September 20, 2010

The Editorial Process

So, I hear you're getting published. Congratulations and a big ol' cyber high five on a job well done. Revel in the moment, go kiss your significant other, and then call your mom with the good news. After that's done, sit down, open your laptop, and hang on for dear life.

If you're anything like me-new to the field of writing and the world of publishing, in general-your assumption is the hard part is over. You finally found a home for your manuscript. You can grab a marker and cross "Contract Offer" off the list, whew. And while this glorious moment should never be downplayed, after all, it is what we writers live for, the truth is the hard part is not over, Dear Author, not by a long shot.

Ah...the editorial process. It's best summed up as three rounds of mind-bending survival training. Or at least it was for me. If you're a first-timer, your experience may go something like this:

Approximately thirty days after you've signed the contract, emailed every name in your contacts list, posted an announcement on Face Book, Twittered, and called everyone you've known since kindergarten to tell them you're getting published, your editor will send you an email with the first round of edits to your story. It is at this moment you will discover hate.

"What!" You will yell at the computer screen. "I thought you liked my story! I thought you offered me a contract because you thought my writing was good! What happened?"

Dear Author, you need to remember one very important thing. Editors are not critique partners. Don't ever confuse the two. They are not worried about sparing your feelings or finessing their "constructive criticism". In fact, they get paid to do the exact opposite. They will delete entire scenes, point out plot holes, and question character development. They will slice and dice, mix and mash, and very plainly tell you-if not in so many words-what's crap and what isn't. And while this teeth-gnashing feedback ultimately helps your story, it can be hard to digest that first time you see it. My advice? Pound your fists, stomp around the house, go call your mom again and have a good cry-because afterwards, you need to put on your big girl panties and set to work.

That first round of edits can be hard simply because of the "shock factor" and usually (but not always) includes some major rewrites, either to transition what has been removed or condense what is already there. But, if you pay close attention, and heed your editor's advice, you will emerge the other side with a tighter, more powerful story.

Thirty days later you will receive another round of edits from your editor. It is at this moment you will discover exasperation.

"What do you mean there's too much passive voice?" You will sit seething in front of the computer screen. "What is passive voice, anyway? And what the hell is a dangling modifier?"

Two years into college I realized the only major I was pursuing were the local beer specials. I quit and opted to further my career as an Executive Assistant. Fast forward ten years and I'm a stay-at-home mom who spends her "free" time writing romance novels. I'm not an English Major, and the only Bachelor's Degree I would qualify for is Stain Removal 101. Before getting published, I was certain of two things. I loved to read and write. And while this life experience and a penchant for words helped me craft a story with an exceptional emotional element-or so my editor tells me...and yes, that was a plug-when I first submitted, the technical aspect of my manuscript was atrocious.

For me, that second round of edits was the toughest, because it's during this phase all those grammatical imperfections are tackled. Passive voice, show vs. tell, sequencing, verb phrasing, modifiers, speech name it, I'd done it wrong. Fixing all that in one round was a tedious nightmare. However, in retrospect, it was also a good thing. I can now spot passive voice at twenty paces. I can fix verb phrasing with a flick of my wrist. You want something shown and not told? Baby, I'm your gal. So rest assured, Dear Author, if you pay close attention, and heed your editor's advice, you will emerge the other side a better, more talented writer.

Thirty days later you will receive the final round of edits from your editor. It is at this point you will discover trust and understanding.

"Okay, I get it." You will shamefully mutter at the computer screen. "This whole time you've been on my side."

The final round of edits is enjoyable compared to the first two, because you can actually see your story coming close to perfection. By this time, you and your editor are working as a team to make the manuscript as error-free as possible. Comma splices, brand names, and final tweaks are handled. And in my case, because of the vast changes to my story, I also gave extra consideration to flow, to make sure the emotional level had been maintained.

If everything goes according to schedule, thirty days later you will be viewing the first galley of your manuscript. It is at this point you will discover respect and a deep sense of gratitude. Seeing your words in page format-the only thing that comes close to that experience is holding the actual book in your hands.

