Monday, 11 July 2011

Edits, geddit?

One of the things I did recently was to send off the edits for my second book (currently titled 'The Helper') to my editor at Pan Macmillan. This got me thinking about how, before I was published, I had no idea of all the stages a book goes through before it finally hits the shelves. I imagine there must be many aspiring authors in a similar position, so I thought I would take this opportunity to demystify the process if I can.

Once you are taken on as an author, an editor will be assigned to work with you. In my case, it's the editor who accepted my book in the first place, and I imagine it's the same for most publishing houses. One of the first jobs of your editor is to re-read your novel and then try to identify how it might be improved. He or she will then write back to you with a whole load of suggestions. Some of these are trivial; others can require a lot more thought.

The editorial suggestions that were sent to me for The Helper came in two parts. The first part consisted of general story points - points about the plot and characters that I may not have considered. One of these in particular helped me to add a nice twist to the story.

The other part consisted of more detailed comments, with references to specific points in the manuscript. The form this took for The Helper was a large table, divided into four columns. The first column of each row gave the page number of the manuscript; the second specified the line number(s); the third held the editor's comments; and the fourth was left blank for me to indicate my response.

Here's an example of one of the easier edits to deal with:
page 12, line 8: Do skateboards clang? 'Clatter' ?

I had referred in my book to the clanging of skateboards. My editor suggested that 'clattering' might be a better word, and of course he's right. I changed it and simply wrote 'done' in the column reserved for me.

Here's a slightly more substantial revision:
page 26, line 6: Is this paragraph vital? Began to feel that Doyle's triumphalism was a bit overextended!

The editor is calling here for the removal of a complete paragraph. On re-reading it, I realised he was right, deleted the text, and wrote 'Cut' in my column.

Deleting text is often painful, but excisions don't end at paragraphs. I have deleted whole pages at the suggestion of my editor, and even a complete section. In his blog, Ryan David Jahn has explained how he once cut a whole chapter from a novel after the editor queried its usefulness.

Sometimes edits require text to be added. This may occur when the editor feels a passage needs further clarification, or feels that something extra is needed to add to the impact of an event.

When I had worked my way through all the suggestions, I sent the table and my general comments back to my editor. We then went through one more iteration - a few more suggestions, a few more edits, and then we were done.

What you may have gathered from all this is that an editor's comments are not dismissed lightly. In the vast majority of cases, I made changes in line with what the editor suggested. In one or two cases I let things stand, but only after serious thought, and I always explained why I had taken that decision.

The end result of all this work is, I believe, a much tighter and faster-paced novel, with a nice extra twist thrown in for good measure.

But that's not the end of the work on The Helper, as we shall see in future posts...

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