Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Tips To Make Editing Less Painful

By Rebecca Bloomer

I was an English teacher before I took up writing. I was a really good English teacher; so good that not only did I get to teach overseas, but a university actually let me teach future teachers. You can imagine then, how much I love being edited. Not much at all, actually.

The first time I was properly edited, I fumed, I cried and I seethed for hours (I kid you not, hours). In bed after my first ever round of edits I harangued my poor husband. “If they don’t like my work, why did they buy the book? Did they just need and Aussie author in their stable? If they wanted an Aussie, why then, are they changing my spelling and my slang? I think they’re going to ruin my book. And she said I head-hop. Like that’s a bad thing. Nora Roberts head-hops continuously, I bet her editor doesn’t hassle her!”

My litany of complaints continued, until my forbearing man reached his limit. He sighed and said “Darling, you’ve written one book so far, how many do you think your editor has edited?”

Hmmm. This was a lesson for me, so I’m using it as a teachable moment for you:

If you’re signed with a publisher, it is entirely possible that your editor has seen more manuscripts than you’ve seen roast dinners. Writing is your specialty, editing is theirs, let them do their job. I promise it will make you look good (on so many levels).

Once you’re picked up by a publisher of any kind (traditional, Indie, or ebook) the book is no longer yours, it’s theirs. They paid good money for it and they’re unlikely to do anything that will make the book worse.
Money Talks. It’s unlikely that proven ‘sellers’ are edited as brutally as newbies. In my (humble) opinion, this is why it’s easy to see the quality of some bestsellers’ work drop. People are too afraid to tell them they need to change.

Have a wine before you go to bed, it makes you less likely to whine when you’re in bed.

Following those first demoralising experiences, I picked myself up and learned to really appreciate the work of my editors. I produced a further three romances and four YA novels. Each one was progressively easier and less traumatic than that first edit. As I’ve progressed, I’ve stumbled upon a few hints and tips that would have made that first experience a lot less painful.

Tip 1 - Love Thy Enemy

Editors are essential. Don’t hire your mother (or your son) to do the job for you. If you’re self-publishing, hire a professional. Look through the acknowledgements pages of books you’ve enjoyed or go to the governing body for editors in your state or country. There you will find great editors. When I say great, I don’t mean friendly or fun. Great editors are usually mean. They lay out the problems with your books and writing like they enjoy cutting out your heart (indeed, they probably do). By being your meanest reader, a great editor is protecting you from other, more public mean readers. Editors don’t post their criticisms on Amazon, or Smashwords; other critics will. Mean editors before publication are always better than honest critics after, so get yourself an editor.

Tip 2 - Get A Critique Partner

While it might seem like masochism for someone who hates editing to insert a preemptive editing step before the book goes to the publisher, it’s actually a form of self-preservation. Approach a writer who writes in your same genre. Ask them to read your manuscript and make comments. Offer to do the same for them in return (my crit-partner and I do this via email using track changes). Crit-partners can tell you things like which characters don’t ‘ring true‘, which words make them cringe, and whether anything jolts them out of the story. Crit-partners are partners not panderers. They won’t soft-soap you but they’ll tell you what they love as well as what they hate. That’s a good thing.

Tip 3 - Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

The placement of every single comma and whether or not to use a particular conjunction, is not your department. Publishers and publications all have their own style guide and they’ll work your manuscript over until it fits. As long as the meaning of the sentence or story isn’t affected, let it go. Writers are very good ‘big picture’ people, we know how the story should ‘feel’. By the time we’re done with the story, we’re reading what we think we see, rather than what is actually on the page. For this reason, I suggest not getting into protracted arguments with editors regarding tiny details. Free yourself from the minutiae. Better you should spend time making ready for the next story.

Tip 4 - Maintain A Spine

Editors know a lot, it’s true. Some ‘baby’ editors though, don’t realise they’re not the author. Editing should never change essentials like character, voice, tone, theme or plot (unless they spot a hole or inconsistency therein). They’re allowed to ask you to justify decisions you’ve made about these things and you’re allowed to defend said decisions. PLEASE NOTE: This Tip does not apply to magazine or newspaper articles. With those, as soon as you sign the contract, they can do whatever they want with your work and you need not approve of their changes, they don’t care.

Tip 5 - Say Thank You

A good editor will, without fail, make your book better. After eight books I’m still amazed by the way my editors take what I thought was a perfect manuscript, and make it better (I swear it’s some kind of voodoo they do do). No matter how hard they work your book into perfection, editors don’t usually get their name on the front cover. For this reason, you should be grateful and polite. You should also say ‘thank you’, be it in a letter of reference or in the acknowledgements section of your book, it will make a difference.

Now, I realise that with all this, I might sound like a bit of a sell out. I’m not. I’ve been edited as a freelancer, a romance writer, a YA writer and an academic. Because of this, I know the difference an editor can make and I wish, whenever I put down (unfinished) a good story full of editorial glitches, that everyone else did too.

If you’re one who’d like to know more, just let me know, I’d be glad to throw some more light on the subject.

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