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DonHartshorn.com

All about the author and his current work

Category: Editing

Proofread Edits – Trouble in Paradise

Up until now the editing process has been pretty sweet.  I felt it was a collaboration, my editors making recommendations based on their experience and their reading of what’s best for my story.  You need someone to point out your blind spots, you know?  Keep you honest.  And it was going well.

And then 17 May happened.

Houston, we have a problem.  During my regular proofread edit I came upon a ‘suggested’ change that I did not agree with at all, not in the slightest.  I felt it was arbitrary, with nothing behind it but the editor’s preference.  To make it worse, that edit changed a foundational element of my story, a main character’s reason for a decision he made 10 years prior to the story, that directly led to the story taking place.  It was like deciding that Bruce Wayne’s parents weren’t killed by a robber, they were just inconvenienced by a kindly panhandling hobo.

I fixed the suggested edit as best I could, without changing the tentpole premise of the entire story, and sent it back with the rest of the proofread edits.

On 17 May my manuscript came back.  There was a ‘plot change comment that was not addressed.’

Well… I addressed it, I just didn’t gut my story to suit someone’s whim.  To make matters worse, I got that email after a 16-hour day working the job that pays my mortgage.  The phrase ‘did not take it well’ would be something my neighbors might say if you asked them.

Now I was in a dilly of a pickle.*  Up until this very last minute, all my publisher’s suggested edits made my manuscript stronger.  This one made it much weaker.  I really, really, really disagreed with their suggestion.  What could I do?

There is very specific language in my contract that states if the author (me) refuses to make edits the publisher deems necessary, the publisher has every right not to publish my novel.  To pull the plug and never look back.  This is my debut novel, I can’t make waves, I can’t stand up and fight, I can’t adamantly refuse to change a very, very basic story element.  I have to surrender.  I have to be someone else’s bitch, or I won’t see my name on that nifty cover.

So I made the change.  23 words out of 83,204.  I tried to face down the playground bully and ended up stumbling home bruised and shoeless, with my mouth full of sand.

Am I overstating this?  Possibly.  Am I concerned that this edit changes my story for the worse? Absolutely.  Am I right now stabbing voodoo dolls of editors I’ve never met in person? No comment.

I don’t think I’m being a touchy author here.  Sincerely.  I took the notes they gave me, I made the changes they suggested, I engaged in the process fully.  I played well with others.  Until the very last day, when they wanted a major change that made the story weaker.

No, I’m not going to tell you what that change was.  When my novel is published, you tell me what the weakest part of the story is.  If it’s the change I’m talking about here, I will definitely let you know.

 

*dad joke

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Dev Edits – Final Take

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It’s been a week since I turned over my pass at developmental edits on my manuscript, and I’ve had some time to digest the experience. It was, in turns, both infuriating and gratifying.

Infuriating: ‘You use this word too much to describe this character.’
How dare you question my authorial voice? I am infallible! And all my writing is flawless!
Gratifying: do a simple count of the offending word to find that, in fact, it’s in every description of that character.
Oh yeah, I see what you mean now. That is annoying. You’re right, I’ll fix it.

Infuriating: ‘You state your theme very plainly several times when you don’t need to. Let the narrative state your theme for you.’
I would never state my themes outright! Do you think I’m some kind of hack? I am infallible! And all my writing is flawless!
Gratifying: read the offending passages out loud to myself.
Holy cow, I really did exactly that, three different times. You’re right. I’ll fix it.

Infuriating: ‘This bad guy turns good guy, and it doesn’t feel authentic to the character.’
My characters are mine alone to manipulate! I am their God! I am infallible! And all my writing is flawless!
Gratifying: read the last scene the character is in and get the same feeling.
That character’s wrapped up in an inappropriate little bow, isn’t she? You’re right. I’ll fix it.

Overall, I’d give it 10% infuriating, 90% gratifying. When I found it infuriating I was really being defensive and blocking myself from the process. If I took a deep breath or two and listened instead of reacting, I discovered that my editor was trying to make my manuscript the best it could be. He’s got skin in this game too, you know? He’s not making edits to piss me off ( or not just to piss me off ), he’s very invested in putting out a great product.

