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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Joys of Editing...


Two Points in this post:

1. The first is an excuse for not posting for a week or so. My edits have just come back for Isle of Fire. So far there aren't any major issues…so far. My editor rocks, and she claims that most of what I need to fix are polishing types of things. Hmmm...we'll see if that holds true. lol Either way, I need to put nose to the grindstone on this, so I'll be sparse in my posts and comments for a time.

2. About Editing. I talk to students quite often, and one message I want to get across to them is "Don't hate your editor." Your editor is like a surgeon--their cuts are made to heal, to cure, to improve.

Still the edits hurt. It feels like rejection...like my ideas aren't good enough. I've discovered that each set of edits is a bit of a puzzle to be solved.

Some edits are "DUH!" things where I have one character with blond hair in chapter 3 and red hair in chapter 18. OOPS. Others are logic things: the moon can't be full because it was full so many days ago. Others are grammar things. All of those are relatively easy to fix.

But what do you do when the editor wants you to change something big? What do you do then? How do you decide when to go to war on something? For me, it comes down to the following grid:

__Is the suggestion something that will fundamentally change the story?
__Is the change an improvement to the story?
__Does the scene/idea work for its intended audience? (helps to test it with readers)
__Does the editor have a valid reason for the change?
__Is there a compromise--something that keeps what I want while granting what the editor wants?
__Am I resistant to the change simply because of ego, or do I really have a good reason for NOT making the change?

How do you deal with edits? Are there other questions that come up when crossing pens with an editor?

13 comments:

Christopher Hopper said...

Great questions, Wayne. Far too often this is a dire predicament that authors, or any writer for that matter, finds themselves in: EDIT WARS!

Fortunately, I have the unique blessings of a very lenient publisher. They are open to all my thoughts on the manuscript and want me to have the final say (a dream, I know). But I've more often than not found their suggestions to be very helpful. And that brings up one of your points...

Does the suggestion make my manuscript better?

One of the things I've had to do, and mostly from years of recording music, is remove myself from my "babies." Sometimes we can grow so attached to our work that we forget someone's suggestions, although "detrimental" to our image of, may actually be improving it. And in the end, don't we want the best product possible? Absolutely!

But I know many authors struggle with comments that would wreak havoc on their stories. I'm not sure if our mutual friend Bryan Davis is going to chime in here, but I know he was recently battling with one of his editors about some major changes, issues he felt very strongly about.

In the end he got his way. (And after touring with him and seeing how he can swing a sword, I'd give the guy some room!). But that doesn't always happen for people. That, for me, would get into the realm of some serious fundamental questions: Why am I with this publisher? Do we have the same goals? Where do they see this going?

Before I signed on the dotted line, I had a long talk with the CEO of my publishing company and asked the hard questions. She was honest and straight forward, holding true to her word from day one. I love that!

So moral of the story...

Make sure you and your publisher are on the same level from the get-go before you sign (not like we all have multiple publishers banging down our doors!). That, and try to remove yourself from your work as best you can when it comes to objective criticism. Sure, there are some issues you won't compromise on; those are core values in my opinion. They're the "non-negotiables." But then there is the stuff that you simply can't see, a plot rub, a fatty portion that needs to be cut, a frivolous character. To those: LISTEN! It may just make your story a NYT Best Seller...

...or a personal family fable passed down to your kids.

Happy writing!

CH

Pais Charos said...

So far, I like edits. But I don't have a publisher yet, so I don't have a real editor. But lately suggestions I've been given by friends who are established authors (or extremely close to being an established author) strengthens my writing, making that story and subsequent stories better.

Shane said...

I'll have to remember that when I finish my manuscript and it comes time for editing.

Still have at least 50,000 words to write before I finish my first draft however.

Pais Charos said...

Hehe. Currently I've put all of my own writing projects on hold to take up a HUGE collaborative project with 4 other friends of mine. This was all originally RPGs, and we want to get it published - and this means A LOT of editing and rewriting, before we can even send it to an editor.

