It's a common enough story, which I hear from many author colleagues, and I began to think about it. There are ways to survive the editing process, and these are some of the strategies that appear to help to overcome that desire to pull the kitchen knife out of the block. Self-editing may be the only option at times, and I plan to do a post on that subject. I used to self-edit, loathed it, but forced myself to study editing and qualified, so I know both sides of the coin now. Studying helped me to avoid many of the errors that I habitually made - and when it comes to editing, the more errors you rely on your editor to correct, the more expensive it is going to become, both in terms of money and turnaround times.
Imagine the scenario - you've penned your story, done a bit of tidying up, and now all you want to do is get on with the next one [I do anyway]. You pass the manuscript over to your editor. You hear nothing for a few days/weeks, and assume all is well, until you get the marked up copy back ... and then you wonder if your health insurance will cover you for the injuries you wish to inflict - sound familiar?
At the start of my self-publishing career, I did not have an editor - didn't actually think I needed one - and my work suffered for it. When I got one, I was overjoyed ... and all of my stories have been re-edited or edited since. But different issues began to emerge as a consequence of allowing someone else - at the start, a comparative stranger - to look at my work and basically tinker with it - which felt akin to allowing the paper-boy to change the oil in my pristine, 1976, Daimler Coupe V12 - not in your fucking dreams!
We have since developed a working process that mitigates a lot of the tension [no one touches that car!] and I hope the following guidance helps; it has definitely helped me, and my work is a great deal better for it, and the editing process is a good deal less stressful.
Be clear about what you actually want your editor to do. There's a big difference between getting them to critique a story outline vs getting a manuscript ready for publication. There are different types/stages of editing and your chosen editor may not be the best choice for all of them. Clue yourself up on the different stages - it'll also help you if you're trying to engage an editor who you don't know, and it'll help you to decipher the terminology. This article from the Newbie Author's Guide is a pretty decent summary :-
The Different Kinds of Editing
What do I want my editor to do? Answer the question - it will inform cost and timescale, and the quality of the end result.
Now plan three specific reviews before handing over your manuscript. I say this because, the earlier you trap an error/inconsistency, or even just a different word choice, the better.
When you start the reviews is up to you. I tend to leave my complete draft manuscripts untouched for anything between 3 days and 3 months.
Read the story and decide if you've met the original story prompt [call it a prompt for now] - did anything change? Something is bound to have changed - which is okay - but does it leave anything :- undone, unsaid, unresolved, ambiguous, unsatisfying? No; my story stacks up, or yes; and a bit of tidying up is warranted.
I invariably, as part of this second review, decide things like, which words will be italicised, the final names of things, whether to use real names for things or made up ones, whether the section and chapter breaks feel right, does it need a prologue or an epilogue? I do not write to a strict style guide; I vary it according to the story. Your editor may have experience of working with formal style guides - i.e. The Chicago - so decide upfront if you are going to write to the guide, and have the manuscript edited to the guide - and decide very early on whether you're going with American or British English spelling! Whether you choose to use a formal guide or not, if you establish a rule - like putting a real person's name in italics - keep to the rule, and write the rules down so your editor knows what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'. This applies to lots of things; names, how to write times, measurements, numbers, monetary values; how to treat reported speech in dialogue - single quotes or some other way to indicate reported speech? Decide on the rule, record it, stick to it, and tell your editor.
Or let your editor decide on the rules - but don't then argue with them!!
In my regime, the primary purpose of the second review is to challenge word choice and whether a word is needed at all. Each word is chosen and placed with purpose - what is its purpose, does it fulfil its purpose, is it needed at all, is a different word better. In my second review, unnecessary words will be culled and different word choices will be sorted out - and the longer I leave it between finishing the draft and picking it up again, the more likely I am to see the words that need to change [but I'm an impatient bastard so I can't ever wait longer than 3 days]. I find most of my changes come in the dialogue. If you didn't read it out loud at the time of drafting it, now is a good time to read your dialogue [in fact, the entire story] OUT LOUD!
So at this point, I have my story that stacks up and one which generally conforms to the style guide I have decided to use, and some key areas [dialogue] have had some specific attention, and I have challenged every word to make sure it's needed, and if needed, it's the right choice [as far as I am concerned, and I could be 'wrong'].
I use this review to perform a limited number of consistency checks as part of the basic check of grammar and punctuation. We use Grammarly in the Project; it works for us. I run through with Grammarly, also checking consistency of things like initial caps [Dad vs dad], italics, the spelling of foreign words, place names, consistency of forenames, surnames, titles and nicknames.
By this stage, I have a story that stacks, which has been reviewed three times, and is now ready to be handed over to the editor. At which point, I will confirm what I want them to do, how I want them to mark up the manuscript, and how long it is roughly going to take. It is also important to agree when questions will be asked [by the editor] and how quickly they will be answered [by the author].
Hand it over and forget about it until you get questions or a marked up manuscript back. Do not pester, do not fret, do not start changing anything unless you agree with the editor on how you are going to handle multiple versions [don't do it; fucking nightmare].
My editor checks everything for me, consequently, it can take a reasonable amount of time before I get the manuscript back - meantime, I write something else or change the oil in the car.
I no longer dread a manuscript coming back. Things have definitely improved, because over the course of the last two years, I have worked hard to eradicate some of my bad habits [lack of punctuation being my worst habit when I started].
