From Writer to Reader: On Editing

Keyboard: Photo By Moi

Since this weekend I sent off the final-final-FINAL version of an anthology story, you get my thoughts on editing, revision, copy-editing, and proofreading: that is, what happens before a story gets to the reader.

Things that Get Bumped Around

Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas and I are putting out a historical romance anthology called Midnight Scandals.  We are self-publishing it, by the way, using a service provided by our agent that will allow us to get a pre-order button on Amazon. For various reasons, the anthology MUST be on sale in August or else not until November. And THAT means our final files must be uploaded to Amazon by a certain date if we want that pre-order button.

Schedules, Titles, Ack!!!

At first, the hero of my story was the earl of Daunt. I had a little joke going on about his country estate being called Dauntless because he was never there. I liked that a lot as a title for my story, and for quite a while it was my working title.

Then it finally dawned on me that in this anthology, one of the unifying elements between the three stories is that they all take place at Doyle’s Grange, a modest estate near the Exmoor mountains. Oops. Dauntless and Doyle’s Grange. That’s not going to work and Doyle’s Grange could not be changed.

So then I changed my main character to the Viscount Northword and called his estate Wordless. That maintained the play on the various meanings of Dauntless that I’d been using and still echoed characteristics of people. So, for another while, the title was Wordless.

Then I saw the titles for all three stories, and the other two played off the anthology title of Midnight Scandals. My one word title stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. So, late Friday — two days before one of the drop dead dates, I brainstormed ideas for a different title that matched the others and came up with One Starlit Night.

Revisions

The three of us used the same editor for our stories so that we’d have a consistent hand across the stories. She’s a really, really good editor. The three of us shared our unedited stories with each other — necessary so that we could catch continuity issues etc. We’ve also shared the revisions among ourselves.

I’ve heard some authors say they don’t feel editing is necessary. To be blunt, I have heard this said on twitter and on a writing-related email list. One author gave the opinion that since editors are doing less editing, and since she had herself been lightly edited or not edited at all with her traditionally published works, then perhaps editing was not necessary. Another author in a different venue said much the same thing.

Maybe those two people are fantastic writers who really don’t need another eye. Rex Stout can’t be the only author to write a one and final version. But that writer is not me.

I can only speak about my own experience, but I know that my writing goes through a progression even when no one sees it but me. I’m pretty sure I’m hard on myself. I turn in a story that I think is good. And while it’s off in editor land, and I’m working on something new, things start nagging me. I worry about a certain scene or wake up in the middle of the night thinking, why didn’t I think of THAT? I will often start revising before I get a revision letter.

My editor may say certain things or make certain observations about my story. I read through all that, absorb and assess it and then I go back to work. When I am done, the story is likely to have changed in small ways that have a huge impact. It’s also possible that I will have done a massive re-write that uses almost nothing of what’s in the editorial letter. But many of those changes are unlikely to have happened without that editorial input.

What comes out of that is always better than what I turned in. Even though what I turned in originally was good to better-than-average. Suddenly, the story is tighter, the themes more cohesive, the emotions are alive. I always want a re-revision opportunity in order to assess the status of the revised story and make sure the story is doing what I want it to.

To writers who question the value of an editor, I say: How good do you want your work to be? Revision letters make me dig in and dig deeper.

One last remark: I have had three manuscripts that had none-to almost no editing. The editor of DX, my Crimson City novella, had only one fairly minor suggestion, and this person was famous for LONG revision letters. The editor of Scandal said she didn’t want to change a word. I did change a few things, and added once scene based on other input.  Indiscreet was also lightly edited, but I ended up rewriting the ENTIRE second half of the novel.

One Starlit Night was close when I sent it to my editor. But I knew it needed something to pull things together better. Based on the input, I did a pretty extensive rewrite, but I changed things that were never explicitly touched on in the editorial letter. I knew they would address the weaknesses.

Copy-Edits

I LOVE the Oxford comma. I think writing requires the Oxford comma. And I am CONSTANTLY abusing it. I am the em-dash queen. I often make mistakes with colons and semi-colons even though I actually know the rule. Sometimes I have read a sentence so often that I lose the ability to tell when I need a comma or other punctuation. What rules of capitalization are in place? Did I miss name changes? (Why, yes! Yes I did! I changed one character’s name several times and somehow, even with search and replace, I missed some.) Did I say “two weeks later” and then say something that makes it clear it CAN’T be two weeks later?

Oops.

