Friday, September 25, 2009

Quick! Someone call an emergency copy editor! I just can't look at it anymore!!

This is why it's so important that editors and authors get along. (Ie otherwise one of us would be dead.)

Today is Friday, September 25th, 2009. I'm going to take you on a rollicking trip back through time to show you the editorial process on a book.

Nb before beginning: this is a very good book with a very strong premise and an author who's a very good writer. This is a GOOD editorial scenario.

Without further ado:

July 1, 2009: Author delivers her completed manuscript, as according to contract.

July 21, 2009
: After slavishly doing nothing with my life but edit for three weeks, evenings and weekends included, I send the manuscript back to the author, ripped life from limb and accompanied by one of my signature 16-page editorial memos. (You'd NEVER guess it from reading me here, I'm sure, but sometimes I'm pretty, um, long-winded.) (Also I'm a micromanager and a perfectionist.) Delicate critical phrases such as "Awesome point! Perhaps you can flesh it out a bit more to show people how awesome it is!" and "I love that you show her doing this! Great details! A little worried it interrupts the flow right here, though" abound.

Editing the first draft is awesome! You're so excited by it; it's your first engagement with the text!! But of course the first draft is always disappointing because it's NEVER AS PERFECT AS YOU WANT IT TO BE!!! Luckily your 16-page editorial memo will straighten that author out.

July 22-August 10: Per my directions, the author begins to attack my edits, chapter by chapter, emailing the chapters back to me as they're done so we can work in tandem. The author is a very good sport even though she's just been writing the darn thing for 9 months; she obediently reimmerses herself after only a single celebratory bottle of wine. Atta girl.

August 1-20: I receive the edited chapters, one by one, and begin my re-edits. Rar! The author has only understood half of my vision!! How annoying. Well, she did get the other half; I just have to re-edit everything and draw VERY PARTICULAR ATTENTION to the things that still need development. This time I won't be as complimentary in my editorial notes. Phrases such as "must go" and "this is awkward" feature more prominently.

August 10-30: Beleaguered author, still putting on a chipper front like the good sport she is, begins to re-edit my re-edits and return the chapters to me. She doesn't complain about my meanness and insensitivity in my editorial comments! Ok, she's a journalist, and is probably used to ten times more direct criticism from her editors elsewhere. But I *do* notice that she passive-aggressively is less careful about copy editing mistakes in this round. Rar!! I shall fix every last hyphen and floating period!! Or maybe she just realized I'm going to do that anyway. Whatever.

August 30-September 5: Author has to, like, do work for her paying job or something dumb like that. Fine. We'll both take a little time away. Maybe when we come back to the manuscript we'll both feel fresh and revitalized.

September 6
: We do not feel fresh and revitalized.

September 7-21: Oh my god! Am I really reading this again? I've read each of these darn chapters so many times I don't even know if they're in chronological order! I keep reading phrases that I'm sure were already used and striking them out with a mean note saying REP! But then when I search within the document I find they were NOT used before--I'm just remembering the last round of edits!! Ugh, I'm now rendered useless. Time to make my assistant go through everything. Poor dear.

September 7-21: The author hates me. I can tell. She hasn't said as much, but she's not sending me funny notes with stories about her best friend's dumb boyfriend and the shenanigans he got them into back in high school anymore. Her notes have become short and terse: "Well, here's Chapter 3; hope it's what you were looking for. Back to work I go."

September 22: Oh wait, hey. This chapter's not bad. I mean, I'm not entirely sure, because I've read it too many times and no longer trust myself. But hmm, hmm, yes, this all seems to be what I recall having wanted in the first place... I think. That was a long time ago and I'm not remembering clearly.

September 23-24
: Hmm, here's the whole thing. Dammit, I can't make myself read through it ONE MORE TIME to see if there are any huge overarching problems! I mean, could there be, at this point? Is there a single word or concept we haven't overturned at least twice? My assistant says it's great--how is that possible? I guess I'm way too close to the project at this point. Not only Although my assistant did catch some typos--SHOCKING! TYPOS THAT GOT BY ME!!! I really need a break from this.

September 25
: It's Friday morning. Can I even bear to open the document? Hmm. No, no I can't. All right, time to call in a copy editor. Let's let it be her problem now!

50 comments:

Nancy Coffelt said...

Ooh, I went through all that with my debut novel last year. I'd lose track whether something was a repeat too.

