Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's all about the editing

Sometime ago in a blog interview , I was asked, “What did you learn while writing this book?”  My response was, “Good editing makes a good book.” 

Never had that been more evident than a few weeks ago when a relative presented me with a book.  It was a self published book about life in my home village a generation ago.  With so few books about my island, much less the quarter square mile area where I grew up, anything written on that topic is of great interest to me.  The story told of many of the characters that I had heard about as a child. It spoke of the culture and mindset of the people of that generation, and of course gave little anecdotes about life in the area and how it has since changed. I began reading with gusto, but my enthusiasm soon fizzled. 
Why did my interest wane?  The writing.  I know the author and I know that he is a  decent writer.  But that book could have benefited greatly from some serious editing, preferably by someone who was not intimately familiar with the life, the culture and the characters described in the book.  The author constantly mentions characters that have no meaning to the readers unless they knew the characters personally or their legends and legacy survived them.  Most of all, he didn't give the readers a reason to care about any of the characters.

While grammatical errors were not an issue, the book lacked flow, proper syntax, and organization.  The story was all over the place: one topic now, a detailed digression, and sometimes the same topic or a loosely related one revisited. It immediately threw me out of the story.

That reading experience caused me to look back at my first published book and compare it to the drafts I still have on file.  I read the finished product and could hardly believe it was the same book.  I had already gone through at least ten drafts from initial writing to submission.  After it got into the hands of the editor, it was gutted and chopped, filed and molded, whittled and polished into something publishable.  In the original, I had at least ten chapters detailing a love affair that resulted in the heroine being left at the altar. In the finished book, the story began with the heroine being left at the altar.  Characters that did not advance the story were removed, no matter how colorful, and scenes that enhanced the story were added.  The result: a professionally pruned bit of artwork.

There was one point where I wrote a scene in a science lab.  The editor called me and said, “I can tell you are a scientist by profession.  Most people won’t understand anything in that scene.”  True enough after I looked at it through the eyes of a lay person, I realized that scene was riddled with jargon.  I was too familiar with that setting to see it.  The same thing happens when I have my daughter read over my children’s science adventure manuscripts.  Her comment is always, “too much science and not enough fun.”  So I just let her rewrite the scenes, bad spelling and all… (that’s what spell check is for).

The point I’m trying to make with my long preamble, is that good editing makes a good book.  This is even more important now that we can publish books with the click of a mouse.  So my advice to anyone attempting to publish: get a professional editor.


Charles Gramlich said...

That's true. I hope I do good enough editing myself, although it would be nice to have another set of eyes.

Jewel Amethyst said...

A friend of mine once sent me a statement. It read, "Dog is a
a man's best fiend." I picked up the repeated "a" but totally missed the "fiend" and read it as "A dog is a man's best friend." Another person picked up the "Fiend" but totally missed the repeated "a". Still another found no mistakes.

The thing is, the human mind sees what makes sense and so we often miss simple mistakes. When writing, we know what we want to say and our mind fill in the blanks. That's why an outside pair of eyes, unfamiliar with the story in your head is a must when polishing anything.

Liane Spicer said...

I agree 100%. I made substantial edits to my first book after my critique partner gave me that first 'objective eye' feedback. Thankfully, the only substantial change the editor made was to ask me to remove one scene, a dream sequence that she did not think added to the story or moved it forward in any way.

Too many books of late are in dire need of professional editing. There's a story somewhere - I must dig it up and post about it - about original versions of great short stories by well-known authors. The original submissions to the magazines are barely recognizable as the stories that are now so acclaimed. The difference? The editor's reshaping, cutting and polishing of the gem hidden in the authors' rough stone.

William Doonan said...

I couldn't agree more. Editing is a beast. I'll be writing about editing too, in a couple of days. I hope I can add to the discussion.

William Doonan

Jewel Amethyst said...

Oh Liane, I am looking forward to seeing that story in your post.

I've learned a lesson about the benefits of critique partners with the last manuscript I tried getting published. In the interest of time I bypassed my critique partner and, satisfied with my own editting, proceeded with submission. I got the same critique each time: the writing has potential, but wasn't there yet. By that time I had already started on another WIP. I put down that manuscript and six months later when I picked up the story and looked at it, all the inconsistancies and backsstory bogs were glaring me in the face.

Jewel Amethyst said...

William, I am certainly looking forward to your post. I know there are many elements you will add to the discussion.

G. B. Miller said...

This is so very true.

On the last time that I decided to self-pub something, I took my time in editing and proof reading to make sure there were no glaring errors and what not.

Two years later, while I was talking about the book to a family acquaintence and flipping through the pages, I suddenly realized that I while I had written a great blurb for the cover, I neglected to change the character's name in the blurb.

Thus, in the blurb, the character is identified by one name, but in the story the character is called by a completely different name.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lol, G. That mistake can even escape the critical eye of a professional editor. In the first edition of an anthology that I was a part of, I found one or two typos. It was published by a traditional publisher and went through several rounds of editing by professional editors.