What new errors did I introduce during revision? Thank you, copy-editor.

Proofreading

No matter how many errors I catch, there are always errors I missed and so did everyone else.

Whoo boy. Errors get in there and the human brain very kindly fixes all those errors for you.

Concluding Thoughts

I can’t imagine, or more accurately, don’t want to imagine putting something out there that hasn’t been edited, copy-edited and proofread. An editor gets my writer brain going. I challenge myself, I see exciting things and I want to make sure that gets down on the page.

An editor does not write my book. I do. I make the decisions about how or even whether to solve any issues.

A Writing Truism

Every writer dreads a revision letter that says, I only have a couple of changes. I’m sure this won’t take long. Revision letters like that mean you will need to rewrite the ENTIRE book.

The revision letter that’s 20 pages and contains apologetic language for the all requested changes, and if you need an extra month, that’s OK, because this will be a lot of work… Those revisions go like this: Delete three sentences and change the villian’s shirt from red to blue. Done.

Midnight Scandals

Cover of Midnight Scandals
Pre-Order at Amazon | Apple

Find out more about all three stories.

About carolyn

Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has two cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
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11 Responses to From Writer to Reader: On Editing

  1. Thanks for the book info! I just pre-ordered my copy!

  2. Yay! I hope you enjoy the stories!

  3. Diane Gaston says:

    I had to look up Oxford comma. Never heard it named that, but I totally think it should be used. Loved the example in Wikipedia
    “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God”
    vs (with Oxford Comma)
    “To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God”

    I also think editors are important and worth paying if one is indy publishing. We just don’t know what we can’t see.

    Good luck with the anthology!

  4. Vampire Weekend has a fantastic song called “Oxford comma” which features the line: “Who gives a f*ck about the oxford comma…”

    We do, gentlemen. We do.

    I LOVE that song.

  5. Isobel Carr says:

    You and me, baby? We are as ONE! You pretty just covered everything I’ve said in every conversation I’ve had on the topic. And frankly, when I’ve tried the unedited books by the people who say they don’t see why it’s necessary, it’s all I can do not to send them an email explaining in excruciating detail why it was necessary for that particular book. But I don’t. *sigh* I just quietly scratch them off my list and move on.

  6. YES! I agree completely! The new age of publishing while opening brave new worlds for writers has also opened the floodgates to those who believe because they wrote it, it must be published. To quote Gershwin “It ain’t necessarily so!”

    One of a writer’s paramount duties is to respect the reader. Putting anything less than one’s best effort out there to be read, to be paid for and read is the ultimate act of disrespect.

    Many make fun of or deride agents and editors as the gatekeepers of this business. There are reasons for gatekeepers, whether they be agents, print editors or the qualified editors a writer should invest a great deal of time and money in hiring.

    As our English neighbor used to say “Close the gate, dear. Keeps the pigs out of the garden.”

  7. Thanks for the great comments. I get peeved at books that are just plain bad on every level, but I feel really and truly sad when it’s a book where it’s clear the author is talented and just doesn’t seem to have learned those hard editorial lessons. I feel sad and cheated.

  8. Kaetrin says:

    Editing is so important. I’m so glad there are authors like you who appreciate it! 🙂

  9. Elena Greene says:

    I kind of understand the authors who say they’ve had little editorial input. My editors did not give me any very significant input. However, I think that may be because I have very good critique partners, a number of whom are published, whose suggestions I take very seriously. I suspect they leave a good editor less to do.

    Some sort of quality control is essential.

  10. I would never, ever think of putting out a book, whether published traditionally or non-traditionally without an editor or having it be read by beta readers before I even send it to my agent. Particularly since you never know what kind of revision letter you’re going to get. On my first book whih is non-fiction, I received a 3 page revision letter, and I ended up rewriting 1/2 the book once I took a good look at what I had written. As writers, we are so close to our work, that it’s a good thing to take a step back and have someone else have a gander who is not so close to it.

  11. Elena: Oh, I hear you on busy editors. I have no disagreement with you on the problems with editors without the time to do a thorough edit.

    But that circumstance is not related to whether a book needs editing– or could be made better by editing. What concerns me is two-fold; the author who mistakes light editing for “my work must be awesome!” And the author who decides that if an editor is OK with a book going out there without a thorough edit that she/he can be fine with that, too.

    When I get a light edit, I always panic. One of my big fears is not getting a tough edit. So, like you, I make sure my work goes through other editorial processes, most often my agent, who is very very good at that.

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