When it was all done I never wanted to see it again. But of course was over the moon when the final product arrived at my doorstep.

I felt the same way having my son. After 30 hours of labor, I didn't much want anything to do with him But after the nurses made him all clean and shiny, I thought he was pretty cool.

Hmmm...

Novels are babies!

Dana King said...

I'm willing to expose my ignorance here. (How else can one learn?)

Considering how many books are shopped (and rejected), why was this book accepted if it needed such substantial re-writes? I mean, you said it was a first draft, but I assume that meant it was the first time you'd seen it; hadn't the author been over it multiple times already?

I'm genuinely not trying to be snarky. I really don't get it.

Lisa Dez said...

You just scared the snot out of me.

I actually like revising, believe it or not. I'm doing it for my agent right now. But it's hard to be objective about your own work. And if your vision, as the author, doesn't match your editor's vision, it sounds like it could get ugly.

Pamala Knight said...

LOL! That was an awesome recounting and the funny thing is that I feel that way about the revision process with my current manuscript and hardly anyone else besides me has even seen it. So, the lesson I'm getting from this vignette is that I'm DOOMED, long before anyone decides that they might want to buy this thing from me. Thanks for the entertaining romp through all my future fears, though.

moonrat said...

Dana--I believe in editing. (Not all editors do; some veer more toward acquisitions, others toward editing, others are in the middle. I'm more toward editing.)

But my personal take on it is that even the best manuscript always benefits from a careful and involved second pair of hands/eyes. I edit everything, and very closely. But I need books to be the very best they can be--I don't like to get negative reviews (and usually don't). I want every book I work on to do nothing but add another gold star to my book list, frankly, and so I take the quality of the text as much to heart as the author does. More work on my part helps both me and the author, regardless of how polished the book is when I first get it.

lianemerciel said...

<3 <3 <3

Just finished going through edits for my debut novel and oh yeah, I know how this goes. I blew through the copyedits in about eight hours precisely because I had read the (*&#$# thing so. many. times. that if I had tried to actually LOOK at it again I would have tossed the whole shebang into a shredder and called it a day. Pretty much I just looked at the red marks, wrote "ok!" a bunch of times, and threw it back in the mail before I could throw it in the recyling bin.

Hallucinating repeats is definitely one of the under-sung crazinesses of this whole process. Especially since sometimes they aren't hallucinations. ARGH.

L.H. Walker said...

I love your "delicate critical phrases" part. That is so how my critique groups operate (at first).

I wish I had a 16 page letter from a Moonrat! As Nancy said, novels are babies and people forget the pain of giving birth. You and your author will probably forget this labor, gush over the new baby and then have another one.

Melanie Avila said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing.

wv: monit
Moonrat edit. :)

Rick Daley said...

Wow, I would have expected an f-bomb or two in there. You showed admirable restraint.

Anonymous said...

This is one reason that I *start* my relationship with my editor with short and terse notes such as: "Enclosed find the manuscript. I look forward to your feedback."

That way, when I get utterly pissed at her for not understanding that yes, I -understood- her vision, but I also understood that it was only half good, she doesn't think I've having the temper tantrum that I am, in fact, having.

Jill Myles said...

Moonie! How much do I love you for posting this?

I am currently on editing round #3 with my agent on a spec project. I edited it about a dozen times before sending it to her in the first place, so I'm feeling a little sick at heart.

(Hope she doesn't read this journal! Love you, agent! Your notes were spot on! I just wish I had realized it two drafts ago! Kisses!)

Jill

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. That's how I feel and I haven't gotten to the 'work with an editor' part.

JEM said...

So between an author and the editor, if there's a sticking point, who wins out? I worked at an independent publisher (read: self-publishing) and the author always won out because they were paying at the end of the day (we did mostly non-fiction business). But in this instance, where it's the publishing company's money on the line, can an individual editor override an author?

Kimberly Kincaid said...

I love this post. Love. It.

Right now, I have got my novel literally spread all over my office floor. I am ripping its guts out, working it and re-working it and re-working it some more. You know those crime dramas with the bulletin boards that the detectives set up to post everything they know about The Missing Person (or the Dead Person, depending on the show)? Yeah. That's my novel right now.

And I'm glad that (fingercrossedhere) someday, someone *other than me* is going to want to shriek at the pages.'Cause right now, I really could drink...

