Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wednesday is all-about-writing day no.1: revisions and edits

I’m going to blog about revisions and editing today. This was one of the things I used to scour the Net looking for information about, when I was unpublished. I wanted to know what to expect. Now that I’ve been e-published and print published, I can share my experience -- but do keep in mind that every publisher does things slightly differently, this is just my experience.

I’ll look at the revisions stage first. This is where your acquiring editor will make suggestions on the book overall, helping you to mould the story, making it stronger. Depending on the publisher, some will ask for revisions before buying, some after. If before, they are very interested in buying, they wouldn't be asking for this otherwise, so give it your best shot! Usually, revisions come in the form of a note/mail with the editor’s suggestions. Once an editor gave me revisions over the phone, while I was scribbling away. That's more unusual.

What sort of revisions might be asked for? Here's one example. In my forthcoming Red Sage paranormal novella, WHAT YOU WISH FOR, the editor wanted me to go deeper into the magic of the story. There is a matchmaking white witch character who creates the magic in the story, and what the editor suggested was showing more of her involvement. If you look at the excerpt I have on my web site HERE, the opening scene is from the point of view of Enid, the white witch, and it was one of the revisions I made. Adding in a third point of view might seem like quite a major revision, but because the character was already there and the majority of her actions were just “off set,” it was easy and a lot of fun to give her own viewpoint! The revisions stage is where an editor really helps you make your story stronger, which is what Enid’s PoV did for that novella. They are the kind of things that might make you wonder: “now, why didn't I think of that myself?”

Now, you’ve done the revisions, the editor has bought it, if they hadn’t already. On to the editing itself. With electronic editing your book comes back as an electronic document with added review comments from the editor, suggesting changes and improvements. These will appear as a different coloured text in the margins. You go through and make the changes yourself, based on what they have said. This is a really good learning experience. It’s also easy to send a document back and forth in the process I call “cyclical editing.” That is, the editor goes through once, and I make the changes, send back, she goes through again to pick up anything we missed before.

When a New York publisher signed me, I’d heard that things are done in a more traditional style. The day I first saw the FedEx van outside, my heart beat a little faster. This was it. Exciting and daunting all at once! ;-) The package contained my book, with information from different people inscribed onto the printed out pages. I think I was expecting it to be the more complicated method, but in a way it was simpler. My acquiring editor had been through with pencil, making word change suggestions here and there, or asking for a clarification, or expansion. An example of this is in the editing I’ve just done for SEX, LIES, AND BONDAGE TAPE. The heroine makes the hero think of a Modesty Blaise novel. The editor asked me to say who Modesty Blaise is, for readers who might not know. I added a reference to “the sexy secret agent,” and it was done. Yes, I should have thought of that myself, but these things slip by in the heat and passion of writing. ;-)

The line editor has then gone through with red ink. This is where we get to the nitty-gritty of things like punctuation, grammar and repetitions. The line editor also double checks facts, and includes post-it notes to highlight specific things that need my attention, such as where something has been reworded and I need to give approval, or explain. The difference between doing it this way, as against electronic, is nothing ever changes until everyone has their input. So it goes through the cycles of two editors and my final revisions, then it goes back again and someone else adds all those changes into the original document. You get a chance to check that all those changes were incorporated correctly, when proofs -- or “first-pass pages” -- are sent out to you after typesetting. Suprisingly, I think that’s my preferred method, because it feels more formal, although the big thing that is missing is that I’m not actually making the changes myself, I am merely approving someone else’s suggestions or rewording in margin notes. I have to make an extra (big) effort to make sure I am learning from the experience. To do that, I go through it twice, then I go back and incorporate each and every edit into my own original RTF document. This also puts my mind at rest when sending off the only existing copy with all that added information. Believe me, seeing the package go off in the back of a delivery van and expecting it to arrive in New York the next morning, intact, is a process that leaves me in a cold sweat. LOL

What was initially surprising to me about the editing process is that relatively few things get changed. It truly is polishing. The odd word here and there, punctuation, knowing how to lay out things like emdashes (it has finally sunk in, my editors will be relieved to hear. LOL) The line editor also looks out for things such as inconsistencies, as I mentioned in a previous blog, where my heroine's bra kept appearing on and off in the same scene. Grin. Me bad. The truth of the matter is that most editors don’t have time to take on books that need a whole lot of editing, no matter how outstanding the story -- and I heard that directly from a major UK acquiring editor. You need to keep going over your work, then have a critique partner or a test reader go over it for you, because if an acquiring editor has two manuscripts in front of her with equally compelling stories, and one is weaker on presentation, grammar or spelling, which one do you think she’s going to buy?

I used to worry about this part of it all, but it truly is a positive experience. The editors want your book to shine, and together you are a team. I found that I love doing revisions and edits, because I want to learn and improve my work through that input. Always learning :-) Next Wednesday I’m going to say some stuff about option clauses!


tilly said...

Wonderful post! I love this kind of stuff. I'll be a regular for your Wednesday salon

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks, Tilly. That's really good to know.

Marilyn Jaye Lewis said...

A good editor is a gift from heaven. I have learned so much about solid storytelling over the years simply from paying attention to editor's comments, corrections, etc. What a thoughtful post for other writers!

Nikki said...

Thanks for that Saskia. I love hearing about other people's working process.

I find that the whole editing process is fascinating - and editing other people's (or critting, at least) helps develop one's own writing.

See you next week!