IT'S SO MUCH FUN!!

If only I had more time...<_<

Clefspeare said...

Working with an editor can be torture at times, but it is well worth the torture. As Christopher said, an author has to be ready to give up nonessentials and dig in his heels on the essentials. As the author, your name is going on the cover. It is your story, not the publisher's.

For my first four novels, I incorporated nearly all of my editor's suggestions. They were good and necessary edits. On a more recent book, however, I had a number of disputes with my editor. I ended up rejecting most of the suggested changes, and I'm glad I did. Many of the suggestions would have changed the nature and essence of the story and characters, so I said no. I'm glad my publisher has agree to allow me the final say.

With Zondervan the process has been a bit different than with AMG. The macro edit, which suggested story changes that were larger in focus, were pretty easy to implement. I took many of the suggestions, and the editor and I went back and forth on a couple of issues, but we agreed on everything in the end by coming up with compromises that worked for both of us.

In the detailed line edit, there were only a few suggestions, maybe a dozen or so in the entire manuscript, which surprised me. It was the easiest edit I have ever done.

I really shouldn't be surprised, though. My wife is my first editor, and she is very good at it.

We should see our editors as our friends and take their comments very seriously. But we should also remember that they are not the final word. Stick to your guns on issues essential to the story.

JA Konrath said...

I pretty much always make editorial changes, even if I don't agree 100%. The reaosn is twofold:

1. It can't possibly make the book worse. If I made a bowl out of clay, but someone said they want an ashtray instead, the same artist (me) made both of them, using the same craft and talent.

2. Once you incorporate editorial changes, it's no longer your book. It's "our" book. Editors fight harder for things that they helped shape. And having a champion in your publishing house is necessary when there are so many books being published.

Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

I ran my science fiction novel (slightly over 96,000 words and likely to stay that way) by a professional editor in the Christian fiction industry recently and got back feedback and some suggested changes. Her suggestions were very good, and this revised draft I've got is much better for it. There's one or two changes that I probably can't incorprate into the story. I'd have to stand my ground on those. But overall, having that pair of eyes that was not my own helped me out. At times, I find I can't get a good view of my own story, being immersed in it for so long. I need someone to snap me back to reality and say, "Don't you think this would be better if XYZ..."

I wondered if my story would be too weird, but she really "got it" with the characters and the plot. Yeah, I'd defintely have to make sure my publisher (when I find one) and I are in sync with this piece!

I also had a "duh" error in my story. I had confused a number of "storehouses" in the story, sometimes writing 15, sometimes 20. Now what was I thinking when I made that mistake? Have I lost my ability to count??

- Jason

Jonathan Rogers said...

There are two important points about editors that I would bring up. First, there's a very good chance that your editor knows more about what makes a book work than you do. That doesn't mean the editor is always right, but it does mean that you ought to have a good reason (and ego doesn't count as a good reason) if you choose not to take the advice offered by an editor.

Second--and I think this is an exceedingly important point--editors who are employed by publishers are extremely busy people. That fact has several ramifications. As relates to the previous point, editors aren't making idle suggestions as a way of keeping themselves busy. If they suggest a change, it's because they mean it.

The crushing workload of most editors also means that you might not get nearly as many suggested edits as you were expecting. It may be because you're brilliant, but it may also be because your editor is just too overworked to give your manuscript any serious editing. The one time I got sideways with an editor was because I didn't realize the pressures this editor was under and was expecting editorial help that this person simply couldn't give--there just weren't enough hours in the day.

All that to say, don't turn in a manuscript that's 80% right, hoping that the editor will help you take it the rest of the way. Write on the assumption that you're on your own. Or, if you can afford it, hire a freelance editor to help. And if you do get a lot of suggestions, consider that a blessing and be thankful. The editors at the publishing houses are extremely capable people who have insane workloads.

One last thing: as somebody has already pointed out, at the end, you're the one whose name is on the front of the book. So if you need to push back, by all means push back. Just bear in mind that the editor is very much on your side.

