Whoever Told You Editing Was Easy is Nuts

do not want dog

I’ve spent the past ten years reading fabulous manuscripts, signing authors, editing, and sending those edits back to the authors. Aside from showing them their cover art for the first time, editing is the most sphyncter-puckering thing I do. Well, aside from telling the beagle when we’ve run out of tequila.

The biggest culprit in the sphyncter-pucker arena is Time. It’s been months and months when you turned in your manuscript, and Father Time draws you into a false sense of security that your writing is perfect, and will remain so. For-ev-er.

As a result, the most common reaction I see to receiving line edits:  Uninhibited shock. Most common comment I see after delivering line edits to authors: “Holy (insert colorful metaphor)! I haven’t read my manuscript since I sent it to you (insert number of months) ago!” This is followed by more exclamations of chagrin at having EVER allowed their book to come to me in “that” condition.

Here’s the thing; the manuscript is great. I wouldn’t have signed you, otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass from an editorial spin and rinse cycle. So months later, when you see all the red in the line edits, accompanied by a pages-long editorial letter, you’re ready to drink a final margarita and toss yourself under the 28X bus headed for Pittsburgh.

It’s about this time when you may begin the doubting process: How could I have been so silly as to not see this? Or that? And ohmyholyliver, what was I thinking when I included that scene????

R-E-L-A-X. The idea of all those red marks on manuscripts aren’t there to call you out, but to make you shine. The story is wonderful. The purpose of editing is to make it double secret probation wonderful, and editors have the gift of being the unbiased observer. Editors didn’t live the story 24/7/365 days a year, as you did when you were writing it. They’re reading with fresh eyes, so it’s far easier to find the continuity issues, or clumsy scene, or the character that seems one dimension shy of full development.

Don’t bash yourself because you didn’t see it. Editing is not easy. You’re allowing a perfect stranger (ok, we can’t really attest to how perfect they are…just ask the beagle) to lay hands upon your writing and pass judgement on your writing, and comment on how she feels your story would be stronger. It’s natural to feel protective over something you’ve created, but it’s helpful to remember that we’re on the same side, with a common goal.

Editor Notes: Give yourself time to read the editor notes a few times because they’re jam packed with all kinds of nuggets about how to improve your writing. Not only do we talk about specifics in the manuscript – a chapter that doesn’t work, further development for a character – but we also include consistent habits that could use some attention…passive writing, POV switches, or not digging deep enough on an emotional level. It’s my hope that the author will apply those comments to improve their future writing.

The Manuscript

Print it out: It’s easier to see the warts.

Read it in full: Don’t do any editing at this time. You need to re-familiarize yourself with your story and have better context in which to understand your editor’s comments.

Take a deep breath

Refer back to the editor notes.

THEN begin with your edits: Do this slowly. Reason being, you need to make sure that your “now” voice blends in with the “you” who wrote this story ages ago. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve seen a number of cases where the writer has evolved, and the rewrites stand out from the old work.

Ask questions:  Any editor expects authors to have questions, be it a clarification or a question of rewrites. If your editor offers a Skype convo, then go for it. There is nothing like being able to go page by page with your editor so you understand exactly what they mean.

Be mindful that editing is not for those lacking strong intestinal fortitude. You’re dealing with a running commentary on your creativity from someone you don’t know, and it’s hard not let your ego get the better of you. My suggestion is to give Ms. Ego a few weeks vacation, and revel in the fact that you have someone whose goal it is to make your story sing like the angels.

Oh…and don’t forget that an extra bottle tequila never hurts.

13 Responses to Whoever Told You Editing Was Easy is Nuts

  1. Allen Parker says:

    I believe the mark of an author is when they look forward to edits. Nothing says you are learning your craft than when you can expect a healthy massaging of the words you wrote. I don’t always agree with the editors, but I find that, almost without exception, they point out a weakness that needs to be addressed.

    I used to say that if you write, you are a writer. If you created, then you are an artist, and if you created stories, you are an author. In the worlds today, anyone can publish. Anyone can write and create, but to be an author, one must realize that means you are part of a team and that you share the title of author with your publisher, editor and the people around you that support you, both emotionally and physically.

    It’s from this point that I strive to be the best author I can. Maybe someday, I will achieve that goal. Author, King, and Master of the English Language, if my wife lets me.

  2. Tom Elias says:

    I’d like to think I’ll take edits well if I ever get an agent. This is informative – the agent’s, and the editor’s – point of view is important.

