Surviving Edits in 12 Easy Steps – from my side of the desk

I know, I know, it’s all about the author. And it really is. My friend Carolyn Rosewood has a post on her blog about surviving edits, and I thought it would be fun to take her points and pull a switcheroo, just so you can see things from my side of the desk…if that sort of thing floats your boat.

1) CALM DOWN. Don’t try to read the entire document at once. You’ll get drunk, or at least be tempted to. And it’s very hard to edit while drunk. Not that I’d know.

What’s the worry? We get drunk here all the time when we’re editing. You think we keep the beagle around for her winning personality? Her margaritas are so strong, that we’re swinging from the rafters by noon.

Ok, kidding aside, this is sound advice. Reading crits it all at once is fraught with danger because you’ll see hundreds of comments off to the side and probably a separate page that includes a long critique about what she did, why she did it, and problems that she sees consistently cropping up in your writing.  It’s a lot to absorb, so take your time.

I’ve seen authors want to fold up their tents and go home because the editing process was so brutal. I admit that I do edit our authors to within an inch of their lives, so I’m sure they feel like they’ve been through a war zone by the time we’re done. But I’d like to think that our books are far better for it. Remember, it’s not personal. We love your books and we’re that unbiased angel whose sole purpose is to make your book shine.

2) Realize how much time and work your editor took with the changes. She did. Really.

Carol isn’t just whistlin’ Dixie here. We work our Vickie Secrets off during the editing process. We read Each. And. Every. Word. When I’m in editing mode, it’s not unusual to work from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. And on the weekends. Especially if I have manuscripts stacked up like jets on the runway.

3) Learn how to use Track Changes in Word. Um… yeah… this one… learn it before those first edits arrive, okay? Trust me on this one. 🙂

Ok, if was cool to kiss Carol straight on the mouth without drawing the ire of her hubby and my Mr. Sweetcheeks, I would. We make certain assumptions when we sign a new author:  they are professionals, they know how to put sentences together in really groovy ways, they know the difference between a sentence fragment and comma splices, AND THEY HAVE MS WORD AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT.

Yes, yes, I know many of you hate Word, but it’s the gold standard by which we all work, so it’s wise to suck it up and get it. The freebie version OpenOffice is great, but it doesn’t read the comments correctly, so it can be confusing. This is fine for your personal writing, but if you have a book deal, for petesakes, buy Word. And learn how to use it.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to try to teach someone how to use the Track Changes feature. It’s like the time I tried to teach the beagle to drive a stick shift. Utterly hopeless, and I had a hell of a time explaining things to the nice policeman who took exception to the beagle driving over his motorcycle.

4) Read through the entire thing first, slowly.

Yes, always a good idea to read it through first before you begin making edits or rewrites. Sometimes we’ve made a comment further down in the chapter, and you might think of something that will combine both those comments together in one single rewrite. Besides, reading it through first gives you the overall feel for what your editor is communicating with you.

5) Try not to freak out as you do (4).

I disagree. Freak the hell out. You know you want to. Don’t fight it. Eat a pound of chocolate and drink five martinis in a row. You’ll wake up with a terrible headache, but you’ve gotten it out of your system.

6) Edit at the time of day you’re most fresh. It will be easier. Trust me. Oh, and if you wrote the original MS to music, edit to that music as well. It will help you recall the emotion. 🙂

I agree with this. It’s the same for me as well. It’s much easier to edit when I’m fresh. Problem is, my “fresh” lasts for about an hour. That would make editing a single manuscript impossible, so I work even during advanced stages of staleness. And though I’m a bit gamey, I would much rather work all day long because I’m completely absorbed in your manuscript. I’m in the flow, the groove, mainlining the ink, riding the quill highway, doing the literary lambada…wha’? TMI? Ok, you get my drift. I’m engaged, as they say.

You, on the other hand, need to be clever and witty with your rewrites. It’s harder to do when you’re tired and cranky. Unless you’re the beagle, in which case that’s when you get your best work done.

7) Break the document into number of pages you need to edit each day to make your deadline.

8) Then double that number of pages, and set that as your daily goal. Just in case. Things happen, we get busy, and if you leave yourself no extra time you’ll miss your deadline. It’s part of some Law, I’m sure. And it will piss off your editor. You do NOT want to do that.

You’ll be given a deadline for your edits. It could be a couple weeks or a month. Whatever the deadline, DO NOT MISS IT. We have very tight schedules with little wiggle room. Things have been set in motion many months ago, back when the ink on your contract was still drying. Your editor discussed the season for your book’s release, had to talk to cover art, get all the copy written so it could get into their catalog. Sales teams have been alerted and have the book on their schedules to pitch to the national accounts. Sales kits have been developed. And on and on and on…

So while it may seen like no big deal to be a couple weeks late, you really have no clue how that delay can gum up the works. Think of your book as a giant water wheel. It has to turn at a certain rate in order to keep the water flowing at an even pace. Too slow, and you risk flooding. Too fast, and you risk going dry. Stick a rock in the sprockets, and the wheel stops turning altogether. The water builds up and overflows the banks.

Avoid this. Really.

9) Go through each change one at a time. Slowly. Most don’t take that much time. Honest. Most of mine are a simple matter of accepting the change.

This is solid advice. There are all kinds of edits – simple things like rephrasing a sentence or elaborating on one point a bit more. They don’t take too much thought. But there are times when the foundation needs to be retooled, or a character needs to be fleshed out more or a scene has to be totally rewritten. That ain’t no small thing, and you need to take your time in order to maintain the same voice as your manuscript. Consistency is key here.

