Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Painful Part - Editing!

I promised to talk next about Copyediting.  To be truthful, there's not much to talk about.  My book was in Copyediting for the month of August.  That means the copyeditors at the publisher were going through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and correcting any errors in capitalization, spelling, etc.  Very necessary, to be sure, but not terribly exciting.  During this time, the copyeditors did not contact me other than to let me know that they were working with my manuscript.  I hope I didn't give them many things that needed to be corrected!

Now, however, we are deep into the gory, painful process of EDITING!!!  If you got through 5th or 6th grade English class, you know how painful this is.  You spend hours and hours writing your masterpiece, and your teacher hands it back to you with  - RED INK!  He has the gall to expect you to rewrite some parts, after all the effort you've already put into it.  He wants you to cut your favorite joke from the essay because it wasn't appropriate or didn't have anything to do with the subject.  Are you kidding?  That joke was great!  That's what everyone will want to read!!!  Of course, in 5th grade you are always trying to make your essays longer: "This summer was very, very, very, very, very, very hot."  Yes!  I have exactly 200 words now!  What is even more painful is when you get to high school or college, and you have learned to do research and wax eloquently about your favorite subject for page upon flowery page, and your professor wants you to cut it!  What?!  Yes, it's too long now, not interesting.  You must cut 500 words out of this paper.  Yes, you know what this feels like!

The truth is, though, a good editor will make your book great.  Learning to cut what is not needed is essential.  A good editor knows what is publishable and what sells, so listen to her!  Here are my tips for Less-Painful Editing:

1) No pain, no gain.  Oops, I just violated the important rule of not using cliches in writing.  Oh, but it's so true in this circumstance.  If you don't do some cutting and changing, your book will not achieve its full potential.

2) Accept that there will be changes.  Your editor knows what sells.  He's been around the market for a while.  Trust him.  When you submit your book to a publisher, do so knowing that it's just a draft and there will be changes.  If you don't get too attached to every little phrase, you will be able to let go and make the painful changes that need to be done.

3)  Maintain your vision.  On the other hand, your editor is not omniscient.  You do not have to accept every change she suggests as written in stone.  If there is something you really, really do not want to change, don't.  The editor is not there to rewrite the book for you, only to suggest improvements.  You are still the author, and you still maintain control of your work.

4) Edit, Edit, Edit!  I have had a lot of training in writing and language arts, and I make it my sincere goal to not submit anything that has common errors, such as spelling or grammar problems, that I should be able to catch and correct on my own.  My husband is better with developing original ideas than I am, but he does not catch spelling and grammatical errors as well, so when he wrote an article for a magazine a few years ago, he asked me to edit it.  I also edit his sermons, his newsletters, and I even edited a lot of his Master's Thesis.  Two heads are better than one (oops, another cliche!)

When I wrote this children's book, I had my husband edit it for me, but I also reached out to some friends.  I specifically asked several friends with children to read the book with their children and tell me what they thought.  I wrote this book about Intelligent Design, and I have already discussed Intelligent Design with my children.  Therefore, they understood the concepts and terms before I read my book to them.  The average child of their age, who has not had the benefit of living with the author while she writes the book, may not understand these things.  By incorporating young editors, I was able to find some of those confusing areas and fix them for my target audience.

Now, a lot of your friends will say "great job!" and hand your work back to you.  They mean it.  They are legitimately proud of the work you have done and may or may not be experts on your subject.  One of my friends in particular, however, sent me back a ton of edits!  She had a list of places where she questioned awkwardness, grammar, words her kids didn't understand, and redundant material.  Then she apologized because she really did like my book and didn't want to hurt my feelings!  Did it hurt my feelings?  Not at all.  She is a GREAT friend!  If she hadn't caught all those things, the professional editor would have.  In fact, the company may not have wanted to publish the book in the first place.  Friends who can be lovingly honest are a great asset in this work!

5) DON'T get your feelings hurt!!!  When I began working with my husband (then my fiance) on his Master's Thesis, we had to have a pact.  We still make jokes about my red pen (which I still really do like to use because you can see what's been done so much more easily).  You could see him cringe when I handed it back to him with entire pages marked out with a big, red X.  He doesn't get his feelings hurt easily, however, and we agreed that I would be completely honest and he would not be hurt.  The result?  His professor was impressed with his work and handed back very few edits of his own.  My husband decided that it had been worth it to do some extra cutting and rewriting before even turning in the draft.  He knew he had submitted the best product that he possibly could.

I think this may be hardest for us as female writers.  What we have written is practically a piece of our very soul on paper.  We have opened ourselves up, and we are vulnerable.  As hard as it is, male or female, separate yourself from your work so that you will not take anything personally during this process.  If a friend or spouse editing your work could destroy your relationship, skip that step and let the professional editor (a stranger) do the dirty work.  If your book was not good, the company wouldn't want to publish it in the first place.  Any suggestions the editor makes are to make your book BETTER, and most of the suggestions are probably good ones.  So put your nose to the grindstone, leave a few pages on the cutting room floor, and make the hard changes, without taking any of it as a personal slap in the face.  Like gold refined in the fire, your finished product will be worth the work!

So this is where my book is now.  My editor sent me a copy with suggested changes several weeks ago. I accepted most of them, but chose to keep one place the same.  I sent the copy with my revisions back to her.  By this time, it is a very marked-up copy!  She will send me a clean draft to approve later this month.  I am happy to report that she did not suggest very many changes, so having my "pre-editor" before I submitted the book paid off.  (Thanks, Judy!)  Most of the revisions she did suggest centered around cutting words to make the story fit better on the pages.  I had to cut the number of my original words when I first submitted my manuscript.  Then, when the publisher accepted the book, they asked me to cut 300 more.  Now in the editing phase, my editor asked me to cut another 100.  Whew!  It is hard to cut all those words I so carefully wrote!  But I did it.  And I think the finished product will be worth it!

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