wracking.

    • Oliver Stein Inc.
      Posted July 9, 2012 at 5:40 PM | Permalink

      You’re getting published? That’s amazing. What’s the book called, and what’s the title?

      • ashleydwalsh
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Permalink

        Well thanks! I don’t feel right promoting myself on another author’s blog though, especially when that author is someone I admire as much as Mr. Rothfuss. But I appreciate the enthusiasm :)

  17. Piccadilly
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 3:24 PM | Permalink

    A book without vashet? Thanks god you have Betsy

  18. rebeccafrog
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:27 PM | Permalink

    For $50 I can have a stack of Hugo-nominated e-books and a chance to vote for Pat’s editor?! Excuse me, I need to go take care of something. Seriously, all I know about Betsy Wollheim is from Pat’s stories about her (ok, there’s really just this one), but that’s enough to tell me that she’s an amazing editor who deserves some serious public recognition.

  19. suvarow
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:29 AM | Permalink

    I get that. Being from the Midwest, I’m not a big fan of self-promotion myself.

    You know what ? Maybe that’s part of why you are, in my opinion, not only a good (excellent!) “fantasy” writer, but a good (excellent) writer period.

    My wife, who can’t read English and is looking forwards to August (first edition of Wise Man’s Fear in French) , like… Like… Like she’s only benn that anxious to get a book in her hand when she only just discovered that Herman Hesse had written a book called the Glass Bead Game in the forties. hesse took decades to write a book, only wrote a few, all masterpieces of… That special thing in litterature that makes a story stick with a person for his/her whole life.

    She doesn’t like Scifi and Fantasy. She only (mostly) reads classical litterature. She has done, sofar, four exceptions to the rule : Orson Scott Card early books (songmasters, ender’s game,…), Lord of the Rings, Hadelman’s Forever War, and Name of the wind. And guess which is her favorite ?

    So, here a good place and time to thank you, and your editor, and all the people who in some way made “you as a writer” happen.

    Thank you !

  20. Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:04 AM | Permalink

    This is the third time you’ve disappeared from my bloglist, and it saddens me :(

    One day I want to be an awesome editor like Betsy is to you. That and an awesome writer like you. That is my dream goal in life. And I will do it. I don’t care if I never get nominated for a Hugo for it. Betsy did good by pulling Wise Man’s Fear out of the production schedule and letting you take your time fixing it and making it beautiful.

    I can’t remember if I read it here… No, I’m pretty sure I didn’t, I think my boyfriend told me (he introduced me to your books and he loves you more than he loves me, I swear!) that The Name of the Wind originally didn’t have any Auri or Devi or Draccus. We were sitting there discussing how the hell the book ended if it didn’t have those three. Seriously! Now I haven’t read Wise Man’s Fear yet, but if there were characters in it that weren’t in the first draft, they must be awesome :) Hahaha and it goes to show how good taking time to revise and perfect is and how important it can be. I wanna be like you, Pat!

    Absolute best of luck to Betsy! :)

    – Bonnee.

  21. Thesoux
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 6:28 PM | Permalink

    Dear Pat,
    A few words, yours and mine. “So yeah. I do signings. I do readings. I run the blog. I go to conventions, sit on panels, and talk about writing.” If some do not enjoy your self-promotion, let it be known I LOVE it…because of it I had the pleasure of “meeting” you at a book signing. Not to mention my books were signed by you and the book artist. Priceless enjoyment for a reader, I swear it. ( you know this) So please never stop you self-promo- whoring, it is appreciated.

    Best wishes,

  22. Richard
    Posted July 11, 2012 at 5:47 AM | Permalink

    Among all the comments about the book and self-promotion and this and that, I miss the obvious question: how did that thing with the heart attack turn out? Obviously, you lived to tell the tale, but I hope it wasn’t a full-blown heart attack after all?

    • Oatmeal
      Posted July 11, 2012 at 5:32 PM | Permalink

      Probably just a panic attack. I have them, and they seriously feel like you’re dying. RIGHT. NOW.
      No fun at all.

  23. Durzo
    Posted July 11, 2012 at 7:54 AM | Permalink

    In a world that make us think that anyone can be a writer, it’s nice to read even if small fragments, of what lies beneath the lines of a book. How important is determination, sacrifice and luck, and above it all, how important is to find the right people to go through it all with you.

    Regarding self-promoting, take it as a way of reaching out to people that might need what you got to offer… Some hours of smile, adventure and fantasy could mean the world for some people at the right moment. If you consider how something so small can make such a big difference, how could you ever feel bad about spreading the change ;-)

    My best wishes for Betsy, may she be prove that in life, even if rarely, people do get what they deserve.


  24. rappy7
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 2:45 PM | Permalink

    Wait. I still don’t get it. Who’s Betsy?

  25. akanucho
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

    Just saw the list of winners. Congrats, Betsy!

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