There have been times that I made changes to an author’s manuscript, taking special care to write in their voice. I’m not talking adding paragraphs or anything. Small stuff, like adding some action to signify a dialog tag – She tossed the cup across the room and watched it break against Tom’s head. “There, you two-timing windbag. That’s what if feels like to be cheated on.” I’ll make the addition because I may have felt there were too many talking heads and no action. But I have to do this as if I’m the author, and maintain their voice. It’s like when I used to try on my mom’s shoes when I was a kid. I’d become Mom, and start ordering my brothers around.

In those cases, you need to judge whether your editor struck the right tone and either accept or reject the edit.

10) Remember it’s your story. If something doesn’t sound right, read it out loud. If it still doesn’t sound right, don’t accept the change, and write your editor a very sweet comment explaining why it just doesn’t sound right. They’re human beings too. 🙂

BWAHAHAHA! We’re human? When did that happen, and why didn’t I get the memo? It’s ok to disagree with your editor. I’ve had my authors disagree with me from time to time. Don’t be afraid to do this. Carol’s right – this is your book, and you have to be happy with it. But you also need to have complete faith in your editor because it’s their dime that’s funding this whole endeavor. They want you to to be successful.

If you’re really adamant about something your editor wants to change, consider the possibility that the reason she wants the change is because you didn’t write that scene well enough. So it’s not about the actual scene at all, but the scene’s literary quality. Be thoughtful about your edits.

Let’s use an example. Say you have a scene that you need in there because it’s integral to something big in your story, only the editor wants to yank it out. You need to fully explain your reasons for keeping it in to your editor so she has a clearer idea as to why you wrote that scene. Once she understands, you two can discuss how to strengthen the scene so it accomplishes what you intended. It may be that the best move is to yank it. But only through discussion can your editor better understand your motivation for things that you wrote and are attached to.

11) Take frequent breaks but make your daily goal of so many pages. If you get behind, you’ll only stress yourself out trying to make up the pages, and the changes won’t be as good as if you took your time.

Dammit, Carol, when did you plant a bug in my office, and where is it? I can tell when someone has rushed the edits because the quality is horrendous. Nothing can ruin a good book quite like lousy edits. When I see cases of this, I’m tempted to send the manuscript right on back to the author with a note, “Nice try. Do again, please.” I’m very fortunate in that my authors edits have almost always been fantabulously stupendous. We may go back and forth on a few issues, but my authors are geniuses. That’s not to say I haven’t had my times of frustration, tho.

12) Celebrate!! You have edits! From an editor! And you’re on deadline! That means you’re one step closer to the finished book, and it means you’re that much closer to being a paid writer. 🙂

Yes, I second that. When I have a manuscript in the bag, I celebrate by making Sweetcheeks take me out to dinner where I can order something that’s totally not on my diet and makes me feel sinfully fantastic. I’m excited because I know the author is thrilled and relieved to be past that tough bump in the road. I’m excited because I know we’re one step closer to making this fabulous book a reality. I’m excited because I can let the author relax for five minutes while we work our magic in the background.

And most of all, I’m excited because I know that we have another fantastic book that will soon be unleashed to the reading world, and I can’t wait for the explosion.

So yes, you will survive edits because it’s the last step you’ll make before your book becomes a reality. Enjoy the process. Really.

13 Responses to Surviving Edits in 12 Easy Steps – from my side of the desk

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And really, seriously, keep reminding yourself that the editor is never, ever out to ‘ruin’ or ‘steal’ your work. One of my most humorous moments with an editor was when I second guessed the ending of a story. I was convinced it would not work. The editor sent it back with ‘You shouldn’t do X with the ending, but Y’. Y being what I initially had…

  2. Thank you, Lynn! 😀 I love your advice here!!

  3. Thanks, Carol, for letting me use your blog post.

  4. Wonderfully humorous, while being ever so true.

  5. Crowe says:

    Great blog, both of you. Though I had to take time out to giggle about “Mr Sweetcheeks” …

    Must dash off now to figure out how Track Changes works …

  6. Emma says:

    Wheeewww. Didn’t know if I wanted to read that or not lol, but Carol is far too sweet to say ‘My Ed’s a ~@~@#, working me to death! 🙂

  7. Jan says:

    Music to my ears. I, too, have had to try to teach authors to use track changes (it ain’t easy when they’re across the Atlantic and you’re doing it by email). They never seem to realise that having read all 120,000 words the first time, this time I REALLY just want to see where they’ve done the edits – I don’t want to read every word again. Lynn, you’re a star.

  8. Lynn, you’re so welcome! I really enjoyed reading this from your POV! Mr Sweetcheeks…LOL!!!!

    Emma, I hope all my edits are as pure genius as the ones for The Last Soul are! You ROCK! 🙂

    Sara, LOL!

  9. “I’m in the flow, the groove, mainlining the ink, riding the quill highway, doing the literary lambada…”

    That’s my favorite part.

    The least favorite?

    “Learn how to use Track Changes in Word.”

  10. Lari Don says:

    As a relatively new children’s author I found this extremely reassuring. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to read through an editor’s comments (hmmm) and changes (AARGH!) without swearing, slamming doors, and assuming that they just haven’t understood my book. I thought my calmer reaction was because I was getting better at writing the original draft, but I now think it’s because I’m starting to have faith in the editorial process, which will, in the end, regardless of swearing and door slamming, result in a better book.

  11. […] Great advice from editor Lynn Price on surviving the editing process. […]

  12. Sonia M. says:

    Such great advice!!! I’m finishing the first draft of my fantasy novel and will be getting input from my critque group. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about editing. Thanks so much for posting!

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