And that might make editing more interesting, no? :)

Natalie Whipple said...

It's so wrong that I'm laughing at this. But it's just so familiar! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels like this sometimes.

Amalia T. said...

This was great!
I hope one day to have an editor as attentive, although I'm sure when it happens I'll kind of hate on them for the duration.

Wendy Sparrow said...

Wow... that was interesting and frightening. It was the blog post equivalent to bed head.

S.K. Azoulay said...

As Raymond Federman wrote in Take It Or Leave It:
"A work is finished when one can no longer improve it even though one knows it to be insufficient and incomplete. One is so worn out , that one no longer has the courage to add a single comma, even if it is indispensible. What determines the degree of completion of a work is not at all the exigencies of art or of truth, it is fatigue, and, even more so, disgust."

abrah said...

Totally enjoyed this post -- I am in book design -- and often shudder at the stories the copy editors share... and then smirk with glee when I find yet anther typo while doing comp :-)

Kelly Maher said...

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I thought I was the only one who was ready to burn the manuscript into non-existence by the end of the editing process, and I write the damn things. And I'm one of those weak self-editors who *values* a great editor! I'm just so, so sick of seeing the thing by that point. I always tell people I treat my manuscripts as if they could be my children, not my babies. At some point, they're teenagers whom I cannot wait to finally move out of the house!

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

At the end of editing, I always feel like I want to throw the entire book out the window. Sometimes I stomp on the proof copy.

Lydia Sharp said...

Excellent. :)

moonrat said...

JEM--it depends on the contract. My house (like many houses) refuses to ever allow an author approval clause into a contract, which means, legally, the last call is the editor's. However, rarely do I ever call right of approval--I want the author to be happy with their book so they are proud to promote it. In almost every case, compromise is possible (and usually not necessary--we usually do want the same things, just are coming from different sides).

Ideally, you don't contract a book for which you and the author have very competing hopes/goals. I imagine when that does happen things can get uglier.

moonrat said...

SK--that is SO EXACTLY RIGHT!!!! ahahahahaha

Rebecca Knight said...

This whole thing, including SK's quote, made me laugh a manic, crazy person laugh.

I am SO here right now with my own *final* (BWAHAHA) edits on my manuscript.

It comforts me to know that editors become just as crazy after a while :). At least we're crazy together, right?

TereLiz said...

Fatigue and disgust, just what I was looking for in an editorial relationship. ;)

Still, fatigue and disgust would be worth it to finally publish a novel.

Laurel said...

Ditto what Sarah said. I haven't even gotten to the "someone professional is helping me with this" stage and I have participated in all these steps, including writing notes to the author (me) who then takes them under advisement, makes changes, and sends it back to the editor (me) and both parties are pretty much over it.

TLH said...

Hell, I'm going through false repeats now and this is only my third trip through the MS.

This does help me understand why I am always finding typos in published novels, though...

;D

Carolyn Kaufman said...

Ooh, you made me *swoon* when you said this:

"I want every book I work on to do nothing but add another gold star to my book list, frankly, and so I take the quality of the text as much to heart as the author does."

I wanna Moonrat in my future! (Of course, I edit the thing to within an inch of my -- oops, Freudian slip, I mean ITS -- life before the editor ever gets it, but yes, fresh eyes see new things after I've been looking at it so long...)

Kelsey said...

I think your author is lucky to have an editor that picks through the manuscript until she could puke.

A buddy was telling me that some editors don't even read the whole manuscript and pass a lot of the heavy lifting to copy editors. How often does that happen?

Great Post!

s.w. vaughn said...

Um. *gulp* This is non-fiction, right? With the chapter-by-chapter thing?

I just sent in my revisions to my editor. After the initial revision letter.

I will now go and quake in my canvas aliens-and-skulls sneakers...

Anonymous said...

You can avoid the false repeats by searching the phrase every time before labelling or even thinking of it as being a repeat. Verify, Check. Test. Also, look at the context to make sure it's not a deliberate repeat.

I keep the notes to the editor as brief as possible, very little chit-chat. I don't feel super-strong against a proposed edit, I go with the ditor's suggestions every time. They're paying me, after all, and if they're happy with it, I'm happy, and the sooner I'm done with the dits, the sooner I get my 2nd 1/2 advance check.

Anonymous said...

The phrasing/word choice edits are no biggue for me--whatever the editor wants, I just go with it.

