The Necessary Humbling of Editing

Dunce CapA lot of fantasies, daydreams, and rainbows cloud the world of writing. It’s not surprising; actually completely natural since we spend so much of our time making up stories as writers, why wouldn’t we have stories about the stories?

Have you ever seen that scene in a TV show or movie in which a writer finishes a book or script? The writer may raise his hands in triumph over an old typewriter or do a little dance; then we as viewers are then jumped forward in time to their inevitable success.

We don’t see the struggle over getting the book out, finding an audience, working with an agent or publisher or, more importantly, editing. And, let’s be honest, editing is not as exciting as the victory dance of a finished book or the sparks of coming up with ideas around a first draft.

Like I said, it’s a fantasy, people. I have even been known to say to writers that much of the art around true writing happens in the editing. It is there a work is “finetuned,” perfected into a final piece. This year, I worked with a series of different editors. First for, my novel A Jane Austen Daydream (which was published by Madison Street Publishing) and then for my novel  Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare.

So why do I love editing so much? Well, because I learned about its importance the hard way. Yes, I have an editing and writing horror story, and I am about to share it. Be prepared, this is about to haunt you like a poltergeist… a writing poltergeist.

My Horror Story

I entered the first year of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, and for those that don’t know, this is a contest amazon.com has each year to promote CreateSpace and the idea of an “author” community, since a good part of the contest is writers reviewing each other’s works. To be honest, I could write an entire post on why I think this contest is badly designed (and promotes the questionable practice of review exchanges and fakeries), but that will be for another time.

One of my books was chosen that year to go onto the next round, which means a sample was available to the public (and other contestants) for review and I was “lucky” to have my book selected to be reviewed by an actual critic from Publishers Weekly!

Now here comes the horror story, the Publishers Weekly reviewer treated my book as if it was final published work, not a draft of a book in a contest. Consider that!

So instead of reviewing the plot, the characters, the themes, etc., the reviewer pretty much spent all their words attacking my grammar.

It is a draft of a book in a contest, you jackass reviewer, what did you expect!?!

Okay, take a deep breath, Scott; I still have some issues there, it seems.

Well, I was so embarrassed by the reviewer I had my work removed from the competition and consideration and taken off the amazon page for it, just so I could save that blasted unfair review from tainting my book for years to come.

And that is why I will always use an editor.

The Three Kinds of Editors

For the editing of Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (which is on sale on amazon for only 1.99 as an eBook for a limited time) I worked with the editor Becky T. Dickson (You can visit her website here to learn about her services and career, or try one of these links: “Fear I want to write but” and “Who the hell is Rebecca T. Dickson?”) and the experience was great. She is the kind of editor I appreciate, in other words she actually read the book (experiencing the book as a book) while also catching editing mistake, repetitions, and writing errors.

See, I’ve found there are three different kinds of editors out there:

  1. The Clones. We all know these editors! We give them some writing and they return it covered in red ink, every word and sentence changed. These editors are dangerous in my opinion since they are (probably without realizing it) changing the voice of the author from their own to… well, the editor’s voice. And another clone is born.
  2. Yellow Brick Road. These are the editors I like to work with, like Becky, they recognize your book as a book, catch mistakes, but don’t edit to the point of changing your voice. They leave it as your book, but better and cleaner. If you work with an editor like this, stay on the path to the end, you will arrive at the book you want.
  3. Too Nice For Their Own Good. These editors will make you feel great about yourself. They will pat you on your back, but they will miss so many overarching mistakes, just merely scanning for grammar and spelling mistakes. There is even a good chance they won’t really even read your book, too focused on just looking for common errors (its vs. it’s, for example). On a side note, when you ask for a family member or friend to edit your book, chances are you will get back a manuscript like this. Oh, it feels nice, but it will never be enough. Never ever.

Do yourself a favor, do the research to find the best editor for you and your book, and save the victory dance for later.

My Editing of Maximilian

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, CoverWorking with Becky was a lot of fun. She has a very “bold” way of editing calling a spade a spade… No, better yet, calling a spade a f**king spade.