Eve said...

Great thought process to editing. I will keep these in mind. :)

Sharon Hinck said...

I have loved my editors SO much. I've noticed that they have a foot in each world - they care about the artistry and integrity of the work,the beauty of words, the craft... but they also know what the specific readership is looking for, what will help sales and marketing folk in-house grow more excited, how the book fits into a certain niche in the marketplace, and other issues I don't have brain-space to carry in my thoughts while I'm writing. So it's a very valuable perspective.

My friend Randy Ingermanson gave me great advice before I got my first macro-edits. He said, "give yourself 24 hours to fume, to rage about how 'they don't get it' and kick a few doors. Then go back and read the notes again."

That has worked great for me. I allow myself one day of hair-pulling and whining. Then I dig into the notes and notice the things I instantly agree with. I breathe a prayer of thanks for the editor's insight and dive in to fix those things.

After working on some of those items, I notice that there are other suggestions I DO agree with after further thought. Sometimes I agree with the diagnosed problem, but might not love the editor's suggested solution, so I come up with an alternative that solves the problem but stays truer to the work. My editors have always seemed to like these ideas - as long as I'm addressing the underlying problem they spotted.

By the time I've worked through those issues in the editorial notes, I realize my editor is brilliant after all, and I'm more willing to look at the couple of issues I bristled about when I first read the notes. If there are one or two issues I feel strongly about not changing, I explain my resistance to my editor and often she agrees once I've explained my reasoning.

Each of my novels is much stronger because of the hard work and passion and skill of editors.

And since I wrestle with Mariana-Trench-deep insecurities, I've also appreciated how supportive my editors have been. They've all been generous with encouraging comments, and humorous notes that make the process more fun and relational.

Great discussion, Wayne!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Speaking from the editing side of the fence, I think these are outstanding questions, Wayne, ones I hope I remember when I'm on the author side of the fence! ;-)

Becky

Justin B. said...

Constructive criticism good, but me accepting it, well... let's just say I am not the best at accepting it.

Sharons Hinck, what you said about have Mariana Trench deep insecurites, man I wrestle with that on a day by day basis. I have the story in my mind, its one that has been in its most primitive form about five years ago, and has recently bursted into a sprawling complex fantasy/scfi trilogy, maybe quartet, a maybe quintet. Its really that complex

My friends give great feedback. I had some worries that my story is really really odd, which by the way I must admit, it is. But many of my friends loved that, and they can see the passion in how I am all of sudden not stuttering a whole bunch when talking, and suddenly talking smoothly when talking of my universe and the story I am shaping within it. I can just feel the ethusiasim bursting within me.

I can make a lot of noise and get many wierd stares when I write. I have the tendancy to, being my ADD self, walk about my room, and will sometimes quote dialogue, and walk around till the ideas settle in. And I will write the scene and talk to myself as I do so to keep my sanity in check.

It continues to be in the primitive stages as of now, being seventeen I am in no rush. I am trying to overcome my insecurity with myself, a struggle that as I see sometimes one never overcomes. My greatest worries though right now, is the ideas are rather unconvential within my writing, meaning the ideas within it are ideas uncommonly seen within Christian Fantasy. How ready is the CBA market for samurais and vampiric elves, and Xulshins, XD!

Anyways, as I form my craft, I will continue to read all your works, the whole lot of you. Your writing and your committment to it really inspires me each and every day.
Now if only I knew of some way to overcome my internet addiction, lol!

CaroleMcDonnell said...

It depends on the editor. But for the most part, I'm actually pretty immature. So I tend to have to be really convinced.

I'll do anything to get the work finished and perfected, but if I often wonder if there are other external issues going on. Feminism, imperialism, anti-Christianity, racism.

Some editors are pernicketty and I kinda groan when something is returned the thirteenth time because of one word. ::rolls eyes:: But I often find that when a story that was edited by a pernicketty editor, I am very proud of it and I can hold my head up without shame because there is no error at all in it.