So you’ve managed to sell a short story to a literary magazine or you’ve found a publisher for your book. What’s next? What comes next is the editing process and if you’re writing fiction, especially, it can be quite painful. You created that world, that story, those characters- who is this person wanting to step-in and move the furniture around? That person is an editor, and despite cursory observations, they really are on your side.
I’ve just been through about three months of editing for two books I have coming out in the next nine months. The first is a book for kids called Thato Lekoko: Superhero which is being published by Oxford University Press- South Africa. The other book, coming out next May, is a historical novel called The Scattering, published by Umuzi, the South African imprint of Penguin/ Random House. Just as these two books are miles apart from each other story-wise and readership-wise, the editing process, too, was as different from each other as cheese and milk. It has been a tough three months, but I’ve come out on the other side a slightly better writer, if a bit ego-battered.
Here are some things I’ve learned that will make your next editing process a lot easier:
1. Learn how to use tracking on Word before the editing starts.
Tracking is how the edits are made in the computer age. Small edits can quickly be resolved by pressing “accept”. Others will require more work. If you don’t understand tracking you’re going to have a rough time and so is your editor.
2. Your editor would have read through your manuscript numerous times. They are making changes that they believe improves the manuscript. They’re not just changing things to make you angry.
I once had an editor who did not do that, though. She started editing immediately, without reading the entire manuscript, and sent me bits and pieces as she progressed. I could see she was not serious and quickly got out of the publishing contract since the publisher was not willing to hire a different editor. This happened only once, and it will not happen with professionals. They spend a lot of time getting to know your writing before they start suggesting changes. They are looking for inconsistencies and plot holes, clichéd writing, repetition, and convoluted, and badly constructed sentences.
3. When you get your edited manuscript back, it can be frightening and infuriating.
An edited manuscript can look quite scary. Lots of red, lots of comments in the margin. Lots of work for you. Take it in slowly. Let the anger out. I shout a lot at my computer. If I’m in my office alone and I’m saying things such as – “Are you kidding me??” And other words that can’t be mentioned in this column- I’m going through an edited manuscript. It can be painful; embrace the pain.
4. Keep to all deadlines.
I know lots of editors, some I even call friends. Many nowadays work on a freelance basis. This means that they agree to projects in advance knowing how long each will take. They give dates to publishers and these dates help decide publisher time-lines and a freelancer’s income. If you miss your deadlines, you are throwing the entire train off the tracks.
5. In the end- it’s your work.
After everything, after you’ve shouted, after you’ve “killed your darlings”, after you’ve put your ego to the side- the work is yours. A good editor helps you enhance your voice, not replace it with theirs. Sometimes you just need to say- I want it like this. And that’s how it should stay. But make sure you are doing it from a place that is improving the book, not from a place of ego. (A lesson I have not completely learned yet.)
No one is perfect. No one. You might have self-edited your manuscript a thousand times, but still a good editor will find a way to make your writing even shinier. Submit to the process, it will make you look like a better writer than you really are -and who doesn’t want that?
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway
(This first appeared in the Friday edition of Mmegi in my column, It's All Write, 28 August, 2015)