Thanks for the Editing Memories: Leslie Wainger

Have you ever looked up and seen the end of an era descending with such speed and force that there’s no way to move out of the way?

Leslie WaingerIn the publishing world editors come and go. Publishing doesn’t pay well, and New York, where many publishers reside, is notoriously expensive. Writers like to trade stories about the number of editors who worked on their book. This is black humor, mind you, because it never makes for a better product.

Normally two editors work on a book together, the line editor who edits content, questions choices, rewrites or asks for rewrites of awkward sentences, and the copy editor who looks for grammatical and punctuation errors, and cleans up any mistakes that made it through the first edit.

Since the world of editing is entered through a revolving door, editors sometimes come and go so quickly a book and an author get caught in the breeze.

One editor purchases the book and exits. Another (sometimes not happy about the purchase) sends a revision letter–and leaves. A third arrives, not happy with purchase or requested revisions, and sends another letter, or worse, edits so heavily and asks for so many revisions of the manuscript that the original story disappears and the result is a mish-mash of conflicting voices.

Yes, it happens. More often than you will believe.

The editor who bought my first book called to congratulate me on the sale.

My then-agent liked to save money and hadn’t called to tell me my book had sold. (She wrote a letter I hadn’t yet received. Remember the days when long-distance calls were a luxury? She certainly did.) So the editor’s call was a streak of lightning and a great way to start a relationship.

Only there was no relationship. At the end of the call she told me she was leaving my publisher.

The editor who edited the book was great, and I met her at that year’s Romantic Times conference. Happy with the relationship, I watched her disappear, too, after a couple of books. Meantime I’d begun writing for another publisher simultaneously and went through multiple editors there.

I was beginning to get the picture. Never get attached.

My next editor at my first publisher swore she loved my books and did a great edit. But when I submitted an idea for the next book, she didn’t like it. Nor did she like the next. At this point my telephone-phobic agent spoke to the head of the line who suggested we switch editors.

Enter Leslie Wainger.

Leslie was the head of a line of books I wanted to write for. She had a reputation as a demanding editor but one who allowed the author to keep her voice intact. Voice? Easiest way to explain it: Voice is what sets one author’s work apart from another’s. The way words and ideas are used. The individual way a novel is structured. Some editors have preferences they press on the author. Others, like Leslie, allow the author to be herself while corralling that author’s worst instincts.

Since that fortunate pairing began, Leslie edited more than fifty of my novels.

Leslie, like most good editors, is a psychologist. She understood what I couldn’t tolerate and gave me freedom. At the same time she offered good counsel, just the right amount, and edited with an eye to keeping the book mine. She taught me what a good editor does for a novel, and when I found more good editors at Berkley (Cindy Hwang) and Avon (Ellen Edwards) I recognized them and was happy to work together.

Last week Leslie announced her retirement.

Those of us who have loved working with her will be so sorry to see her go. At the same time we’re delighted she’ll have more time now to do the things she loves most. (The photo is a hint about one of her passions. )

But now the anxiety begins. Will my new editor understand and like what I do? Will she know when to edit and when to step aside?

I look forward to new possibilities, while at the same time, I will mourn the end of something special.

Farewell, Leslie, the patient and tolerant. I have loved working with you and will always be grateful for your help and good nature. I’m not always easy to work with, but you made me believe in myself and my writing.

Enjoy the retirement you’ve earned. And don’t forget my email address, okay?


  1. Penny A L Prichard on July 27, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Here’s to a wonderful new editing relationship.

    I knew you were a prolific (and terrific) author but I did not know that you have written over 50 books. I thought I’d read all of your work. Not so! Is there a list of all of your titles?

  2. Shelley Costa on July 27, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Wonderful piece, Emilie. Touching and wise.

  3. Casey on July 27, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Best of luck to Leslie on her new adventure. And to you, too, Emilie that you find yourself with another editor who is as hard-working and talented.

  4. Casey on July 27, 2016 at 7:56 am

    PS, forgot to mention…Not sure, but I might hold the world’s record. I wrote 4 books for Harlequin under the name of Connie Lane. Over the course of those 4 books, I had 16 editors!

    • Emilie Richards on July 27, 2016 at 8:10 am

      Casey, I think it’s entirely possible that somewhere there’s a plaque with your name on it. This has to be a record.

  5. Marsha Markham on July 27, 2016 at 11:02 am

    I really enjoyed this view into what it takes to write a book! There must be a lot of floor pacing until the book actually hits the shelves.

    I hope Leslie enjoys her retirement years…new adventures await her and I’m pretty sure she’ll enjoy hearing how she was appreciated.

  6. April on July 27, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Great tribute to a great coworker! Best wishes for her new goals!

  7. Nancy Lepri on July 27, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    It’s so hard to find someone you click with and who knows your “voice,” but I imagine it must be harder to lose that person. Like starting over? Ugh! Those of us who love your books know your new editor will keep true to you, or else, “avid reader” will let her know! Best wishes for Leslie and I’m confident you’ll find someone who won’t steer you wrong!

  8. Leslie Wainger on July 28, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Can you see the sky lighting up in the east as I blush?

    I didn’t rush to read this right away because…well, because many things. Praise embarrasses me. I’m going to miss working on your books so much and didn’t want to cry. This is my last week, and it already felt strange and a little bit scary, though exciting, too. But today I put on my big-girl pants and came over to read this, and I’m so glad I did.

    I’m not perfect at my job – my former job! yikes! – but I always tried, and you understand that and perfectly explained everything I aspired to be as an editor.

    Thank you. All these years and every one of those books has been a pleasure. Trust me, your contact info is already in my phone. And just so you know, I’m counting on you to send autographed copies of all the books to come.

    Much love and many thanks not only for letting me share your career but for the friendship we’ll always share.

    • Emilie Richards on July 28, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      You know how much you’ll be missed, but I’ll be cheering on this new phase of your life and forever grateful I shared so much of the former one. You bet you’ll get autographed copies. Just no editorial letters afterwards, okay? 🙂

      • Leslie Wainger on July 28, 2016 at 6:06 pm

        Only compliments – which will, as always, be easy to give. 🙂

    • Peggy A Myers on May 10, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      Congratulations on your retirement! I am just learning of this. Would love to catch up with you!
      Find out how you are etc.
      Look forward to hearing from you!

      • Emilie Richards on May 15, 2018 at 1:38 pm

        Hi Peggy, I don’t think Leslie will see this, since it’s a post about her, not by her, but maybe I can send this on to her.

      • Leslie Wainger on May 15, 2018 at 2:27 pm

        Hi Peggy. It’s been an interesting time. I moved back to western NY state, where I grew up, and went through the stress of selling one house and buying another, something I hope never to go through again. But now I’m settled, even if nowhere near organized, and I’ve started my volunteering again (local animal shelter, plus I’ve signed up for the next training session at the local zoo), so I feel I really live here now.

        I’ve pretty much retired from book-doctoring, too, but I still have that address:, so feel free to drop a line.


  9. Anita Friedman on August 22, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    I don’t know you but found a baby picture among old photos of James Martin Wainger at 6 months. I thought it may be your father and am happy to share it with you.

    • Leslie Wainger on March 28, 2022 at 7:12 pm

      Anita, I *just* found this buried in my mailbox. That must be my father – the middle name is the kicker – and I’d love to see it and share it with Mom and my sisters. (Dad has passed, sadly.) I don’t book-doctor anymore but do still have my address. These days it mostly gets spam, but I do check periodically to see if any real email has come in.

      Thanks so much for the offer. I can’t wait to see the photo.


Leave a Comment