Writer Wednesdays #4: Let's Talk About Editing
Hello chops, welcome to another Writer Wednesday. Today we are going to be talking about editing. There are a few back and forth arguments on the nature of editing in the book world. Getting that first draft on paper is a monumental task, and that is only the first step of the process. Here you are, you have given life to this book child, and now you must endure the labor pains.
Editing is often a love/hate process. There are authors who go through it with clenched teeth, because editing can be a brutal process of give and take. There are authors who love it, who feel like they are clearing the debris to see the true treasure beneath. In either case, you should be prepared to go through several stages of editing, from pre-query to publish. Today, we will be discussing the expectations of those stages and what each stage looks like for you the author.
Behold, My Smol Book Child!
You’ve done it. Sound the horns, the draft is finished! Now what? Honestly, the best advice, time permitting, is to let that draft marinate for a few days. Giving your draft a bit of time to breathe will give your mind a chance to clear and come at the words with a fresh perspective. You now begin the process of polishing your draft.
When you are getting a novel ready to query, you want to present a polished work. Polished, not perfect; this means you edit to the best of your ability. It is a good idea to use whatever means you have, via digital aid like Grammarly or Scrivener, a reliable critique partner, and/ or a small test audience to help you pick up any glaring issues in your manuscript. Having your manuscript professionally edited at this point can prove somewhat redundant or counter intuitive because your publisher/ agent will still put you through their editing process. The point of the polish is so that those you are querying can see the potential of the story.
The Revise and Resub Question
Some stories have the potential, but might need a large tweak for the publisher or agent to take it on. A Revise and Resub is not a bad thing, but it is ultimately up to the author if they want to make the changes asked, or see if their story will spark interest elsewhere. Both avenues are worth pursuing because this business is incredibly subjective. Agents and publishers will say this like a mantra, and it’s true. Some parties prefer to work with some genres over others, or are only seeking a genre or story type at a certain time. Their preferences will have nothing to do with the quality of your piece, but if they feel they can sell the book in the current market. The revision they ask for may be something that makes your story stronger as a whole, a change you might not have been able to see when you’ve been buried in this manuscript for months. Or an R & R may ask you to significantly change the plot of your story. Consider what you are comfortable with changing, what makes sense with your creative vision, and evaluate how to move forward with your manuscript from there.
Egads, I have signed my unruly pre-pubescent book child
You’ve found your publishing avenue. Brace yourselves. The basic stages of editing your book from here are broken down into three phases→ Content, Line, and Proofreading.
Content Editing- A Conversation
This stage, I think, is the most labor intensive. Content edits are where the story gets the full prod down. Plot incongruities are dealt with, suggestions are made to strengthen weak descriptions and exposition, and the story gets the full beauty makeover; tighten, waxed, and tweezed. Sometimes, a story will need massive content edits, this is okay, but if you feel uneasy or unsure how to utilize editorial suggestions, I encourage conversation.
Open a dialogue with your editor. They are there to help you work through this editing tangle and they have the outside perspective that you need to succeed. If an edit isn’t working within the story, it might need a different tweak or direction that your content editor can help you find. Most publishers will go through at least two rounds of content edits before we move onto line edits.
Line Edits- The Glow Up
A good line editor is the gift that keeps on giving. They are there to take your manuscript and run it through a fine toothed comb. Line edits will make your manuscript a legible piece of fiction, pouncing on grammar and typo snafus. They address awkward sentence structures, unintentional fragments, and pinpoint all the odds and ends that need to be fixed to take your book child from unruly preteen to a prickly book teenager ready to take on the world. (I know this analogy is odd, but I’m in the thick of it now, so we stick with it.) It is important to note, line edits are not about content, they are about grammar rules, repetition issues, and textual problems. If your line editor is pointing out some glaring contextual issues, it might need another round of content edits.
Proofreading- Teamwork makes the dream work
If editing were a video game, this would be the final boss. Proofreading is vital, it is the final tune up before the book goes into production. This is the stage where your proofreaders and you, the author, read over everything and catch last minute errors. It can be incredibly difficult from the author perspective because you’ve read this piece so many times your brain might be reading what is supposed to be on the page, rather than what is on the page. A proofreader will be that indispensable extra pair of eyes helping you sift through your manuscript for those typos and last minute ‘oops’.
As a final caveat and gentle reminder, we are all human. There will inevitably be those typos that act like the 1% of germs after a Lysol power wash. There might be an eagle eyed reader who happens to spot a typo or two in your Advanced Review Copies. Take a breath and send it on up the chain. These things can be fixed.
At last, your book child has grown to a handsome and strong book adult, ready to strut their stuff in the big wide world.
The editing process is usually longer than the drafting process. It can be grueling, tedious, and by the end you might be slightly (or very) sick of your manuscript. It is important to step back when you are frustrated and remember your editorial team is there to help your manuscript be the best version it can be.