Editing and the Writer

Editing and the Writer

In my experience of writing, especially the way it is done these days, being a writer is not such a solitary work anymore. Previously, a writer suffered over their books alone and when it was purchased by a publisher, they got to work with a developmental editor whose job is to restructure and work out the manuscript in a way that is marketable. Nowadays, the jobs of editors has been cut back and the greater part of polishing up their manuscript rests with the writers themselves now.

A writer has to draft, redraft, cut back, pad, research, cross-check, proof read, and then proof read again before they can even send along a manuscript to an agent. This is because there are so many more aspiring writers than ever before and with schools of creative writings and MFA, the quality of their work is very high. If your own manuscript is not comparable to this, the less your chances of catching the eye of either an agent or a publisher.

This may seem like a very daunting task, and it is. But do not be discouraged. This is where the importance of peer review cannot be overemphasized or and how useful can be to get as many eyes on your work as possible. After writing your book, short story, poem, article, etc, and reading and re-reading it so many times, your eyes become jaded and you stop seeing the errors and shortcomings.

Also, because we’re the creators of the work, they are like our baby and so we lack the required distance to do any pruning that may be needed to bring it up to scratch. Having fresh eyes from critique partners, writing groups and qualified friends will certainly come in useful at this stage. Instead of paying an expensive editor, you can use these beta readers (people who read your work-in-progress before it is ready for the general public) as a first round editing circle.

After getting others to read your work and point out holes, you must however be willing to accept corrections, and be ready to put them in practice. Working with these people in this way helps you develop the accepting and humble mindset necessary to collaborate with professional editors, either at the last round of edits or at the publication level.

I got an email from Authonomy.com recently where they interviewed a couple of their current editors on what the process of working with an author is and how the final book is made possible. Hope you find it as useful as I did.

Scott Pack, Publisher in chief for the Friday Project

What’s meant by a line-by-line edit?
Pretty much what it says on the tin. The editor goes through the manuscript line by line, picking out issues, errors, inconsistencies, tidying it up, offering suggestions on problem areas etc. This will often follow a more general reading edit where the editor offers overall feedback on first reading – the middle is a bit slow, this character doesn’t work, do we
really need the flying badgers, that sort of stuff.

Does every book always need a thorough edit?
Some need less than others but even the best writers tend to have some help along the way. You can often tell when so-called ‘great’ writers stopped being edited following huge success.

How many edits will a MSS typically go through before it’s ready to be published?
How long is a piece of string? Sometimes just a couple but others may take numerous edits to get right.

Laura Kesner, Senior Managing Editor

Is it ever possible for an author to edit his/her own book?
Possible, just not advisable.

How do you know when to stop editing?
When your schedule stops you from making any more changes! And when you and the author both feel satisfied that the book is honed to magnificence, obviously!

What/who has been your favourite author/book to work with?
Generally, it’s a pleasure to work with authors who combine a real editorial sensibility with great writing. It’s quite rare to find that combination of qualities as often good writers are so wrapped up in the writing that they find it hard to remove themselves and put themselves in the position of the reader.

14 thoughts on “Editing and the Writer” by Myne (@Myne)

  1. Thanks. This is very encouraging.
    I’ve discovered that the most constructive criticism comes from throwing the work out.
    However, I sometimes fear the risk involved in exposing the work to – you know, pirates.
    Is there a balance?

    1. i dont actually think there is a balance, i think you just have to take the risk and hope something good comes out of it.

  2. Pirates? Have always told people that as an aspiring writer, pirates stealing your work might be good. It tells you that they find your work or idea marketable. Good article.

    1. John, there’s absolutely nothing good in someone stealing your work. It becomes another person’s property, my dear, and that’s bad indeed. Blatant stealing is bad; using something from someone else’s work in order to prove a point or to enrich yours is very much allowed. Chinua Achebe did it in his THINGS FALL APART; Wole Soyinka did it in his BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES (he did an adaptation of that Greek play, by the way); the late Ola Rotimi did it in his THE GODS ARE NOT TO BLAME (that’s another kind of adaptation, too). And recently, a professor of Literature at North Carolina A&T state university, Greensboro, USA, who is also a poet, Chimalum Nwankwo, had evidence to show that the late renowned poet Christopher Okigbo plagiarised blatantly. When I saw the verses he quoted to prove his point, I was crestfallen! :( But this didn’t make me love Okigbo any less though.

      Personally, I can’t stand anyone stealing from me with impunity. I think literary pirates easily steal from aspiring writers like us. And we, who do we steal from, hm?

  3. @Jay..they dont need to steal it to let you know it’s good ;-)
    Thanks Myne, I got the email too, was quite useful, but was wondering if you had any contacts for a professional editor in Nigeria…Thanks :)

  4. Myne, I thank you for saying this. Though this issue has been said over and over again, over and over again has always been refreshing. For me, it’s like a constant reminder if ever I want to be a good writer.

    I, em, want to conquer that fear of re-writing. It’s like a big hit to the guts. I just wanted to write and then dump it for the audience to do whatever it is it wants to do with it, but I’ve realised recently that is a very wrong move to make, a cowardly move. I’m confident because ‘audience’ is very varied in nature. The reception of literary works varies tremendously. There is the adult audience and the children audience, and several audiences in between. Bottom-line is, all writers have audiences.

    There was a time I wasn’t bothered about my audience. And here, Myne is telling me to consider that a great deal, and so are several literary editors websites. I was wondering whether the heavy load of editing, proofreading and the works needs to be made lighter if ‘shared’. That’s, eh, kinda neat, hm. :)

  5. this is good and encouraging
    thank you.

  6. Editting is so important yet a lot of writers overlook it, sometimes i overlook it too, but its very wrong to do that because the main idea of getting ur message somehow becomes a tad bit distorted…one always needs fresh eyes for scrutiny…thanks Myne!

  7. Editing is the worst part of writing for me, i HATE it but at the same time i’m obsessed about it. I edit and re-edit and re-re-edit and . . . . then give it to a friend or family member (strictly non-writer) to edit. If they find anything to correct, i pout and grouch for a week, thinking ‘what does he/she even know about writing that gives him/her the right to criticize my work?’ lol.
    Funny, i take corrections easier from a writer than a non-writer.

  8. This is very helpful Myne.Thanks for posting.

  9. this is good stuff Myne, thanks.

  10. Honestly, editing is rather tedious for me. But I have accepted it as an essential part of this business. Though I have discovered that I can be ruthless in dissecting my work, more than other people’s. Be that as it may, most of us in this business are rather thin-skinned. Also, I think a writer must have the guts, instinct, craziness, whatever, to occasionally damn all and believe in his stuff. To me, the impact of my stuff on a ‘non-pro’ (editors, fellow writers, etc) counts. But since the industry encompasses these pros we totally ignore them to our peril. What matters is drawing a balance. Myne (Nkem nwanyi oma), thanks for your lovely comments about my JLF success on your blog and elsewhere. I read them and was inspired. You really care about your ‘children’.

  11. …Until you see your work edited, re-edited again and again, you will never know, you have a long road to cover as a writer. A world acclaimed writer says his draft goes through at least 8 editors before it finally comes out. Imagine!

  12. @MYNE
    informative and helpful tips…………

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