Jessica Day George

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Editing- The Mystery Revealed!

I hate editing. And I love it. It's one of those things that most authors love to complain about, but take it away and we'd all have to admit that boy howdy do we need our editors! I am currently editing my upcoming book, TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, and tweeted and posted on Facebook last week that my brain was broken, and I didn't know how to begin. The tweets and comments that I received indicated that, frankly, nobody knew what I meant. Admittedly, none of the people who replied were published authors. The published authors of my acquaintance were probably all busy with their own cursing/pacing/snacking/napping method for dealing with edits. Or possibly in Cabo . . . Wish I was in Cabo . . . Anyway! I decided to take a little breaky-poo here and clarify:

What is editing? What does an editor do?

And, as per usual, I feel the need for a disclaimer. I am one person, who has only dealt with one editor. Your editor may be different. Your "style" maybe be different. It's all good. But this is what my editor and I do. Also my agent. It's a whole process.

So we begin!

Phase 1:

I write a rough draft. I love rough drafts. I run screaming through my rough drafts like a sugared up toddler in a meadow full of chocolate eggs and puppies. I rarely stop at this point to check or revise anything, I just start with Chapter 1 and babble on until I hit The End. Then I congratulate myself, loudly and frequently, and eat some chocolate. (Actually, the eating of chocolate is a daily if not hourly ritual, but let's just say I eat MORE chocolate.) Then I take a day or two off, to refresh the mind, then I plunge into reading the draft. I make some changes, I mull it all over . . . and I usually pronounce it a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I can rarely find fault with my own manuscripts. This is why people should send frequent thank you and condolence cards to both my editor and agent.

Phase 2:

I send this to my agent. I tell her it's my Best. Book. Ever. Not to mention Completely. Finished. She reads it over and makes a couple of general suggestions. It's too long in the middle, I didn't think the romantic element happened naturally, the ending was too abrupt, etc. I go back over the manuscript with this in mind and do some fixings, and she looks at it again and usually pronounces it Ready For the Editor. Sometimes it needs more work, but let's not discuss that.

Phase 3:

Off it goes to my editor! She reads it and often has her assistant (who is also an editor) read it and give her thoughts as well. My editor mulls it over, reads it again, makes notes, etc. In the case of TUESDAYS, she also sent a copy to an editor at Bloomsbury UK, and then combined this editor's feedback with her own. I meanwhile usually move on to gleefully shriek my way through another rough draft, because I have the attention span of a toddler.

Phase 4:

Time to edit! Long about the time I've become so obsessed with my new project I don't even remember writing any other book, I suddenly get a package from my editor containing a printout of my manuscript covered in tiny neat little pencilled notes. These range from grammar and spelling corrections to big picture things like adding in paragraphs and chapters to give more background for a character or event, or taking out paragraphs and chapters that are unnecessary to the story. There is also a 2-3 page letter giving her overall thoughts. This is usually a nice balance of praise for what is working well in the book (Loved this or that character, loved the interaction here and here), and cautions about what isn't working (this character is inconsistent, that part of the ending is confusing).

Now. Here is the thing that a lot of people don't realize. This is MY BOOK. I don't actually have to take one word of my editor's advice. They cannot fix a typo or move a comma without my approval. A lot of people seem to think that I turn a rough draft over to my editor, she fixes it all, and then the book is printed. Nope. I can choose to take her advice or not. She can refuse to publish the book if I do, however, because if she doesn't feel like it's something she and the publishing company would be proud of producing, then they can break the contract. Seems fair. I can also look at her notes, say, No way, this changes the entire point of the book, and break the contract myself. That's why you need to understand and trust your editor, and feel that your editor understands you and your book. I have been lucky enough to work on seven books now with this same editor, who I believe has the same vision in mind for my books that I do. Her suggestions are almost always right on the mark, and as soon as I see them I think, YES! That's what was missing here!

There has been one exception to this, which I think illustrates how we both work together. SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW, and the four winds. In the original fairy tale, EAST O' THE SUN, WEST O' THE MOON, the Lass travels on the backs of the four winds to get to the trolls' palace. This is one of my favorite parts of that story, and in my original manuscript, her experience is pretty much word for word with the fairy tale. My editor thought this was a bit vague, and with it happening four times, repetitive. She suggested combining it all into one wind . . . and, actually, making it a person like a tinker or trader who had traveled the world rather than a magical being. Now, this is fine . . . except. I had read EAST by Edith Pattou, a lovely retelling of EAST O' THE SUN that came out about ten years ago. My editor knew of the book, but had not read it. In EAST, the winds are compressed into one person, a boat captain. It's very well done, and her boat captain is a great character . . . but this is MY version. I didn't want to copy Pattou, and I really wanted those four winds. I called up my editor, and we chatted about it for a bit. She asked me to find some sort of middle ground: they are the four winds, but they look like people, just to give the scenes something more easy to visualize. I paced and snacked and mulled and thought . . . and ended up with what I think is some of my Best. Writing. Ever. I came up with a concrete personification for each of the winds, and a slightly different way of carrying the Lass for each one as well. Cheers from me, and cheers from my editor when she saw what I'd done.