The editorial process is tough, there's no doubt. Each round is fraught with highs and lows, hair pulling, nail biting, maybe a cross word or two, and in my case, the occasional outburst of tears. During those months you will be tested on levels you'd never imagined. But hang in there. Remember you're not first to endure it, keep in mind your editor is doing her best to help you, trust her judgment and listen to what she suggests.

Because the cool thing in all this? If you've paid close attention, and heeded your editor's advice, in the end, you'll find you've made a dear friend.

AJ Nuest is the author of Jezebel's Wish, coming soon to The Wild Rose Press Yellow Line.
Contact her at
Face Book Page: Tattered Pages

Haunted by nightmares, tormented by guilt, Jezebel came to Redemption Ranch to escape the past-except now she's stuck in the middle of nowhere with no redemption in sight. When her mother pushes her into riding lessons with local veterinarian Matthias Saunders, Jezebel balks. Sure, the doctor is gorgeous, but he's completely obnoxious and knows how to push every one of her buttons.

Only her deep connection with The Reverend, a gentle stallion who guards her darkest secrets, has her agreeing to spend any more time with Dr. Saunders. Caring for the stallion is the first bright spot in her life in months, and if being around the horse means she has to deal with Matthais Saunders, then so be it. Surely a city girl like her can handle one country vet-even one with disturbing blue eyes. Can't she?


Lynne Roberts said...

Amen!!! My first round of edits was a wake-up call. But like you, by the time I finished scouring the galleys for any missed imperfections, I loved my editor.... didn't want to see my MS for a few months, but my editor? She deserved chocolate.

Thanks for a wonderful post.

Laura Kaye said...

Fun post! And good description of the process, which mirrored my own (I'm a Rose too... ;) ). The second round identified a little writing quirk I didn't even know I have. I apparently am a HUGE fan of two-part sentences like this one:

She yanked open the door, and he stood on the other side.

The ', and' this was EVERYWHERE! Who knew! So that was my big round two project/revelation. lol

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

A wonderful post, AJ. I know exactly what you're talking about. My first edits are slash and burn...they make the story so much better!

Mary Ricksen said...

You are so lucky you had a patient editor, some of them are not so patient. I had one editor tell me she would work with me. After one set of edits, she gave up. And the issues could and have been easily fixed. Not all of them will take that much time.

Tattered Pages said...

Oh my goodness, Mary, that is awful. I didn't even know that could happen. Yes, my editor was great. Seriously, she dragged me kicking and screaming down the path to publication. Now I adore the woman.

Tattered Pages said...

Thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate all the feedback! AJ

Lilly Gayle said...

My first round of edits weren't quite that bad, but only because OUT OF THE DARKNESS had already suffered 3 rounds of "revision letters"--not to be confused with anything remotely resembling a contract--from another published. Of course, the other publisher still rejected it after a change in editors. BUT, it was a great learning process despite the disappointment. And, I had a more polished story to submit to TWRP. There were still edits and galleys but by this point, I would have rewritten or changed anything Lill suggested and thanked her for it. In the end, I wound up with a much better, more polished story.

Anonymous said...

Unpubbed here, and loved the peek into THE world!


Jannine Gallant said...

Sometimes the editing process can be painful. Before I was even offered a contract for Victim of Desire I was told I would have to chop it down from 136,000 words to 100,000 or less. I amputated whole chapters without benefit of anesthesia! It'll get easier with your next book now that you know what mistakes not to make.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

I loved this post. A perfect description of the editing process. I swear my head hurt after the first round of edits. lol

I loved my editor and her endless patience.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I have to add my thanks and love for my editor too. She slashed and burn my stories, but they were so much better for it! What I like is that she takes the time to make it better, not just rejects the story.

Three cheers for Stacy!

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post, and so relevant. I am published with TWRP too, and I know exactly where you are coming from. But wow, isn't the end result worth it? When you hold your very own book in your hot little hand.



Caroline Clemmons said...

I've been fortunate to have such great editors at The Wild Rose Press. I never mind requests to change or add something because I want the finished product to be something with which I take pleasure having others read.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I'm with you, Caroline. I've always been open to suggestions, from c.p.'s and especailly from editors. For the most part, I do what I'm asked to do.