When a writer gets to the point of having finished the basic text of a book or other material, the most important step presents itself: the editing. This doesn’t come early in the process. To the contrary, it comes after the writing, re-writing, personal revision, and commentary from several selected voices, like friends and family. By the time a writer gets to the point of professional editing the manuscript may be in its fourth, fifth, or fifteenth draft. The thought that someone can just sit down and write a novel in one draft is pure fantasy.
Oh, there come a number of points in the progress of a manuscript when the author may feel as if things are coming to a conclusion. But it is a mirage. It simply means that maybe the storyline is falling into shape, the personality of the main character has been defined, or the text is beginning to make sense.
Then comes the big moment. The author sends the text off to a professional editor. This is a person who is well-prepared in the nature of the language, the process called publication, and the psychology of destroying the confidence of the author and being prepared to help rebuild it. For an author is its brutal. The editor’s job is to be perfectly honest, and to treat the text as if it is open to yet more revision and restructuring, and to be sympathetic, but not gullible to the writer’s pleas and objections.
As an editor said to me yesterday, “Just think of me as the publisher who has picked up your manuscript to determine if he is willing to invest a great deal of money and his reputation on the publication of your text.” The manuscript is the author’s “baby”, he having given birth to it, nurtured it through the pangs of infancy, and struggled with it through the absurdity of adolescence. And now a person comes into existence who is prepared to tell the author that the work is imperfect, lacking in professional quality, and probably not capable of being published. And what’s worse, the author is going to pay the editor to be candid, frank, and even brutal.
Yesterday I was fortunate to spend a full day on Cape Cod as the guest of a team of seven published authors, to whom I had submitted the first fifty pages of my baby, my manuscript for a novel on which I have been working for about three years. I have written numerous drafts of it, submitted it to several people I know for evaluation, and withstood a variety of comments, criticisms and even rejections by people who know something about writing and publishing. My reading group in the Providence area has workshoppped it and shared a whole range of opinions on its value or lack thereof.
But yesterday I was presenting this piece which is organically attached to me at the heart to a team of impartial experts, all of whom have gone through this process and survived it. That doesn’t mean that they felt for me and went easy on me. To the contrary, they were honest, blunt, and candid. I was awed that they had each spent a huge amount of time focusing specifically on my project. There were four other writers there with me, each of them as vulnerable and anxious as I was. They, too, were going to receive the same treatment as I was. It was a powerful day.
These people understood what editing meant. They were concerned with grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, character development, plot design, the arc of the story, and similar characteristics which had to be assessed if the manuscript was ever to be ready to be presented to a publisher. I discovered that there was a consensus that the beginning of my book was all wrong. Oh, it wasn’t written badly, but it wasn’t really the beginning of the story. What I had written needed to be included, but not at the first chapter. One of the characters I spent a lot of time developing had actually interfered with the flow of the story, and either needed to be eliminated or relocated. That was painful…but I am convinced they are right
And you know that issue that you had learned from your “typing” teacher (or maybe keyboard teacher) in high school about leaving two spaces at the end of each sentence? Nope. It’s no longer the rule. Now the publishers just want one space there. Do you know what that means in terms of re-writing several hundred pages of text? Oi gevalt!
The bottom line is that I have a lot of work to do before this manuscript is going to be ready to be laid on the desk of an agent or a publisher. My million dollar advance from a publisher will just have to wait for another year.
Be assured. Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in the past couple of months as I have struggled with this text. I sense a glimmer of a light at the end of the the tunnel. The affirmation I received from these seven authors was encouraging and welcome. I think I have a book here. But I know that I have a lot of work to do before it even begins to look like a book. Oh, well….
Cartoon Credit: the write connection