  3. Ironically enough, Allen, most authors do look forward to edits. It’s when they see all the red that the freak-out begins because they simply had no idea what editing entails.

    It’s like those dye tablets the dentist gives you to show you where your toothbrush missed the mark. Naturally, we all think we’re great toothbrushers, so it can be alarming to you see the dye staining your teeth and realize the many places that need further brushing attention.

  4. ericjbaker says:

    God help me if I ever get the false sense of security that my writing is perfect. I’ve been at it for years, and I’m still looking for a sign that it doesn’t suck.

    I edit corporate documents, and writers frequently ask me if I cut myself… because there’s so much red everywhere.

    I tell them, “Hey, you started with a blank page and built a cogent article or proposal from nothing. I’m just the interior decorator.”

  5. I LOVE this! Interior decorator. Mind if I steal this? Brilliant…and so true.

    “Cut myself…” Hahahaha…there are times when I’d like to.

  6. April Moore says:

    This post couldn’t be more timely for me. My editor has had my ms for several months now and I’m either thinking, Man, it must be great; no edits necessary, or Crap, they’re really going to town on it! I was told I’d get the first round this next week, so your advice is extremely helpful. Thanks!

  7. Jan says:

    Yes, it’s great when authors respond by saying, ‘How did I miss that?’ Not so good when they start arguing back: ‘But I was trying to show that…’ It’s very tempting to reply, ‘You may have been trying to do that but you failed. I’m explaining how you can fix it.’
    To be fair, I find that most authors are very responsive on the first book. By their third, they are beginning to feel like ‘established authors’ and think that therefore they don’t need editing. Ever noticed how even the great (=best-selling) writers’ subsequent books get more bloated? Harry Potter, His Dark Materials etc. Sure sign that eventually no one had the courage to edit them…

  8. Val says:

    What a relief to know even with a red stained manuscript, the editor is still saying “it’s good,” let’s just make it better. I really enjoyed this post! Thanks!

  9. From the little time I have been a developmental editor I noticed that most writers eagerly anticipate my feedback. It feels great to know that people who make a living from writing actually value and respect my opinion enough to change their writing.
    When I first started editing I would send the book to the writer with remarks, nervous of what their response would be. Over ninety percent of the time the writer would say something along the lines of, “Wow, everything you pointed out is spot on”. But then there were those few writers who would get offended from constructive criticism. They see me trying to help their book as attacking their book. This is the most facepalming part of the job for me.
    I’m going to shut my mouth now…I feel a tangent coming on.

  10. csuzeq says:

    What should a self publisher do when they cannot afford the editing fee? When I started writing, I planned to pay for solid editing, but then had a major income cut. Now the book is ready to go and the best I can do is have 3 trusted friends edit for me. Although I want to hope to pay for editing later and republish a new version. I just do not want to wait several months to pay the editor.

  11. csuzeq says:

    And I should have mentioned the book is a self help type book, explaining how to deal with a very specific issue that many editors may not know anything about.

  12. Lynn Price says:

    Csuzeq, your frustration is common, and I always have to ask new writers their intent for their book; is it to put out a fabulous book, or to say that you’re a published author?

    There’s a huge difference. The former means that you’ve taken all the right steps to produce a first rate book, which means editing. If you were signed with a trade press, your editor would perform all the editorial duties to ensure you have a strong story.

    Even though you’re on your own, you still owe it to yourself and your hard work to put out a quality book – which means you need to be properly edited and have attractive cover art. Many first time authors don’t appreciate the experience and hard work that go into editing and cover design, so they end up putting out a very sloppy book.

    Your subject matter isn’t nearly as important as how it’s written, and this is where a solid editor will be the difference between a very good book and a really horrible book. They will help refine your organization, pacing, flow, beat out the fluff, and make sure your syntax and voice shine through.

    Personally, if I didn’t have the finances to take care of the most important elements of book production, I’d shelve the entire project until such time that my finances allowed for proper production costs.

    To do anything else would be to put out a less than stellar book that no one buys. You can’t stuff a genie back into the bottle, and that book will be out there forever. Is this what you want? I tell my authors all the time; I want it good, not fast.

    Lynn Price Acquisitions Director Behler Publications lynn@behlerpublications.com 800-830-2913 http://www.behlerpublications.com (sent from my tablet)

  13. This is a great primer for a get-down-to-it dialog between editor and writer, to help manage expectations.
    And I love the interior decorator comment, too!
    Thanks for posting.

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