Friday, February 25, 2011

An Advice Post? From Me? You Bet--How To Make Edits Work For You

You bet your sweet patootey.

Normally, I talk on this blog as a writer.  Today, I'm putting on the editor's hat, so take a deep breath and get ready.

Let's talk about edits, and how to make the process work for you.

The editing process is a collaboration between an editor and author to make a good book into a great book.  This fact is something that professional writers--and editors--inherently understand.  Without that collaboration, the quality of the story is diminished.  But unfortunately, I'm seeing a disturbing trend among writers that look upon editing--or even critiques/beta reads--as insults.

First off, if you can't take criticism you're in the wrong darn business.  How are you going to handle rejection, which is a major part of any writer's life, if you can't take criticism?  Exactly. You won't. As you approach the editing process, you need to stop and check yourself.  Regardless of who accepted your work for publication, I can guarantee you that the story is NOT perfect.  I have yet to see a story that doesn't require editing.  Some require a lot less than others, granted.  But every manuscript that has ever crossed my desk (including my own) needs that critical, unbiased eye.  So, repeat to yourself: there is no such thing as a perfect story.

Again.  There is no such thing as a perfect story.

Once you've convinced yourself of that, you're ready to begin the editing process with the right attitude.

Second, your editor doesn't make corrections just for the hell of it.  Believe it or not, most editors would love to get a manuscript that only needed a couple of typos fixed.  I've edited hundreds of manuscripts in my career, and I have NEVER found a manuscript yet that only needed a couple of little spelling corrections.  NEVER.  When I go through a manuscript, I am looking for anything that doesn't quite work--continuity issues, anachronisms, underdeveloped story arcs, character problems, grammar, punctuation and spelling.  I'm looking for pet constructions, overused words, weak sentence structures.  And why am I looking for all these things? To make the story BETTER.  Sure, I could just go through and fix typos and a few dangling participles, but then I wouldn't be doing my job.  What's the good in releasing a story that's spelled perfectly, but with a character that's talking on a flip cell phone in 1989?

You're right. No good at all.  Between the reviewers who would flay the author alive and the readers who would hurl the book across the room and never buy another of that writer's books, a lazy editing job has far-reaching ramifications that are bad.  Really bad.

Third off, when you're reviewing your editor's first set of edits, take a deep breath before you lose your temper.  Look--countless times when doing edits, I've yelled something uncomplimentary at my computer screen, like, "You idiot!  I already explained that in the last damn chapter!" That's normal.  But usually, when I think about the comment further, I realize that the editor is pointing out a flaw in my story.  Maybe I didn't make the reference clear enough.  Maybe I was too vague.  Maybe (and this is usually the case) I forgot that the reader doesn't know everything in my head.  Regardless of what the problem is, the editor has pointed that out for a reason--and that reason is usually to make me think. 

As an addendum to that, the worst thing you can do for your story or your career is to lose your grip over your edits.  Getting into a sniping battle with your editor is without a doubt right at the top of the list entitled "Bad Career Moves."  Most of the time, the writer is contracted to perform reasonable edits on their stories--and very rarely are the edits not reasonable.  When the editor leaves a comment on your manuscript, don't be stupid enough to leave a snippy comment back.  You're not obligated to take every editing suggestion in regards to content--but you are obligated to be respectful and professional when you disagree. By approaching your edits in a confrontational manner, all you're doing is shooting yourself in the foot. 


Doing edits is a stressful time for any authors.  It's hard not to take some comments personally.  You can help by making absolutely certain that your manuscript is as clean as possible when you submit it to your editor--formatted correctly, checked over thouroughly for spelling and grammar--

(Oh! And spellcheck/grammar check on your word program?  Worse than useless.  Go through your manuscript with a grammar book (I like Strunk's) and doublecheck any spelling you're unsure of.  As of late I've seen way too many manuscripts with basic homonym errors--their/there/they're or to/too/two.  Any of those issues should be eliminated before your editor ever sees your manuscript!)

--and analyzed for continuity issues (ie--making sure you resolve all your plot and subplot storylines).  This is just basic professional courtesy and will save you and your editor a lot of time.  And then when you get your manuscript back, remember that every bit of work your editor put into your manuscript, every comment and correction, every suggestion or red-lined strikeout, was done with YOUR welfare in mind.  To make YOUR book better.  To help YOU learn how to improve your writing.  Instead of being resentful, be grateful that your editor cared enough to make such an effort on your behalf.

And then, in the next manuscript, implement what you learned from your last edits into your new story.

Your editor is your best damn friend in the period between the acceptance of your manuscript and the release of your book.  If you keep that in mind, the editing process will not only be positive and productive, but will help you to become a better writer.