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.
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.