Saturday, 28 February 2015

How to Be a Good Editor


Christmas is heading for the distant boundary, so I am now embarking upon the major process of editing the first draft of Smoke & Mirrors, book five in the Victorian Detectives series, before sending it to my first reader/editor for a read-through.

Editing is, in its essence, the art of making things sound better. I have had various editors in my time and they all work in different ways. My OUP editor maintained a firm hands-off stance, more or less allowing the book to emerge from manuscript to finished product unscathed with just a few marginal queries en route. On the other hand, I have had editors who carefully scrutinise every paragraph, and red-pencil everything they want changing.

It is a fine balance for the writer to maintain. On the one hand an editor does (or should) know what makes good, readable prose and so it is in one's interest to take on board suggestions offered. However it is a moot point how far an editor allows their own 'reading' of the manuscript, and involvement in the creative process to predominate over the original voice of the author. I have been told, on one memorable occasion, that a character ''wouldn't have said that''. As if I knew nothing about them. Sometimes, you have to fight for your integrity. It is never an easy balance.

On this occasion though, I shall be doing my own edits, which means I shall be fighting for my integrity against myself, which will be interesting, and the internal Civil War will probably throw up all sorts of queries. Which I shall have to refer to myself to solve. Hopefully any conflict and animosity will abate enough so that the two of us can get on with it.

By the time the book reaches my final editor, it will be almost summer. I am not good in hot weather, but the heat in the Victorian era must have been almost insupportable for women. Forced to go about in tight whalebone corsets, stockings, and numerous undergarments, forbidden to show their arms and legs for fear of exciting male sensibilities, one can barely imagine the torture they must have undergone.

And then there was the smell to contend with. In the days before Bazalgette revolutionised the sewerage system, everything made its malodorous journey through London to the River Thames, into which raw sewage and the by-products from factories, and slaughterhouses were poured, so that in the heat of summer, the stink was unbearable.

There is a story that Queen Victoria, visiting the Houses of Parliament one day, noticed small pieces of screwed-up toilet paper floating on the Thames. Upon inquiring of an official what they were, she was told that they contained messages of goodwill from her subjects.
Now that's what I call good editing.

22 comments:

  1. Happy editing, Carol. (Hopefully without the excessive use of red pen or toilet paper!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks jo. Unlike many, I LIKE editing...

      Delete
  2. Hi Carol. An interesting post and I love the covers of your books. Your blog looks like it runs on similar lines to mine; how would you fancy doing a swap guest blog?
    you can contact me via my blog http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
    or at ninahare00@googlemail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Checked your blog..love to. Will email when finished editing (next week)

      Delete
  3. You make it sound almost simplistic. I on the otherhand have a sweat inducing experience . The fear of destroying that which I believe in, it is overwhelming. How do you believe in your editing as much as in your story. Thanks for this post and your wonderful reads.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Although, as you know, I do my own editing, I suppose Lord Picky, my final test reader, amounts to an editor as I have two weeks of arguments with him, per book, about whether or not someone would have said something. "No bloke would say that", says he, to which I reply that it might not be said by a working class northern bloke who won't wear a scarf in cold weather in case it makes him look like a puff, but it might be said by a nancy southerner who went to a public school. You gotta stand by your man, right? (By which I mean your character).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! The editor who used to do this (new head of Usborne) couldn't spell either, (or many other words) which REALLY used to annoy me. I'd ''correct'' her spelling (in those days you edited from paper copies)

      Delete
  5. I am very lucky, in that I never have to edit what I write. Which is just as well, for I know I wouldn't be any good at it. Jaye has always done it for me, and agents have commented in the past as to her capabilities.
    She didn't enjoy editing her own work last year, though...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Either you do, or you don't. I'm lucky in that Sue Barnard, my CC editor is very much on my wavelength, so we get along. I'm happy to do the initial edit myself, though sympathise with those who hate it.

      Delete
  6. I write and rewrite or (edit). A book can lose and gain up to 10,000 words. My editor from my publisher, will take me to task and he's right more than he is wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love the story about Queen Victoria! Good luck with the editing - I value any other person's opinion in the process, though I can have moments when I hate them for it!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I can't even begin to comprehend how difficult it must have been to write and edit without the modern day technology we no have. All the best!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post, Carol. As I've commented elsewhere, editing is rather like housework - something that nobody notices unless it's done badly.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The smell issue of long ago always fascinates me. Clothes were hardly ever washed and neither were bodies. There was no deodorant either. Pooo-eee!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Appreciated your re-posting this, Carol. I completed a 2-year rewrite of a medical memoir this last summer, for the first time working with a professional editor. I must say, I was shocked at how little input I received. Obviously she was the "hands-off" type of editor. What she did do was give me a new starting point to the story, tips on how to vary scenes and chapters by moving between high and low points, and suggestions about using chapter titles as an organizing tool. When the book went to the publisher, I found I was still the one combing through the manuscript for errors. So, while I do think it is hard to edit your own writing, if one is willing to go through the grueling process again and again, it can be done. Good luck with it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it was of help. There is a lot of reliance (misplaced) on the accuracy of external editors. Not all deserve it. A good editor will enhance a mss but a bad one can ruin it. I have had one notorious individual who queried all sorts of things I had researched and then actually altered some of my text without telling me! Needless to say, I objected! And would never let them near another book of mine ~ this being why I only use tried and trusted individuals now.

      Delete
  12. It's a two-way street. The author has to trust their editor who can make or break the book but I know of one writer who consistently changed the content without informing the editor, refused to use "track changes" and generally made their life hell.
    When the relationship works, both benefit from it but I do my best to co-operate with the editor as it is in both our interests for the book to be a success.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard the apocryphal stories of certain famous writers who won't let an editor touch or alter a word in their books.....eeep!

      Delete
    2. Quite - I don't think I'm that good to be right about every single word. It sometimes amazes me how much of an improvement one single word can make...and it usually comes from an editor hahahahhah

      Delete
  13. How many edits will your book go through before publication, or does it vary wildly?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. I do brief edits as I go.
      2. I do a whole book read through and edit 3 times
      4. My first editor does likewise
      5. My second editor ditto.
      6. Me and the first editor then proofread and check a final time.
      And we still find the odd mistake ~ as do readers!!! Amazing!!! Mind, you find them in 'big publisher' books too!

      Delete

So here's your chance! Talk to me. Comments will be visible after moderation.