Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Editing Woes

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft"
-- H. G. Wells

When striving to become published, what everyone who has been down this route before will happily tell you, literary agents and publishing houses receive hundreds of submissions every day, so yours needs to stand out, be technically as perfect as possible and grab the ‘reader’ in the first few lines – or all that work you poured into your manuscript will be wasted. That writing a novel is consistent, repetitive and analytical hard work.

Editing is worse!

An acquisitions editor *may* give your chapter a two-page reading before consigning it to the slush pile. Many are tossed after one paragraph. Writers Digest 2008

Agents and acquisitions editors read so many opening chapters, their brains immediately focus on the basic mistakes we all make when we begin to write. They will not:

· Look beyond it and consider the work as a whole
· Assume any technical errors can be corrected during a later edit
· Take into account the writer’s novice status and ignore the grammatical errors and typos

No, no and no, – they will toss the manuscript.

Having a wonderful story and even the talent to tell it is not enough - it's the basic errors that will stand out to a publishing professional because they are trained to home in on them.

It’s a common problem that a writer overlooks mistakes when they proofread, because being emotionally tied into your creation means it’s hard to be objective about your own writing.

A professional book editor can and will recognize the repetitions, inconsistencies, clumsy phraseology and all the other problems the writer simply doesn’t see.

All this I have to take into account to edit my latest novel for my agent [how many times can I get those words into one post?] to ready the manuscript for a sales pitch. It’s nerve-wracking, in that every sentence I alter, each phrase I simplify and every modifier I check is correctly placed, I think, ‘Have I changed this for the better, or is it simply change for change sake?’

I have specific parameters to follow, like begin the story at a different point, and change the title. These are relatively simple instructions, however, when I have ‘finished’ the edit on a chapter and read it through, sometimes it has no impact on me whatsoever. Then the panic sets in that I have killed my story, stripped all the life and colour from it in an effort to be technically perfect, and rendered my characters two-dimensional.

At this point I often go running to my wonderful critique group to get a second opinion from someone who knows what they are talking about.

Has anyone got a formula [magic or otherwise] for seeing their way to doing this right?

And for a Tuesday laugh - take a look at this: Publishing 911 it's hilarious and compliments of Nixy Valentine, who I am sure wouldn't mind me passing on the link.


Lisa Yarde said...

Anita, I really wish I could offer you a magic formula for coping with editing hell but since I don't have any, how about a good dose of reality instead? There is no magic formula. Sorry but there simply is none, so don't waste your time looking for it. You'll only find yourself nitpicking at every single sentence until you want to poke your own eyeballs out.

You hit the nail right on the head when it comes to editing; change for the better or change for change's sake. Try summarizing your scenes and chapters. Have you accomplished the goal of that particular section by the end? If so, one less section to revise.

Thanks for the link to Publishing 911.


Jane Beckenham said...

Loved the post Anita. And you can bet that if there was a formula - I WOULD OWN IT.
Editing is never ending in our writing lives, darn it.
But just remember, that we do what we do, because we love it, and we have to.

Jane Beckenham

Jen Black said...

Lisa said it all, Anita. Plus which agents/editors are people - they have likes, dislikes and will go for what they like and disregard the rest. It's all a bit of a gamble. You might catch them on a grumpy morning after a night out, or on a high when the last book they did reaches best seller lists...all you can do is write what *you* like the best way you can and hope for the best

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Repeat to yourself that this is a good problem to have (look how far you've come!). Trust your gut. You *know* when something works and when it doesn't. And if in doubt - take a walk, go out to dinner, do some housework. IOW, step away from the trees, so you can see the forest ;-).

All the best,

Ginger Simpson said...

Even being in a critique group confuses the heck out of me. So many recommendations, some contradicting one's you just made at someone else's suggestion. If you find the formula, I expect you to share it. Sometimes I read things until I think I'm going blind and still miss obvious mistakes.

What I see in the editing process...usually the suggestions don't really change much other than the way a sentence is worded. We all 'flex' our writing muscle, and if it sounds strange when we read it...why not put it into our own words. *lol* I know I do that when I critique or edit. I'm trying not to, but I think it's human nature. People keep saying the secret is to glean what's helpful and trash what's not, but it's deciding which goes where that has me baffled.

Loved the 911 post. That was so true.


Phyllis Campbell said...

I've had several editors over the years, and so I understand this topic. Most of the time it was easy to work with my editor, but there was one...(shakes head). Let's just say I almost told her to cancel the damn contract, I was so frustrated. What was upsetting is I knew more than she did. (shrugs) We can't please them all...darn it. lol


Anne Whitfield - author said...

I like your book percentages - The Maze 105% done. So funny.

Anonymous said...

This is my first time here, but because I am editing as well, I thought that I'd jump in. I've aleady edited my manuscript at least five times, the last time for my agent who managed to sell it to the editor that I'm working with now.
For me, the secret is to keep an open mind, listen to suggestions, then, as Gemi said, follow with your gut and do the best that you can do.
Good luck,
Kathleen in VA

Lisa Logan said...

Yes, I'm an Acq. Ed. and confess that this post is by and large true. Luckily, I'm one of the few who WILL dig through a little bit of dust in the mine in search of a diamond, but I won't dig deep. If a manuscript requires a pick axe to get at the gems, after a couple pages' worth I'm sending out the perfunctory form letter.

My best tip for editing is to have a cooling off period between rounds, like the waiting period to purchase a hand gun. (Both are necessary to avoid unnecessary violence. heh heh) Make that draft sit and think about what it's done for at least a week or two. It's a healthy thing for the both of you.

Good luck with the editing, Denise!