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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is That How You Spell Myers-Briggs?

Yesterday I spoke at the Southdale Public Library to a group of parents, kids, and teen library volunteers. I talked about my mysteries and scary stories, including Curtains! and The Book That Dripped Blood. We had a great discussion about monsters, poisons, and Agatha Christie – your basic library discussion when eager young readers are involved, right? Then, a mother of two young boys asked me, “Do you have to be a good speller to write books?” Hmm. I answered that no, you don’t. But -- and this is a big but -- anything you submit to a publisher should be as polished and professional looking as possible.

Weirdly enough, a few days earlier I had been working in my office at home and came across the results of an old Myers-Briggs test that I had taken. Remember, those? They helped you identify the way you processed information or related to those around you? I was labeled as an INFP: introverted, intuitive, feelings-centered, and flexible. In the M-B universe, there are 16 basic personality types. The INFPers, however, are the only ones pegged to make great editors. And that group consists of a mere 1% of the population. In other words, it’s not easy to find a good editor. The publishing industry has known that for years.

Good editors are not simply good spellers. They are good readers and listeners. They are sensitive to the way a character speaks, and how a scene is described. Like a skilled stand-up comedian, they have great timing. They know when and how events should occur on the page. I work with a terrific team of editors at Stone Arch. We have discussions on phrasing, pacing, shifts of tense, if a joke bombs on the page, when to introduce a villain in a story. Yeah, I know, it sounds geeky, but it’s lots of fun. For those of us in that 1% of the population, this is the stuff we dream about at night. We might not have nightmares about poisons or books that drip blood, but we can wake up in a sweat wondering if we used an adverb correctly. Or accurately. Or precisely.

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