Every now and then they'll want to change what a character does though, which will involve a true rewrite, and that's when I think real hard about it. I have had suggesitons I don't agree with for plot logic reasons, and in those cases I make my opinion known, and the editor agreed with me.

So it depends on the level of edit. if you're getting paid, as the above anon says, it generally behooves you to speed the process by agreeing, since the more you quibble over edits, the longer it takes for the book to come out.

i write suspense/thrillers though, not masterpieces of literary fiction, and my goal is to crank these puppies out as fast as I can think up a good story and sell it.

Kate said...

Humbug! You've squished my fantasy! The one where editors are superhuman and would never tire of reading my work over and over and over and over again.

Larissa said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA! That is awesome.



And very scary.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Oh I love this.

From the author's POV now - when I got the second round of edits I read the comments/suggestions and did the face palm thing. I thought 'oh no, she thinks I've let that slide' when in fact I just had one of those human moments.

I can imagine people wondering 'why did you accept if it needs so much work' but it's not working on it from scratch, it's taking something in great shape and polishing it until it shines.

CKHB said...

I love this! I wish there were more posts reminding writers of this side of things...

But that's probably because I'm a crazy lawyer who LOVES editing, in particular copy editing. I once caught the fact that a single comma was 8-point font when the rest of the footnote was 10-point. Is it wrong that I'm looking forward to this stage?

Someone hunt me down and remind me I wrote this when I'm in the 15th round of editor-assisted revisions and want to kill everyone...

Margot Galaway said...

Consider how the author feels. She once loved that quirky rogue and his soulful companion. Now she just wants to slam an ax in their heads.

Jill Edmondson said...

What a great post and great series of comments after it. I definitely learned a thing or two.

I will soon have my first novel published and I wonder what went on nehind the scenes with the editor and copy editor and all the others involved in the process.

I'm new, I'm unfamiliar with the proceess, I trust the experience of the publisher, and who am I to argue at this point?

Maybe with my *fifth* book I can start to be a diva, but for now, I'll try to be smart enough to follow whatever good advice I get!

Cheers, Jill
www.jilledmondson.blogspot.com

sari said...

It has to be done. I've been reading a series of books by a well known author and there are all sorts of things I stumble across that are weird. I keep thinking "Why didn't someone else check this if *I* noticed it?"

Jill Sorenson said...

I can't imagine my editor spending so much time on my manuscript, or sending me 16 pages of notes. Gah!

And all of my notes to her are terse, LOL. I don't do amusing anecdotes.

Anonymous said...

"The author has only understood half of my vision!!"

I'm hoping that was meant to be tough in cheek!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I'm not sure who I feel more sorry for, you or her! There's a lot to be said for having a hide like an elephant and a pratmatic and phlegmatic outlook in this business, as well as a desire to get it as right as possible. Now you sound like you deserve the weekend off! ;-)

Anonymous said...

tongue :D

marypearson said...

ha! Much more sympathy for my editor now. I guess I am not the only one who reaches the point where I can't stand to look at it ONE MORE TIME. : )

Hollie Sessoms said...

Ha! This sounds so like a back and forth between Me, myself, and I as I edit my book. I've read, and re-read, and re-read it so many times that I practically have all 96,000 words memorized. Yet, I can still find a comma out of place every. single. time. I've banged my head on the desk so much, I have bruises.

Coral Press said...

Surprising that this is a good scenario, since it makes for such frustration! From my understanding, and from comments on this post, it seems agents also sometimes help with this process, advising the author if edits are meshing with the editor's comments. Was this not the case here? Could have been a bit easier for you and the author if it were...

Pen said...

I totally understand. I am re-editing my first novel for like the TENTH time after a break of ... well, way too long ... simply cause i couldn't face going over the thing again. Is it possible to *hate* you own creation even before it goes to the publisher?

Maybe I am just way too pedantic. I want it to be perfect before I post it off.

Christopher said...

Looks like my time fighting creative directors and clients through round after round as an advertising copywriter will serve my patience well as I begin my venture into the literary world. Hah! Great post.

Sherri said...

I'm late to this, but I'm glad I didn't pass it by in my reader. I've started editing for a tiny little e-publisher, and I'm always wondering if I'm doing it right, because do real editors get so frustrated at having to read things so many times? Don't they love it? Isn't that the mark of a true editor? Apparently not. Glad to know I'm perfectly normal. Rar!