Despite my English degree, I am not the queen of commas nor do I always break my paragraphs in the correct place. By the time I sent my manuscript to my now publisher, a year ago, the thing had been cut, revised, and rewritten countless times. A speaker at a writer’s conference once said editors expect 97% of the work to be done on a manuscript before they take it on. So while I felt my baby had been edited ad nauseam, it still needed some editorial TLC and a fresh pair of expertise eyes.
I’m a newbie, so I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t know how things compare from one publishing house to the next, but here’s a taste of the editorial process for my novel Mother of My Son, that releases in just two short months.
Round one consists of tackling the big stuff. This is when my editors told me to change or develop or stretch scenes. For instance, my first chapter is a doozy (girl gives birth alone in bathtub) and although I’ve wrestled with this chapter for years, there was one little part I just couldn’t figure out how to fix—an implausibility factor. So I left it. Until my editor said, “you need to fix this” which forced me to think and think and think until…. glory! The solution smacked me in the head. And it turned out to be such an easy fix. The point is, without my editor, I would have been tempted to leave the scene as is. Some changes to the manuscript were nonnegotiable, (first chapter implausibility, extending the last chapter) and others were open for discussion. I agreed with the majority of their suggestions and tweaked my manuscript accordingly. It thrills me that all of the changes made only enhanced the story. As for the points of minor disagreement, When I explained why I wanted to leave the scene unchanged they let me have my way. This thrilled me to no end too because the story retained its flavor and my voice. Editors help you enhance the piece without cramping your style.
Round two focused on grammatical errors, wrong word usage, paragraph breaks, semicolon versus dash, etc. etc, etc. and blah blah blah. Don’t get me wrong: this is so, so, so important. But it was at this point in the process that I realized I do not want to edit, I want to write—and I really needed editors. This is why editors rock. They help you fix all this pesky, technical mistakes.
Round three. The galleys. The final copy that you and the editors and a few of their chosen readers go through one last time to hunt down and kill each and every typo and error. At least you hope so. The truth is, computers cannot edit. It takes a pair—or pairs actually—of alert human eyes, and even the best eyes aren’t perfect. The next time I spot a typo in a book, I will be much more gracious having gone through the process.
Because we’re all human. Writers, editors, and readers alike. And we all need each other to make the thing work.