Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Editing - Pain with a Purpose

The 2012 debut authors group, Apocalypsies, is now 100 members strong, and we are all in different stages of the publishing process. Since we launch at different times during the year, some Apocalypsies are just getting their editorial letters now. I blogged last week about how I found my agent, so I decided to blog this week about my experience with editing and copyedits.

From the time I queried AURACLE to now that I’m in the final stages of copyedits, not a single scene remains unchanged from the original story I wrote. Dozens of scenes have been cut and replaced with others. Characters have been eliminated. New characters have been created. A lot of people have asked me how it feels to have ‘my baby’ so thoroughly critiqued by others, and I tell them it feels wonderful. To know someone cares enough about my book and my characters that they will invest so much of their time and resources to help me make it the best it can be is a great feeling. And considering I already have two children, I find it easy to distinguish between 'book' and 'baby'. Even with my own kids, there is no way I would want them to grow up with me as their only influence ... that would just be scary! My kids have teachers, friends, books and other media influencing them, and I’m grateful for others’ insight, even if I don’t agree with it, because it gives me an opportunity to talk with my kids about choices. I feel the same about my book – AURACLE has benefitted from the insight of early readers, my agent, my editor and now, there are two copyeditors who have gone through and made suggestions.

For anyone who cringes at the idea of cutting 100+ pages from their story, I offer this perspective: Years ago, my step-father owned an ice cream shop and I was trained to decorate the ice cream cakes. Since then, I’ve made three wedding cakes to give as wedding gifts to friends. After spending 60+ hours making sugar swans, royal icing lilies and wrestling with floppy 16 inch cake layers, I’ve built up a tolerance to watching my creations get literally cut apart. I find this useful in the editing process.

(My BFF since Jr. High, Marcia and her husband Brian 'revising' a wedding cake I made.)

My Roaring Brook editor, Katherine Jacobs, is incredibly insightful, organized and complimentary, which makes the editorial process so much easier. I realize every editor has her/his own process, but here's my experience: I received (electronically) a detailed editorial letter broken down into separate discussions about each main character, plot, the mechanics of the main concept of the book (astral projection) and themes. When I was finished reading Kate’s letter, I was impressed by how well she ‘got’ the book, in fact, Kate found themes I hadn’t even realized were in there. Attached to this editorial letter was the full manuscript, in MS-Word, and Kate had gone through using the very useful tool, Track Changes, and added 300+ comments, many of which were just to compliment something she liked. This was huge for me … to know what was working well was very helpful to me, and I definitely work better when my self-confidence is in a happy place. Once I had a chance to digest all of Kate’s comments (I did nothing more than reread her letter every day for about a week to let everything sink in), we clarified a few things over the phone, and Kate gave me a generous amount of time to complete what needed to be done. It was extensive, but I clearly understood the direction we were heading. Nothing was forced, everything was my choice, but I agreed with most of the changes because there was logic driving the requests. There were a few things I felt strongly about keeping, and once we discussed, we agreed how these could be tweaked to improve the story.

Once Kate had a chance to look over my completed revisions, we went another round, which included a shorter editorial letter and another shorter round of Track Changes before Kate sent the manuscript off to Copyedit. Here, two copyeditors went through line by line and added their own Track Changes to correct any punctuation/grammar/spelling errors MS-Word’s autocorrect didn’t catch, plus they looked for inconsistencies. It was reassuring to know I had three people to catch little mistakes, like when I had a character tell someone on a Saturday night that they’d pick them up for school the next morning. Yes, they are that brilliant!

Is editing a lot of work? Sure. It’s work for the editor and it’s work for the writer, but it’s time well spent because we all want the same thing … the very best version of our book on the shelf.


  1. Gina, thank you for this! So many people, especially my mom, don't get the whole revision thing. My mom keeps saying "well if they don't like your book the way it is, why'd they buy it?" She doesn't understand that it is still my book; I am just getting help making it the best it can be. I never thought to compare it to child-rearing! Brilliant! Because seriously, who births a child and says, "okay, I'm done! You're perfect so . . . bye!"

  2. Gina - I, too, have a manuscript that does not have one scene in it that is unchanged from the original. (There is one scene that has remained very close to the original but has had minor changes to it.) My feeling is, as long as I still feel like it's MY story, I don't have an issue with making changes. There's only one thing my editor suggested - a name change - that I said no too. Other than that, I feel like it's still my story. It's just been made better. :-)

  3. Great analogies, cake and children! I've just come through some major edits and am cheered to read your perspective. Like you I'm so grateful to my readers and editors with their keen eyes. But I've also thought this week about how some of the strongest parts of my book are all new material, written quickly. Due to time constraints, I've had to get over my impulse to run every word by my circle of readers first. Sending directly to editors = scary!

  4. This post both thrills and terrifies me! My edit letter should be here any day now (so I'm told) and I wish I could adequately prepare myself, but the only thing I think I'm prepared for his more hard work.

    Btw--I particularly love this line you wrote: "Even with my own kids, there is no way I would want them to grow up with me as their only influence ... that would just be scary!" Such a *healthy* way of thinking about this.