Monday, May 28, 2012

Eight Things I Learned about Editing

Since I’m close to sending FROM RISING FLAMES off to a professional editor, I thought this would be a good time to share a few things I have learned. When I decided to self publish, I knew for certain that my book needed professional editing. I consider myself an amateur and never felt like ON FALLEN WINGS was where it needed to be, despite over twelve drafts I had written at that point. I knew I needed help and made sure to budget enough money to hire a quality editor. That was the best writing decision I’ve ever made. These are notes and personal observations from the process I went through, so please don’t take them as rules of the road.
  1. You’re writing will never be perfect; accept that and move on to telling a great story. There are chapters in ON FALLEN WINGS that I wrote more than others. Over and over, I rewrote scenes, cutting and splicing words to have the perfect meaning, the right prose. I studied books and manuals and took classes to get those chapters right. I had beta readers critique my words and made changes based on their feedback. When those chapters came back from my editor, they were the most marked up parts of the novel. It was difficult to absorb at first. Why were these marked so extensively? Well, that’s the way it is. Nothing is perfect. There are chapters in ON FALLEN WINGS that I wrote once and very few changes were made though editing. C’est la vie.
  2. Be prepared to cut your favorite scene. I had read this before, but it didn’t have value until it happened to me. The pivotal scene in ON FALLEN WINGS didn’t make sense to my editor. In fact, she hated it. THE PIVOTAL SCENE! The book is named after that scene. It's the climax, the explanation. I loved that scene. Why did she want me to cut it? I followed her advice and chopped it. Gone.
  3. Hire the best. I don’t care if it costs thousands of dollars; DON’T release a book without getting the best possible editor you can find. Once you hit upload, the words you’ve chosen are there forever. You’ve spent months and years polishing your baby novel. Why put its fate in the hands of some English Major undergrad offering services for a few hundred dollars? Find someone who knows the industry, who will challenge your writing, who will make your novel better. That someone also needs to be the best fit for you. Don't just pay more money to someone who doesn't understand your writing or the direction you want to go. When I was searching for an editor, I sent the same email to 3 different editing services. Their responses were SOOOO different and the quality of their sample edits definitely reflected the asking price of their services.
  4. Your editor is right. Pay attention to their notes and understand why they want the changes listed. Then follow their advice.
  5.  You don’t have to answer all of their questions directly. There are a dozen or so notes in the margins of ON FALLEN WINGS asking questions about why something is happening or why I’ve chosen to describe a person or event a particular way. Those are questions the reader could have, so the editor included them. I did my best to answer those by adding or cutting somewhere in the story. Sometimes my explanation was an additional chapter. Other times, a single word.
  6. Healthy dialog between you and your editor is a must. They should expect it and you should foster it. While I’ve never met my editor, I feel like we know each other pretty well simply from the detailed email exchanges we’ve had. Some have been pretty intense. She’s challenged me and chastised me and I’ve offered a healthy dose of explanations in response. After a couple months of dialog working on ON FALLEN WINGS, I don’t want to work with anyone else for the rest of the series. I don't trust anyone else.
  7.  A good editor is your secret weapon. Enough said.
  8. Even after editing, there will still be mistakes. It happens. After three rounds of professional edits and a couple reviews after formatting, ON FALLEN WINGS still had a few errors. Oh, I cringed when I found them. I was so upset that I had sent my book into the world with flaws. One night I discovered a page where Leila’s name was spelled wrong. I was so upset that I immediately took the book off sale and corrected the error. It was 2 am. Her name was missing the “i.” That’s it. I was freaking out over one letter in a 90,000 word manuscript. Mistakes will happen. Small errors will be missed, even by professionals.
There’s one last note I want to share about my editing experience. I mentioned in number three about hiring the best. I chose my editor because she basically hit a home run with her response to my email. Not only did she respond quickly and professionally, she chose the most important page on my manuscript as a sample edit and made it better. Without saying so, she told me, “You think you’re good at this writing thing? Look at what I can do for you.” The edit blew me away. Yes, I think my editor is the best. The inevitable question that you might be asking is, “Who is she?” I won't answer that here. I’ve given her credit in the acknowledgements of ON FALLEN WINGS.

Happy reading.
~ Jamie

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