This is the first time I’ve received an editorial report that seemed kinder than the ms deserved! On re-reading I found many flaws, especially in the sections I wrote while sick last year: slow pacing, repetitiveness, just plain clunky style. Add those to the points picked up by the editors, and the result was a very busy month indeed. It’s worth noting that I had revised the ms extensively before it first went off to the editors, so these were weaknesses I hadn’t been able to identify even when I thought the book was finished and polished. As I’m always telling people, time out from your ms (a few weeks at least) allows you to see it through fresh eyes.
Neither of the editors had any issue with the dual first person point of view in the novel, nor did they have a problem with one narrator using present tense and the other past tense. I wasn’t asked to make any structural changes. The edits were mostly to do with pacing and character development. Sometimes quite subtle alterations to the way a scene is written can speak reams about the relationships between the characters. I worked hard to improve the pacing, cutting some favourite scenes that dwelt on the old, well-loved Sevenwaters characters rather than developing this book’s protagonists or advancing the action. Although the novel is part of an ongoing series, it must be strong enough to stand alone as well.
My editors also identified my fondness for domestic scenes (women chatting as they sew or cook; people sitting around a table eating) and I reduced these considerably. I was surprised when an editor pointed out how many times characters felt sick or weak, looked pale or were on the point of collapse in this novel! I put it down to fellow feeling; I wrote some of those scenes while hooked up to intravenous chemo and some during the seven weeks of radiotherapy, when one feels like sleeping all the time. I cut most of those references, saving the tears, pallor and fainting for moments of high drama. I should add that a lot of the action takes place in an infirmary, but there’s no chemo, only poultices, leeches and seaweed tonic. And a good old medieval cure for kidney damage.
By the time this post goes up, my editors will be reading the revised ms. If they’re happy, the ms will go out to a copy editor to be checked for errors in grammar, punctuation, style and logic (‘The moon was full on page 296, it can’t be full again on page 343 because only ten days have passed’, that kind of thing.). It will make its way back to me in early May so I can check the copy editor’s amendments and suggestions. The plan is to get that out of the way before I travel to Queensland for my son’s wedding, since I don’t want to take a bundle of pages on the plane with me – this stage of editing gets marked up on a hard copy.
Copy edits vary. Some copy editors restrict themselves to the elements I’ve listed in the previous para. Others do what amounts to a second full edit, commenting on aspects of plot or character as well. When I find those comments insightful I’m happy to make changes, but by that stage I’m generally all edited out and never want to look at the thing again. I hope for a light copy edit. After that, there’s only the proof reading to go (twice, for the Australian and American editions in turn.).
This stuff can be pretty time consuming. Each stage has quite a tight deadline, and at the same time I’m generally trying to get on with writing a new book, or – as is the case this time around – attempting to bash a proposal into a form my publisher will be happy with. Yes, 2010 is shaping up as an exceptionally busy year, perhaps to compensate for 2009, a lot of which was spent in hospitals and clinics or lying on the couch.
Recreational reading goes out the window at such times; I’m lucky if I can get through the daily newspaper and a couple of favourite blogs. Perhaps during that wedding trip I can start catching up on some of the fantastic-looking novels I have on my ‘to be read’ stack.
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