How can you better best?
We’re always keen to know, particularly when an author is new to us, how well that author can react and respond to editorial comment. Any professional will make any text they send to us the best it can be. That can be part of the problem: how do you make your best even better. Do not fear; there are two mitigating circumstances here:
1. You move on as a writer – constantly and faster and faster all the time. By the time your script comes back to you, not only have you gained some distance, but you will probably set yourself a higher standard anyway.
2. Your editor also has some distance from the text. S/he brings a fresh perspective and also consumes it with readers’ eyes. You are too close to it to see that something isn’t quite clear.
The three stages of editing
The global edit
This comes first. Here you may be asked to strengthen your plot or your characters. You may need to add, subtract or rewrite scenes. You may need to alter the pace. Is it too slow, too fast or unbalanced? Do you need to add more tension or indeed allow the reader to relax a little? Is the dialogue working? Does it show character, further the plot, create atmosphere or, preferably, do at least two of these things at once? Does it ring true for the person who is speaking without sounding too natural? (This is actually revisited in the second stage.) Is it all logical? Does time behave? Is the resolution satisfying?
The line edit
Here your editor will identify where you lose the voice, where you tell instead of showing and where you have used clichés. You will also revisit the dialogue and also identify and passages that don’t quite make sense. The copy edit may also address the balance of narrative styles; is there the right mix of exposition, description, dialogue and action? This edit will also uncover where a scene needs to be shortened, lengthened or enriched.
The copy edit
This is where we check for typos and spelling and grammatical mistakes. We also check that everything makes sense and that the language generally flows well. Section and paragraph breaks are also scrutinized here.
These three stages are often undertaken by different editors in bigger publishing houses. This has the advantage of offering the author not one but three sets of new reader eyes.
The proof read
This is done on a camera-ready PDF or an actual proof copy. The author is usually invited to do this too, and usually two members of the editorial team or sometimes professional proof-readers work on the text at this stage.
Using “track changes”
This is used now by many publishers, particularly on the second and third edit. It can be a little daunting to see the script covered in alterations, with the original still showing, and with several comments in the margin.
A little tip here: set the text to “Final” in the Review ribbon. Then just read what is left only flipping back to “Final Show Marking” when you come across something that doesn’t seem right. At that point either just reject the change or reject it and make your own change. This is about finding a third way. I’ve always found that some really strong writing emerges at this point – occasionally so strong that the writer has to go back and make the rest match!
Once you’ve gone through the whole text accept all of the changes.
Working this way saves you hours of agonising over which is better – your original or the editor’s suggestion. There is often very little in it. Trust the editor – they’ve done it before. This also makes you read the whole script – looking at isolated bits doesn’t really work.
Next, look at the suggestions in the margins – often in the form of a question. This is where the editor senses some weakness but doesn’t have concrete or detailed suggestions. Send your script back to your editor, allowing your changes to show. Again, this is where you may choose a “third way”.
The script will often have to travel backwards and forwards two or three times until both parties are satisfied. It’s sensible to rename the document each time – perhaps a combination of title, date and initials e.g. mystory140222GJ
Worth itThis may seem a slightly challenging process. Do remember your editor is totally on your side. Just think how proud you will be when at your launch you know you are releasing an excellent book out into the world.
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