by Kris NeriAs of this writing, I’ve just gone through the editorial process for my next Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, in which Tracy and the gang fight mayhem through various real and made-up places along the Mother Road, Route 66. For the benefit of the writers among you, who hope to be published someday, I thought I’d share my experience with you. I didn't know when I wrote this that Femme Elaine was also going to share her editorial process, but I think this piece dovetails well with hers.
Editors work in a variety of ways. Some use Post-its stuck at various points they question in the manuscript others write in margins, and some use digital comment tags. My editor for this series, Lisa, is happy to work in different ways, and since I prefer comment tags, that’s the method I request.
What does it matter? I always think at the start. I’m convinced the manuscript was perfect when I sent it off to her. How much could she find to comment on?
Turns out, quit a bit. When it comes back, I’m usually initially convinced she must have mixed my manuscript up with someone else’s more prone to making mistakes than I am. Surely, there can’t be that many tags – that many questions – in a document so flawless, it should be carved in stone like the statue of David.
It’s not just a matter of lots of comment tags, either. There’s also the editorial letter, which deals with what works well – and mostly, with works less well – in a larger, more conceptual sense. The letter contains suggested changes that demand more of a rewrite than mere tweaks and a polish.
Though the clock is already ticking down on a too-short deadline, when I read that letter and the tags, I set it aside initially for some serious thinking. Of course, I’m convinced it’s all wrong.
But a curious thing happens in short order. Within a couple of days, I begin to see that maybe it’s not totally wrong, after all, In fact, I start to see how some of those suggestions can actually make this book move from what I considered perfect to even better.
The comment tags that seemed so excessive start to make sense, and I come to see how a line or two tucked here and there not only speak to some potential questions the reader might have, but by judiciously noting small points and adding clues, I make it a stronger mystery. One that will make the reader look back from the end and say, "Aw, those clues were all there. I should have known."
That little voice inside that we all have, the one that always tells us the truth –- which I'll admit I’ve done my best to silence, unsuccessfully it seems –- starts confirming some of the points in my editor’s letter, insisting that if I apply those ideas, it absolutely will strengthen the book.
It’s not a matter of just making this adjustment here, and that change there, though. At that point in the process, my creativity gets sparked. I see how neither my editor nor I have nailed some points exactly right. How eliminating a questionable scene isn’t the answer, but moving it to a different place not only improves the flow, it allows me to more logically address some of the issues in those comment tags.
Of course, that little voice works both ways. It doesn’t only shout out when I’m wrong, it also tells me when I’m right. Story choices that came more from my unconscious, and which didn't get much conscious scrutiny during the course of writing the book can become forged in fire as a result of my editor’s questioning and my own. I not only know that they have to remain, I also know why. And I know how to make that argument when I send the final manuscript back.
It may not take a whole village to make a good book even better, but it does take another set of eyes.
With the ease of self-publication
today, too many writers, who have by-passed the traditional publication route, are rushing into print, without availing themselves of the
benefit of another perspective. They skip the editorial process, rather than
have their presumed-perfection questioned. Since I'm a bookseller as well, I see those products every day, with the mistakes often jumping out at me from the first page. If the first one is problematic, how many pages do you think I read?
Oh, sure, some writers do have editing horror stories to tell, and maybe some of you will share them. But you're better off risking that because none of us can see our own work with the fresh eyes our readers will bring to them. We can get so locked into our own conceptions, we don’t notice the tiny plot holes and the odd contradictions.
Fortunately for those of us who are traditionally published, there's no question of skipping the editorial process. I'm grateful for that. A good editor who does spot those problems, and better still, grasps your vision and helps you to better achieve it is one of the best resources you can have.
Writers, if you’re dreading the editorial process –- don’t. Authors, care to share your editorial stories?