Ruth E. Walker
Last week, I wrote about the role of an editor when working on your manuscript. Editors France Peck and Sherry Hinman shared some ideas on the qualities of an editor that writers should look for.
But what about your role? Do writers have any responsibility in this delicate dance between what you thought you’d written and what the editor discovered?
Yup. And it doesn’t include arguing every little point you think the editor missed or misunderstood. I was once in a critique group with a writer who argued every bit of feedback offered by his colleagues. He felt he was arguing others’ “opinions”. He argued even when those opinions were clearly shared by the majority (“All the characters sound the same in dialogue”; “The pacing is slow in the beginning.”; “Who is the protagonist?”, “What’s at stake for the protagonist?” etc., etc.) No one, apparently, understood his work.
I remember thinking, Oh dear. How will he ever work with an editor? To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t yet.
Does an editor need to like your manuscript?
Nope. But an editor should understand and support the heart of your manuscript — what you want your manuscript to do, who to reach, etc. A good editor values your intent. And a good editor will let you know if liking your story matters to how they work on it.
Some years ago, I edited a self-help book for men by an American writer. I totally understood his intent and applauded him for it. But in the editing, I discovered that he was quoting some facts and figures that didn’t quite add up. I asked him for his sources. He had none.
So I sent him back to the drawing board and he returned with new facts and figures that did add up. With sources. Reliable sources that offered even better support to his thesis.
I didn’t entirely agree with his thesis. But his heart was in the right place. And I was pleased I could help him enhance his message with solid facts.
Is there any benefit to self-editing if you’re hiring an editor?
So, think of it this way: Would you hand in an essay for marks that you haven’t checked for errors? Of course not. So why would you treat your writing like something that doesn’t really matter? Own your words, writer. And make them the best possible.
There are so many things a writer can do to self-edit a draft manuscript. Here’s a partial list:
- Use proper manuscript format: double-space, 1-inch margins, pagination
- Read your work aloud; your ear will catch errors your eyes will often miss
- Use a ruler to separate sentences for a line-by-line reading; look intensely at each line
- Try the FIND feature in word processing to look for problem words/phrases; frequent misspellings, typos, etc.
- Use FIND again to find passive verbs (was/is/were, etc.); replace with active verbs when you can
- Pay attention to your known “issues”; for me, it’s numbers and I always have to triple check
Why would an editor want to work with you?
Consider my former writing critique colleague. Working well with an editor means you need to actually consider the editor’s notes. Obviously, spelling errors, typos, awkward phrasing — these are clear areas that need fixing. But what about that comment that the spectacular chapter with the choreographed hand-to-hand combat scene is…too long!?! And, in fact, may be unnecessary to the plot. Well, what does that editor know about a great romance with a combat twist anyway?
I had an editor suggest that I had the Canadian army being gassed in WWI too early in the war. I went back to my notes. Nope. My research supported my scene: April 22 – 24,1915. But how I handled it was wrong. I got defensive. Rather like a “know-it-all”, in fact. That editor was hired by an agent to review/recommend my novel. The agent ended up rejecting my manuscript.
Was it because the book wasn’t for her or was it because I was a bit of a jerk with the editor? I’ll never know. But it was something I’ve always remembered and have always worked hard at not reacting to critique but instead, listening, considering and then responding as appropriate.
Good editors are a writer’s gift
I will always thank George Down of The Book Band who edited my novel Living Underground. He was patient with a first-time author, giving me both phone time and endless emails to answer questions or clarify comments. He was encouraging in a quiet and consistent way. And he was so helpful with issues around the German language and culture that helped strengthen my character, Sigmund.
And I will ever be grateful to Peter Carver of Red Deer Press for his wonderful comments on the early draft of my current WIP: The Last Battlewipe. His reading and feedback of my manuscript was part of the first prize I won at the 2014 Muskoka Novel Marathon for my Young Adult novel. Peter’s questions and comments have been a beacon as I’ve worked to make my crazy illogical planet make some kind of sense.
When I edit others, I am committed to honouring the words. Technically, I am looking for errors and logic glitches, dropped threads and underdeveloped plots and characters. But emotionally, I’m looking to enhance the words and bring the story’s heart out to where readers can see and feel it too.
It’s only through a relationship with the writer that this editor can get a sense of that heart. And that’s the best part of any editing assignment.
Did You Know?
The first point in self-editing Ruth refers to is proper manuscript format. Is it the same for all manuscripts? Not by a long shot. A manuscript for a poetry collection is not the same as for a non-fiction or fiction manuscript.
Writer’s Digest has a great resource for fiction manuscripts, defining some basic standards. These standards can be applied to non-fiction manuscripts as well. With poetry, the form of the poem is not meant to conform to standard paragraphing, for obvious reasons. But the importance of proofreading and clean copy applies to everyone.
Watch for an upcoming post on manuscript format.