I’ve just finished a rewrite of my novel-in-progress, The Best of Adam Sharp—which is to say we’re in the midst of the editing process. This is my fifth book (including two non-fiction), so, while I can’t claim to be a veteran, I have learned a bit about the editing process from the writer’s perspective.
I thought I’d share a few of the things that I have to remind myself of—consciously and constantly—if I want the best result for my book, my sanity and my relationship with my publisher. I haven’t self published: if you’re going that route, you’ll need to adapt the advice as you see fit.
- Editing is not a hurdle; it’s about working together to get the best possible book. School, university and (for some of us) academic publication has given us a model in which we do whatever it takes to satisfy someone else—to get our work over the line. Once you have a publisher who’s accepted your book, forget about pleasing them and start seeing them as a partner in getting the result you (and your readers) want.
- Your mindset is We’re making it better. Every time you open that document, that’s what you’re trying to do. When you hit save, most of the time you’ve achieved that. Sure, save a backup in case you decide to go back. You hardly ever will. But from time to time, look back and see how far it’s come from the last time you thought it was finished.
- Familiarise yourself with the editing process—and the basic terminology. You’re (possibly) going to go through developmental, structural, stylistic (line) and copy editing. You should know what these are, what to expect from your editor at each stage, and what you will be expected to give back. Don’t waste your editor’s time having them teach you terminology, but do ask them to summarise what their approach to your book will be.
- Negotiate the mechanisms with your editor. Many editors have a love of paper compared with electronic formats, which frequently makes tracking of changes difficult. I hate making changes to a printed document, after being accustomed to working with a word processor—the page ends up an unreadable mess. Once it’s typeset, the cause is generally lost: I push to leave this as late as possible. If editors are changing your document directly, insist on changes being highlighted / tracked. (Of course they’d do this, right? No.)
- Don’t waste your editor’s time on the easy stuff. Think of it this way: your editor has only so much time, energy and creativity to devote to your book. The better their starting point, the better the outcome. If they’re spending their time fixing basic problems, they’ll have less to devote to the tricky stuff. And they’ll enjoy it less, which may mean they’re less engaged. So…
- Don’t submit the first draft. You know that, surely. Put it aside, come back, do at least one re-write before showing it to anyone else and…
- Get feedback before you submit. Editors may tell you not to do this: I suggest you ignore them. You should have a few trusted readers to look at least at your initial manuscript. My rule is that I consider all feedback and if more than one reader identifies the same problem, I consider it very very seriously. If you have trouble with spelling or grammar or are just sloppy (some people just can’t see that missing word) get someone who’s good at it to check it.
- Read it aloud. All the way through. To someone (to stop you cheating). I do this before I submit for the line edit—at which point I want it to be as near to perfect as it can be, in keeping with having my editor start from a good base as they look for my awkward phrasings, repeated words, etc.
- Focus on the broad problems identified by the editors, not their specifics or the suggested solution. Neil Gaiman nailed it: Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Get over yourself. Re-read Point 9. There probably is a problem. There’s no point getting all righteous about how badly the editor has expressed it or how stupid their solution is. No one’s listening, except your long-suffering partner. There’s a problem. Get to work fixing it.