Want another reason why it is important to have an editor? Well, the first thing Becky noticed is I was misspelling Maximilian’s name. If you heard a loud “thump” noise coming from Michigan a few months ago, that was the sound of my head hitting my desk.

She was right! I thought I was using the same spelling as Daphne Du Maurier did in Rebecca, but I wasn’t. And from that moment of startlingly revelation we were off!

Becky has a nice way of doing this, using bold and highlighting to draw attention to her changes and asking the occasional question. One thing I appreciated is that she was able to point out repetitions in my writing. All of us writers do this, it is not surprising. We get stuck on a certain expression or word and we run with it, feeling it as natural as the pretzels and coke nearby the computer as we type (well, that maybe just me).

One thing Becky did that I found interesting and new was pointing out each time I used “There is” at the start of a sentence. Now, the funny thing is my first reaction was to feel protective of “There is.” Heck, one of my favorite lines in Hamlet begins that way:

There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.

That’s Shakespeare people!

But in changing a sentence away from it, I noticed that the descriptions did improve, become richer. So I made some of those changes.

That is not to say I made all of the changes the editor requested. A writer shouldn’t do that, they are suggestions. For example, Becky doesn’t like some of the “cliches” I used in the book, but they are intentional. See it is a period pulp work in its essence (hiding a very experimental book of literature underneath), so a book of that style would have cliches like that. It’s part of the norm.

But see that is what an editor is for, not just for catching our writing “oops” moments, but also for making us rethink our work, make it stronger, and I saw that in every finished chapter Becky e-mailed to me.

Power of Second Guessing

Sometimes I wish life could automatically come with an editor. They could review each sentence I am about to say aloud or correct e-mails and tweets. I wish I could trust my brain, but I have learned a long time ago not to trust it. It seems to enjoy getting me in trouble.

Right now, I’m in the process of deciding what to do with the new novel I wrote last year, Permanent Spring Showers. Do I try the traditional big publishing road? Do I find an agent? Do I find a smaller publisher, go indie? Or do I self-publish and just get it out there? (The last question always feeling like a last resort to me.)

I haven’t decided yet, but as I look over my manuscript the one thing I am certain of is I need an editor.

I’m sure your book does too.

An earlier draft of this article was published previously under a different title.

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.

Rebecca T. Dickson, Editor

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14 responses

    • LOL. Sometimes I think writers need therapy groups, everyone sitting around sharing their little tales and mistakes. Or we can all just have blogs. That works for me too. I love the car analogy you give. Perfect.

      Thanks for writing!

  1. The editing of my first novel begins in two week, and I am itching to start. I believe that the editing process is the most important and interesting part of the writing experience.
    A couple of questions:
    1. Do you put your novel through the paces with a professional editor before you submit the novel to an agent or publishing house (big, small, or indie)?
    2. Considering the royalty structure, why do you consider self-publishing the last resort? (Perhaps that question can be saved for another post or an offline comment).

    • I don’t want to get into this too much here (and this is controversial), but the reason I consider it a last resort is that it is a lot more work, not just for the author preparing it, but for everything after it is published. See, self-published books will not be on the bookshelves at your local bookstore, they won’t be in your local library and you will have to do a lot of convincing to get a respectable book reviewer to check it out (assuming they don’t try and charge you for the reading). Frankly, you will struggle every day to find a way to get your book noticed by someone who isn’t looking for a self-published book to read. That is the challenge. And while we can all point to success stories from books that started that way, they are few and far between.

      I would consider an editor before the agent and publisher search if possible. The publisher will probably have an editor or the agent might want to do it as well. That’s fine. The more the merrier.

  2. Thanks for the post about your editing journey. There’s so much to think about as an author. I hired a story editor who gave me great notes on my novel. Next step is a copy editor. Still not sure which publishing route I’ll take.

    • You are on the same page with me. And congrats on the book!

      If I could venture a suggestion, at least try to find an agent or a traditional publisher first. Give yourself like six months to try, then if you do decide to try an indie press or even self-publishing, you will know you at least gave it a shot for the bigger leagues.

      Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Guest Blog: Writers and Editors, Friends and Foes by Kimberly Klemm | E. Harvey

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