Friday, July 21, 2006

Working with an editor

I started to write this in a comment on PBW's blog, then realised it was turning into a lengthy post by itself. So, here it is.

This is the process my editor and I use for each Hal book, and I thought I'd share because it really is a great way to work. I'm not combative about my precious creations, and will happily throw out characters, scenes and whole chapters to make something better. My editor, on the other hand, is not being paid to read eighteen versions of the same manuscript, and therefore needs to reign in my wild brushcutting tendencies.

Oh, and if you're one of those writers who can't bear the thought of having a stranger go over your manuscript and come up with fourteen pages of notes and comments, perhaps you shouldn't read on.

This is the second and final part of the editing process. I'll write another blog post about the first part - ie. writing the actual book from synopsis to first draft - another time.

So, we have this finished manuscript. It more-or-less matches the synopsis I gave my editor months earlier, apart from the aliens arriving in chapter 12 (subtle Miss Snark reference, there), two new characters and a completely different plot.

What happens is that I email this final draft to my editor as a Word Doc, and then she prints it out and writes all over it. A week or two later I go in to pick it up and we discuss the major issues she has with it (to whit, aliens suddenly arrive in chapter 14, there are two new characters and why is the plot completely different?)

I nod, listen, and promise to fix everything. Then I get home and scan the chickenpoxed text and the additional stapled pages of comments and notes, and remember how happy I felt when I handed in the 'finished' draft.

Anyway, I load it up into Word, set track changes and go to work, page by page, until I've covered everything. In some cases that means adding a scene, in others (rarer) it means deleting one. Usually it's smaller stuff, like mentioning the gun used in chapter 15 a little earlier in the book so the reader doesn't go 'Huh? Where did that come from?' at the crucial moment.

When I'm done - usually three or four days, because I like to read the whole manuscript through at least once with the changes - I send my editor the MS via email. I'm on Windows, she's on Mac, but it works fine. We're both using old versions anyway (I never got past Word 97, and use OpenOffice for everything else. However, I stick to Word for this one particular task because I know it works.)

Once she's checked all my changes, skipping from one to the next rather than reading the whole book again, she applies them or not, commenting on the ones she didn't think were so hot. (Or, best case, adding a comment that she really liked something I've done.) She'll often tweak the wording in the new bits with tracked changes switched on, and when she's done she sends me the file back. (Usually after 2-3 days) There are usually a few more comments at this stage, perhaps little things in the book which aren't quite right, or could be improved just a touch.

I go through and chuck all these new changes out, just to show who's boss ... no wait, this is real life. Actually, I generally agree with 99% of the suggestions, and I apply them and add my own little flourishes. For example, she might suggest a slight rewording on one particular sentence, and I'll take the suggestion to mean there was something wrong with it, rather than 'this is what it should be'. Then I address the comments, one by one, which usually means rewriting a couple of bits and sticking in more text.

That usually takes me a day or less, and I send back this final version with my last tweaks in. We go back and forth quickly, over the course of twenty-thirty minutes, and then we speak on the phone to congratulate ourselves.

And yippee, that's what we did Thursday morning, and I'm still euphoric.

One of the best parts is that my editor and I use the comments feature in Word to joke back and forth about changes, the book, and anything else which comes up during the process. It's a bit like an IRC session via manuscript, but it all adds to the fun.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)


Anonymous said...

One word of advice - try to have an editor in the same country as you. And not have only a month to do the entire editing process, from first notes to completed proofs. THAT was fun. :)

Next book, I wanna do it the way Simon did it. That sounds much more sensible. And less stressful!

Anonymous said...

Having an editor in the same country is not going to be possible for me. Is that really a big deal?

Simon, interesting entry. Thanks. :)

Simon Haynes said...

No, certainly not. If my editor were in another country she'd have sent the stuff through electronically. (Or else in the mail.)
The meetings are a bit of an excuse to chat face to face. They're helpful, but nothing we couldn't do on the phone (or Skype, these days.)