Sometimes I do not feel in the mood to open the file to see what the editor has found/proposed - and I don't open the file. There's no point because I'll just get pissed off/bored/destructive.
When I'm ready, I will read the feedback that comes with the manuscript, which will invariably point out the key changes proposed, the rationale behind them, and the possible choices if there are choices.
All changes are proposed changes; I have the final say on whether a change gets made - my story, my name on the cover, my responsibility and my reputation. But my editor has a responsibility and a reputation too - so we work as a team.
Now it gets tricky - someone else has read my story, and potentially said some things about it that I may not like. I know all too well the feeling when someone else, an editor, queries something, proposes a 'better' form of words, gives me ideas about improving the overall reading experience - NONE OF THESE THINGS SHOULD BE TREATED AS CRITICISM!!!! But they so often are. Your editor is your best friend/asset - treat them as such. And they will have put as much energy into the story as you did - believe me, I edit for co-op members too, so I know just how much energy it takes.
Now; changes come in all different flavours and you may have a different approach to different kinds of changes. For example :-
I task my editor to correct [i.e. physical put right] punctuation/grammar and spelling errors - that's a no brainer.
I task my editor to correct inconsistencies in adopted style - that's also a no brainer.
The rest is negotiable.
Do I care if it's a choice between 'he said' and 'he remarked' or between 'she smiled sweetly' or 'she smiled demurely'? I trust my editor to make changes based on their experience of my work and how a story would tend to flow - that's the beauty - and the huge benefit - of working with the same editor over a long period of time. However, if I had challenged my own choice of sweetly vs demurely and decided demurely worked better but my editor decided that sweetly worked better then I am duty bound to look at it again - and I may agree or disagree. It may be that 'sweetly' suggested 'innocence', whereas 'demurely' suggest a sexual undercurrent [the best kind] - what was my intent? The editor was not present when I wrote it, is not a mind reader, cannot hear the voices inside my head [thank fuck] - so treat feedback with the care and respect that it deserves.
I may get feedback that suggests that a whole scene needs to be rewritten because of any number of reasons - tone, energy, drama, length, positioning.
My initial response may well be - HOW DARE YOU!
I take a walk, think about things, attempting to see the scene from other angles and perspectives. My reaction can often be very visceral - I will actually feel something physical - tense up, grit my teeth, clench my fist, scream - it's all part of the birthing process. Disassociating myself and trying to think through alternatives has been the greatest challenge and gift of the last 2 years.
Calmly, later, I will read the notes, revisit sections, think about things but rarely change anything immediately. We have agreed on a mark up regime so it's easy to find the stuff that I need to focus on - basically, anything highlighted in yellow. Just adopt a consistent approach to marking up. I like the following :-
yellow - this needs to change - may or may not come with notes or suggestions
blue - question attached
red - are you out of your fucking mind?!
Just agree on and consistently use a scheme.
So my 'he remarked' may come back 'he remarked bitterly'
Is it necessary? If yes; is there an even better word? What else could/should change?
'he remarked bitterly' - becomes [after some thought]
'he remarked bitterly, finding Joe's words no easier to swallow than a handful of dry pills ...'
A word, in this case bitterly, gave rise to a change that adds something - I want the reader to remember that time when an aspirin dissolved on their tongue or got stuck in their throat, and I want them to remember how it felt/tasted, and that invocation is now part of the reading experience. My editor proposed the word, I incorporated the word into a change [which they will be asked to review]. And it could be they decide that remarked bitterly is enough - I may disagree - I will ultimately choose which form to go with - and my editor may never agree but we followed a process and that is what's important.
Make it a positive experience.
After I have processed the questions and changes, I resubmit the manuscript to my editor - and that cycle is repeated as many times [usually no more than 3 in my case] as necessary until we are both happy with the outcome - I may have conceded some points, and they may have conceded some points - but we have a manuscript that we both agree can be published.
A final review?
My editor may do a final proofread - I rarely touch it again for fear of opening up the discussion needlessly [or for fear of making grammar errors while tinkering].
I have to trust my editor - they have my manuscript and they are party to my success - I'd give my ATM card to most people long before I ever gave them a manuscript to edit [no fucker gets to drive the car except me].
The Golden Rules
- Decide in advance what you actually want your editor to do.
- Prepare the manuscript for delivery to them - and essentially, what rules do you wish them to enforce, agree on a mark up regime, how questions get treated and if there are to be review points along the way.
- Once you hand it over, forget about it.
- Once you get it back, do nothing immediately.
- Prepare yourself mentally for opening the manuscript and reading the feedback/changes - and remember, you asked for it.
- By all means query things with the editor [they are also human and fallible].
- Disassociate and try and see all perspectives - the hardest task but easier the longer you leave the review - but not too long.
- Compromise - you'll achieve a 80:20 result - which is good enough - strive for perfection and you'll never publish the damn thing.
- Thank your editor [they worked as hard as you], pay them and credit them.
- Learn from the feedback. We all have our pets - mine are semicolons - I adore them but they can be irritating [especially to American readers] - learn and grow as an author - you don't ever have to give up your style but it will be enhanced by the absence of errors/inconsistencies/poor word choices/ambiguity ...
If this was helpful, prompted a question or you have an experience you would like to share, please comment below. If there are any errors in the article, blame me, my editor didn't see it before I pressed 'post' ... then she does have a 100k word manuscript to edit for me as of last night.