Actually, for a writer, the tomayto/tomahto thing doesn’t matter as it’s all in the pronunciation. But those of us who are published in separate US and UK/Australian editions do have to face a string of differences: got vs gotten, further vs farther and practise vs practice, for instance, not to speak of the Oxford comma and many other strange points of difference in English usage on opposite sides of the Atlantic. (Note, Australians use UK style.)
Yes, it’s editing time. I’m not yet confronting details such as spelling and punctuation, which belong to the next step in the journey to publication, the copy edit. I am dealing with a double set of notes, the combined input on my new YA novel, Shadowfell, from my American and Australian editors.
Some writers love structural edits. I am not one of them. I await my editors’ comments with profound misgivings. This has not lessened much over the course of thirteen novels (Shadowfell is number 14) despite the fact that all but one of my past editorial reports have been very positive. I regard my manuscript as precious. Before my editors get to see it, I’ve lavished much love, care and angst on it, not to speak of a vast amount of time. I’ve polished it until I can see my reflection on every shining page. It’s done, finished, ready. Not.
Out of those thirteen novels, there hasn’t been one that needed no work at all after I typed THE END. That simply doesn’t happen. In every manuscript the editors find flaws, plot holes, unconvincing motivations, slow passages, repetitions, omissions, silly errors. And sometimes when the report comes in, and I’m tired and busy and wanting to get on with Project B, it can be hard to sit down and tackle the complex and tricky task of complying with the editorial suggestions in a way that is true to my own authorial vision. Sometimes the editorial report makes me angry or sad, as if someone I know and trust had kicked my dog or told me my child was ugly. And yet I always get the work done, and done on time. What’s the trick?
It’s about being professional. It doesn’t matter if this is your first book or your fourteenth, though clearly experience helps with handling the revision process. Here are some suggestions for weathering the editorial storm:
1. Allow yourself time before you start the job. That is, take time to get over your shocked reaction to your editor’s comments. Unless her notes are entirely glowing (unlikely) you can expect to be angry, combative, tearful, and a whole range of other negative emotions. Read the editorial report ONCE ONLY, then shove it in a drawer, have a nice cup of tea, and spend two days doing something else. By day 3 you will be calmer, and you’ll be ready to admit, with some reluctance, that maybe some of your editor’s suggestions are … kinda … right.
2. Read the editorial report right through again, making notes. Any points that strike you as especially useful / misguided? Has the editor perhaps made errors of interpretation? Is she confused? Or might the problem lie with your writing?
3. Don’t get too strung up on your characters. I’m very fond of my characters. I know them inside out. I tend to leap to their defence (defense?) if anyone challenges the way they do things. If you have the same issue, learn to step away and listen to good advice. Your character may be real and perfect to you, but if some aspect of her behaviour strikes a false note with your editor, then the same thing will probably happen with the reader. In cases like this, compromise is often the best solution. The editor doesn’t like the way you’ve done it; you don’t like her suggested alteration. Find a different way to achieve the same effect, one that works for both of you and is true to your understanding of the character.
4. Kill your darlings. You should have done that before the ms went to the editor, but if any of them are still there and slowing the pace down, get rid of them. A little bit of lyrical description goes a long way. Ditto passages of humorous dialogue or extended introspective musings by the character who is really you in disguise. Don’t hate your editor for suggesting cuts, she is only doing her job.
5. Work with your editor. I know some writers have agents and/or editors who look at the ms and offer feedback during the actual writing process. If you work that way, you don’t need my advice on this point. I don’t show my ms to my agent or editor until I think it’s finished. That’s what suits me. But once I get the editorial report I stay in regular email contact with my two editors as I work through it, querying anything unclear and running those compromise ideas past them. And I make sure they talk to each other, so we all end up on the same page, so to speak. If only to avoid getting the revised ms back again with requests for further changes, this is well worth doing. Make it a true cooperative process.
6. When it’s all over, don’t forget to thank your editor for a job well done.
Postscript: I have a particularly heavy writing load this year, on top of which I have taken on a couple of other professional commitments. Something has to give. I will be absent from Writer Unboxed for the next few months, but I expect to be back here towards the end of 2011. Meantime, happy writing and reading to all.