Ginny's Writing Tips
The Editing Process
It is rare to find any words preserved for the future that will not be improved by good editing.
The editing process begins the moment you set down the first sentence. It is highly likely that those words will be changed before the work is complete. Think about it. The first draft is either too wordy or too spare, the vocabulary is either very simple or over the top. The grammar might be faulty. The sentence may be passive.
Those are all things you, the author, will need to fix to the best of your ability before the manuscript leaves your hands.
It's your responsibility to submit the cleanest manuscript possible. That means you must check for spelling, typos, and grammar. Are the descriptions vivid enough or do they take over the story? Have you taken care to keep everything consistent, from the character's voice to names and descriptions? It is so easy to forget what name you gave to a walk-on character when he/she reappears later in the story. Dialect is difficult to write and keeping it the same throughout the book is even harder. It's also important to get the facts right, especially when writing a historical piece, although contemporary stories also require research. It is not your editor's job to do the research for you.
It always helps to have someone do a cold read on a story. Critique partner(s) can help but they know the story almost as well as you do. Fresh eyes are useful to spot weak plots, left out words and things that don't make sense.
Once your work has been accepted, the editor will make changes in keeping with the publishing house standards. This process depends on the house and the editor. I've had requests to change only one word and have been asked for changes that make the manuscript look like it has wallowed on the slaughter house floor.
Remember your editor is not your friend, but the book's friend. He/she is asking for changes which will make your story BETTER, some of which will be so obvious you will wonder how you missed them and others that will make your blood boil. Rant, rave or scream at your computer screen if you need to vent. Then take a deep breath and look at the whole thing objectively.
Don't argue over the small stuff. Save your battles for the things that really matter, such as research you've done that the editor has not seen. Or perhaps a change is something you really hate. Is there a way to compromise? Can you rewrite the part in a way that avoids the area under dispute without changing the essence of the scene? How about a request to eliminate a whole scene over which you slaved and really like? Is the editor's reason for removing it sound? Is it in the wrong place and you can simply move it elsewhere? Or is it something that, no matter how well written, does not move the story forward? Remember you and editor are both professionals. Behave accordingly.
How about requests to change a word? Does the word convey what you think it does? Is the word too modern for the setting of the story? Your dictionary usually gives the date or timeframe when a word came into common use. When writing a historical it is imperative to check. In more modern settings a writer should still check. I wanted to use the word "nightstand" in Honor Bound, which is set in 1812. Oops! The dictionary dates the word in 1892. I also wanted to use "picnic" at one time. It was first used in 1748 as a noun and in verb form in 1842.
Remember words are not set in stone. Rewriting is just as much a part of producing a salable manuscript as putting the first draft on your computer screen. I, for one, am much better at rewriting than I am at creating that first draft. No one sees my first efforts until I have redone it at least once, more often several times.
Editing is an essential part of creating any written work, be it a letter, technical paper or a work of fiction. I have read countless reviews that state the story was ruined by lack of good editing. It is your name on the work. Mistakes reflect on the author. Work hand in hand with your editor to create as perfect a finished product as possible.
©Virginia H. McBlain, 2015