So that's how this works. She suggests things, like: Could we get a paragraph here to explain the history of the castle? Or: could this be rephrased to make her seem more decisive? Or even: I can't get a grip on these four winds, do we need all four? And what about making them into something else, like a tinker who accidently stumbled on the trolls years back?

Then I take her suggestions, and I make them my own. I turn sentences around, I correct typos, sew up plot holes, rewrite dialogue, cut out redundant paragraphs. Or not. Sometimes fixing A and B makes C work better, and C doesn't need to be fixed after all. Sometimes changing chapter 2 inspires me to rewrite chapter 3 (or even 7. Or 11.) all on my own. That's what an editor does. They coach you, but they don't jump in and play the game for you.

When I feel that I've addressed all her concerns, and I've read it over and over until it's a big blur, checking that the changes are seamless, I send it back. Then comes . . .

Phase 5:

Usually, if the initial edit has gone well, this is just a couple of minor suggestions. There may be a new paragraph or chapter that feels a little choppy, but at most this is something that can be fixed in an hour. Then we go to copyedits, which is where someone whose expertise is grammar and spelling comes in and goes over the manuscript and makes sure that every comma is in its place and every hyphen is really supposed to be there. Once again, I approve everything here, and I can disagree with this person as well. I may be using Regency syntax or spelling, or inventing new words, and I need to explain what they are, and maybe see if they are really adding to the overall book or just confusing the reader. This is also when I usually put in my acknowlegements and such, if I haven't already. And it goes back to the editor again!

Phase 6:

We're in the homestretch now! This is the galley phase usually. Galleys are unbound pages that have been printed exactly as the book will be printed. The font is the same, the margins, page numbers, and any fancy doodads are all in place. I read over this, making sure that I don't see anything horrible that we've all missed before. The trick is: if I do, I have to write it on the galleys, and try to make it work without changing the page numbers. If I take a sentence out, I usually have to find a sentence to replace it that is the same length, etc. It's a bit like making a jigsaw puzzle with words, and I sweat harder over these things than I do with anything else. There was a problem with the galleys of DRAGON SPEAR that took me three days to figure out how to correct. It. Was. Awful.

Phase 7:

Hello, beautiful new book! I love you!

TA DA! Working with an editor!


Clippership said...

Thank you for posting this. I've often wondered what edits are like once you have others giving input.

The galley edits sound frightful. Why is it that way? Are page numbers and content set in stone at that point?

Mrs. LaDuke said...

Very informative! Lots of work! I will hang this for my students to see. They think writers write magically and every word is gold. They hate to change anything. But we also talk about how they don't have to take suggestions from peer editors, but they need to heed when something is confusing or unclear.

I also have wondered how perfect the draft needs to be when sent to a publisher.

I wonder if your drafts can be less polished as you are established with a publishing house/editor already. Or, was your very first effort in the same place as the ones you described here?

Erin Shakespear said...

Great info! Thanks for sharing. And I love your description of how you write rough drafts...chocolate eggs and puppies...ha!

A Backwards Story said...

I love the way you talked about the editing process. Even talking about something so ordinary, your voice is still very *you* and easy to read! No wonder I love to read anything you write! <3

The Girl in the Other Room said...

I am an aspiring writer and I have yet to find an author explaining this process in this amount of detail and I read A LOT of author blogs.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I'd love to hear even more about your writing process but that is my personal nerdy wish.

Cheers! I'm VERY excited for the new book!

BBB said...

Bargh! Sounds like a total pain in the patooshkie! Hang in there.

Jen Gallacher said...

I'm exhausted just reading all of that. It would KILL me to have to let go of a particularly clever turn of phrase or really anything my heart and mind had written. But since I've seen your end results, I can tell it's a successful formula. :)

Naomi said...

That is absolutely awesome! And very helpful. Thanks. xD I will definitely use (at least some of) this. Don't know if I'll actually ever get as far as getting an editor (friends and brothers work very well though) xD

P.S. I feel I must add that in East, the four winds are turned into four people: The french girl and her mother, the captain, and an eskimo. Just so you know. xD

Kaya We said...

Thank you so much for posting this! You see, for quite some time I've wanted to become a book editor (and eventually an author myself) and though I have looked up and researched much of the process, it is somewhat difficult to find such a detailed, yet simplisitc description of the process. I sincerely appriciate all of these interesting posts and thank you for writing your books really are the Best. Books. Ever.

Tawnni Jensen said...

Very helpful to an aspiring writer like myself. One question. No agent, no editor, where do I get some outside opinions?

M. G. Pereira said...

This is really great to know! I'm on my fourth draft now and I'll kill two more before it'll see the light of day. I wonder, does it get easier now that you've finished so many manuscripts? What parts of the whole writing process have gotten easier? Ever started to write an idea and found it had been written before?
(I love your books by the way and I've enjoyed your book signings before. Thanks for coming to my store so often (BN WJ))

Kim said...

This is really helpful, Jessica! Thank you so much for telling us about your editing process.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Thank you for writing about this! It was so interesting. If I ever get a book deal I can actually know what I'm getting myself into! LOL :)