Light at the End of the Editing Tunnel

April 30, 2013
Why Isn’t the Book Published YET?
March 28, 2013
A Visit to My Publisher
June 3, 2013

I have been editing since early February. That was when the first editing notes arrived from Editor Iris. Then Editor Lorissa. Then Editors Noelle and Chandra. I’ve been editing at night after dinner, on weekends, and during our annual ski vacation. I wrote an acknowledgement and that got put through the copy editing filter also.

Throughout all this, the editors always say “But this is YOUR book. You don’t have to take our suggestions.” Right. Like I’m going to ignore the wisdom of people who have edited 12,000 books more than I have ever read, and who do this for a living.

 
 

Round 1 - Content/story edits: you know,  this is where you get feedback like:

  • Trying using dialogue more to convey the characters’ personalities
  • This character’s motivation is not clear enough
  • It’s her best friend, why isn’t she confiding in her more?
  • This is a turning point in the story, needs more drama
  • (… and the dreaded) Is this plausible?

These are comments that make you think really hard about what’s going on with your characters, how they behave, and the plot. You can’t get away with being lazy and glossing over scenes. Yes, you want to ‘show and not tell’ , not spell things out and insult the reader's intelligence; you want them to connect the dots. But you can’t leave too much distance between the dots either. And let’s be honest with ourselves-- Writing Buddies, sometimes we really haven’t done  what we should to develop our characters, have we?

I sent in the content edits, received wonderful and resoundingly positive feedback on the changes, and I was feeling pretty darn good. This is story development stuff. Plot, characters, dialogue. Everything else after this is just cleanup, right?

Round 2 - Line edits: Somehow I was under the delusion that once content edits were done, the worst was over. Because Editor Lorissa was going to send me her line edits: line by line suggestions about words appearing too often, inconsistencies, confused or confusing sentences, more/less descriptive language. She was going to do the hard work. All I’d have to do was accept or reject her suggestions. Easy.

Then came the line edits:

  • This dialogue feels a bit stilted, too formal
  • Add a bit more nuance to your exposition/explanations to keep this from feeling flat
  • What is her tone and manner when she says this?
  • Cut this —you don’t need to tell us again
  • This feels a bit general or generic, changed for more immediacy and vividness
  • This feels a bit overwritten, metaphor a bit heavy

And I’m not even going to get into how often I use certain words. By the time I’d finished reading through the line edits, I had no idea why my editor had bought this book.

“It’s a terrible book,” I wailed to my husband. “It’s full of bad writing!”

(I should mention that “wail” was one of the words I used too often). 

Hubby pointed out that line editing is part of the process for a reason. Obviously lots of other writers need line editing too, or else why would the line editor role even exist?

This was where the book lost about 5,000 words and I received a major lesson in the craftsmanship of less-is-more. The editors were thrilled with the results and wanted to push ahead at top speed on the copy edits. Copy edits! Yaay!

Round 3 - Copy edits: It was going to be easy going, I was sure, because the copy editor would be checking for historical accuracy, making sure of consistency in timelines, word usage. You know, small stuff I’ve checked over umpteen times. I even sent along a spreadsheet that mapped events in the timeline of the novel against real events in history -- with Wikipedia links to the historical events. Editor Chandra was going to do the hard work. All I’d have to do was accept or reject her suggestions. Easy. And then ... 

  • Is this the right word to use in this situation? Appropriate for the era?
  • There are three instances of this word on the same page, need to vary
  • This description used again 14 chapters down, need to vary
  • Who wrote/translated this poem? Need to get permission to use if not author’s own
  • Is this the title of a real or fictional song? 

I mean, I thought I had done a pretty good job by checking to make sure the perfume one character uses (Shalimar) was actually available in 1928 and that the roses in the garden were old-fashioned varieties. Nope, copy editor got even more granular than that with the “real or not” questions. To the point where I wailed “It’s about a ghost with three souls. It’s FICTION!”

Damn. I used that W word again.

And by the way, apparently Wikipedia is not sufficient proof of historical fact.

Big lesson learned: When I work on my next novel, I am going to document every, single, freaking historical detail and where I read it, or where I found documented evidence of something, even if I already knew it.

Copy editing is now over. Next comes proof reading. Which I know will be a breeze because after years of business writing, my spelling, grammar, and punctuation are pretty good and … hmmm. OK. 

But yaaay, proofreading! It's the final step and the light at the end of the editing tunnel. Did you ever think it was possible to get so excited about proofreading? Believe me, I'm excited.

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