The joys and trials of working with an editor
October 14, 2015
ONE OF THE MOST REWARDING PARTS of the publishing process is working with a professional editor. I’m very lucky to have the awesome Jen Ryan of Ellysian Press and Imagine that Editing as the editor on all my books and stories. Rather than get into the specifics of the different kinds of edits (you can find Jen’s descriptions here), I want to focus on how to approach edits.
To do that I’ll include some of the stuff I’ve gone through with my own new book, Apocalypta Z. The most important thing to do as an author is to listen to your editor (assuming you have hired or are working with a trained editor).
Be prepared to hear that your baby is not perfect. It’s difficult for writers to “let go” of the iron grip they have on their babies, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Writers want to believe that every word they wrote is golden. After all, their mom beta read and told them their book was perfect, so it must be so, right? Um…no.
Reader input is important, but hopefully you had real beta readers, who had the knowledge to made constructive critiques of your work. For Apocalypta Z, I chose three writer friends, along with a handful of other readers to help with my new book. But first, I had to make the manuscript as good as I could. Apocalypta Z started as a short story.
It was while I was working on the notes I’d gotten from one of my beta readers that I realized it was actually a book and there was a lot more to it than a lost puppy during the zombie apocalypse. That meant rewriting and revising with a critical eye.
Learning when something I loved needed to be cut or modified. That takes strength and courage. After I polished, revised and tweaked many times and thought it was the best I could make it, I went to my trusted beta readers.
You can use writer critique groups, as well. Or if you have trusted friends who will be critical and tell you what is wrong, you can try that. But that may not always work, so be prepared to hear it’s perfect. Just so you know – it isn’t perfect. And you’re going to find out just how “not perfect” it is when you get into edits.
Okay, so you’re finally to the editing stage and you get your first edits – hundreds and hundreds of changes! Little things like commas and typos. And big things like rewriting dialogue or changing your characters. You may even need to make major cuts or major rewrites. It can be daunting to hear that you have so many issues. But you know what? It’s part of the process.
Maybe that special scene you wrote is not as clear as you thought it was. Or perhaps your plot twist has plot holes. And that’s not easy to hear. But believe me when I say the book will be better for fixing those things! I have such a good relationship with my editor that I trust her judgment.
When she says my awesome idea is contradictory to everything else in the book and needs to be supported, clarified or cut, I believe her. I step back and take a hard look at what I did. So far, she has been right every time. There may be times where you might not agree with a change. That’s the time you need to communicate with your editor and work those things out.
A trusted editor is going to have a good reason for asking for the change, but often there is a way to fix it so you are both happy. Figure out exactly what isn’t working. I’ve had new ideas come out of discussions that were so much better than my original ideas. Communication is not only important, it is fun!
For instance in my new book, Apocalypta Z, I loved my first line which I kept from the short story version: “It wasn’t easy being a pampered poodle princess during the zombie apocalypse.” I’d gotten great response on that line. However, when I got into edits, Jen realized that what worked as a short story didn’t work as a novel. I needed to flip Chapters 1 and 2, beginning the novel with my main character, Maddie.
So I had to come up with a new first line for the book. I finally came up with “An eerie keening shattered the morning air: the apocalypse had begun.” Hmmm…not as good as my beloved “pampered poodle princess line” in my opinion. So I fixed it.
Here is my new beginning for the book:
An eerie keening shattered the morning air: the apocalypse had begun. Of course Maddie Worthing didn’t know that. She just thought her dogs had to pee.
There. I had the more serious tone that reflected much of the book, along with the lighter tone because the book also has humor in it. Hopefully readers will like the change as well. So far the response has been good again. (Fingers crossed.)
And the best part? I got to keep part of my original line in Chapter 2 with modifications:
Cienna didn’t like the changes that had happened to her world. She was used to being a pampered poodle princess. Lost and all alone was scary.
I’ve loved the editing process. Sure it can be tough at times, but I look ahead to the end result which I know is going to be so much better than my original version. So my advice is to get a good editor, listen, communicate, and let your book become the best version it can be.