Writing can be tedious and grueling. It often leaves writers confused and frustrated. But one thing is certain… writers are tenacious. Not only will we persist through writer’s block, and misdirection, but we will also finish what we started (as long as we believe in our work.)
When a story is completed, we lay down our pens, or lift our fingers from the keyboard and sigh… majestically. A tear might trickle down our cheek. A chuckle might escape our lips. A scream, a sob, or the dance of a lunatic might ensue. We have conquered!
The story has been told. Everything is perfect.
Except it’s not.
It takes some time to be ready for it, but editing must come next. Editing is a humbling experience for the conqueror of told story, but a skilled editor can, and in fact, will, help us present our story to readers in the way we intended for it to be heard.
What is involved in the editing process? Why is it so important?
I asked Hilary Gunning, of HG Editing, some questions about the editing process, because I think it’s best to get facts straight from the professionals.
The editing process begins with establishing what kind of editing you would like to have done. I asked Hilary to briefly explain the different types of editing.
Hilary: Editing is usually available in three tiers.
Proofreading is basically just catching all the little problems, typos, grammatical and punctuation errors – those kinds of things. After proofreading, a manuscript should be entirely error-free, but it will still have any clunky phrasing or content problems left from the original.
Next, you have copy-editing (sometimes line editing), which is more substantial. In addition to correcting mechanical errors, it usually involves improvements in phrasing and overall style and any necessary content corrections.
Finally, in developmental editing, the editor will take in the book as a whole and address broad issues like plot and character development, pacing, tone, and effectiveness. A developmental edit will usually result in more work for the author as the editor provides suggestions to make large-scale improvements to the manuscript.
There’s different terminology out there, and there can be overlap in the definitions, so always make sure to clarify with your particular editor exactly what to expect.
Once the work is in the editor’s hands, it’s a good time to sit back and pray for an open mind, because the next step involves revisions… ones we must be willing to make. I was curious about what advice Hilary would give to an author who has reached this stage of editing.
Hilary: A good editor aims to grasp the bones of a book, see what the author is trying to accomplish, and then make suggestions where necessary to push that vision forward. It can be easy when deep in the throes of writing – especially something as substantial as a novel – for an author to wind up with a disconnect between what he or she wants to do and what ends up on the page. An editor sees the manuscript from a fresh perspective – a reader’s perspective – and can point out where things get bogged down, where a character’s motivation is unclear – generally where the book isn’t effective.
If you’re struggling with an editor’s revisions, remember, first, that your editor (probably) isn’t trying to destroy your will to live. Second, things an editor points out are often thoughts that your intended audience would have – even if unconsciously – and they could seriously affect their experience of your book. Revision suggestions also give an opportunity to dialogue about issues in the book and, in some cases, explain (to the editor and yourself) why you made a potentially questionable choice. You’ll ultimately have a stronger grasp of what you want to accomplish and how to do it.
When the author has agreed to make changes and rewrites portions of the story, how does that effect the editing process? Doesn’t that mean more mistakes were likely made in the process? Does the book now need a new edit?
Hilary: This is largely up to the author and editor on an individual basis. Some authors are only looking for initial suggestions and plan to finalize their work after making revisions while others want a more deeply collaborative relationship with an editor that involves a lot of back and forth.
I usually suggest at least one review by the same editor after an author makes revisions to make sure that all issues have been addressed and no others have popped up. Depending on the readiness of the initial manuscript, several re-edits may be beneficial to tease out the very best in a novel. A second edit will usually involve more cost to the author, however, and that is often a limitation.
On my most recent book, I had two editors. I did this because I made some changes and wanted a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript. My goal, of course, was to have an error free manuscript. I didn’t hesitate to ask another editor to take a look. But afterward, I did find myself wondering if my first editor might prefer exclusivity. How does an editor feel about a second editor coming on board?
Hilary: It’s not a terrible idea to have someone new take a look. I’d probably suggest working with one editor for substantial revisions and then having a reader go through the final product – even just a friend or family member. Professional editors will obviously differ, but on major issues they’ll likely catch many of the same things, so an additional professional edit may not be worth the added cost.
The editing process can get pretty personal. When you bring an editor on board, you’ve invited them to critique and evaluate your work. Sometimes a bond is formed. Sometimes you might want to kill each other. How important is the editor/author relationship?
Hilary: Compatibility is important; chemistry is the icing on the cake. Editors have lots of different priorities and styles, and it can take some trial and error for an author to find someone who will do the kind of edit he or she is looking for. Personality can also be an issue. When an editor and author have strong chemistry, though, that can result in some magic. I’ve edited numerous manuscripts for a particular author, and with each book, I’ve become more acquainted with her tone and her goals, and she’s come to trust my instincts and believe that I have her best interests at heart. It makes for a great working relationship and, in the end, a strong final product.
And finally… Speaking of author/editor relationships… should we give credit to our editor inside the pages of our book or do we merely view it as a service rendered? Of course, authors want to be known for their work. Is it important to the editor to be known for their work as well? (After all, the tedious work and valuable insight of a good editor is part of what takes our work to the next level.) Let’s hear what Hilary thinks.
Hilary: Oh, it’s always nice to be appreciated! 🙂 But editors are pretty used being in the background, too, I think. It’s an inherently behind-the-scenes job. It’s good to have some visibility, though; if authors read a book and see my name as editor, maybe they’ll consider me for their next project.
I do like to be credited; there’s a nice feeling of accomplishment and finality to it. But it can depend on the book and the author’s intentions.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to ask Hilary these questions. Even though I’ve been through the process a few times, I’m certain understanding things from the editor’s point of view will add value to my next editing experience… and hopefully yours too.