Authors, when your time comes and you have your first work with an editor, embrace the process. Listen to what your editor’s saying; they’re not always 100% right, but they’re almost always right. They do this all day, every day. Trust them.

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Dev Edits – FINISHED!!

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I have finished my round of Developmental Edits!!

Yay me!!

This is the first round of edits, from my editor to me and back again.  I’ll have more feedback in a later blog post, but I figured I’d let everyone know that I completed this major first milestone.  Only four or five more to go.

Also: my publisher has come up with a different title.  I have some opinions on that, too.  More to come.

It’s been two weeks of work, and I’m going to go outside now, to refamiliarize myself with fresh air and the sky.  More posts this weekend.

 

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Dev Edits – trying not to be touchy

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I’m about 50 pages into the developmental edits, and I have a few thoughts.

  1. I’m far less prickly about this than I thought I’d be. Not that I’m entirely cool with it, that’s a little much to ask, but I’m not as precious with my writing as once was. There have been a few points so far where I was thinking ‘come on, now… really?’ but once I got over myself those edits made the narrative stronger.
  2. I’ve encountered a few dev edit comments, and they’ve been right on. That is, they’ve made the story tighter, made the words hang together better. I haven’t yet found a comment that I disagreed with. But I’m only 50 pages in.
  3. What copy editing has happened has been strictly according to established style manuals. I have to confess, some copy edits feel like flattening out my own style – I’m not a newspaper reporter – but I’m letting them go. They stick out to me like a neon sign, but more than likely no one else is going to notice them.
  4. From time to time, I’m being ‘handled.’ That is, my editor will leave me a compliment when he wants me to change a error he feels is sloppy and unprofessional. For instance: ‘Reword: kind of a cliché. Your writing is normally so good and so original – so I’d hate to have it marred by such a common turn of phrase.’ Translated from Touchy-Authorese this means ‘Seriously? Put some effort into it, don’t be a hack.’ All right, I get it.
  5. My years as an actor gave me a pretty thick skin for notes (thanks, June!), but that doesn’t mean I’m invulnerable. I’m learning to let it go, though, and trust that the guy who pays his mortgage by editing books knows what he’s doing. Kind of like they’re trusting me to know what I’m doing.

My main takeaway so far? This really is a team effort. I do need an editor, which means I’m going to have to accept that his goal is to make my book the best it can be. Even if that means losing most of my precious, precious ellipses…


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Dev Edits – my first feedback

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Publishing News: I got the developmental edits back this morning! Now I have something I can do! Yay me!

I you have a moment, you can review developmental edits.

My publisher returned to me three items:

  • Editing letter – where the editor explains his edits in general, and what he’s looking for me do with my turn at the manuscript.
  • A marked-up copy of the edited manuscript – where all the changes the editor made are highlighted for me, so I can see what he did and digest any notes he may have left in the margins.
  • A clean copy of the edited manuscript – a copy for me to perform my edits on. There are some markups still in it, but not as many as the other copy.

I read over the editing letter, fully anticipating being outraged and offended. I was not. I agree with everything my editor said, and I will fully comply with his wishes.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more drama here. I kind of wanted to exercise a little righteous indignation, to rage against the machine. Oh well, maybe later.

My editor has four items he’d like me to work on. In dev edits these are big-picture items, not missing apostrophes or participles dangling.

  • Ellipses – I use these to indicate hesitation and uncertainty in dialogue. My editor wants me to cut a third of them, at least. This is the part where I might get a little touchy, but if I’m overusing ellipses and they distract from the narrative, I need to get rid of many of them.
  • Over-stating my themes – Yeah. I do that. Fair criticism.
  • A big fight scene feels staged – I agree. I’ll work on making it feel more dynamic and emergent rather than long-anticipated and planned.
  • A character’s big change – my editor would like to see this character remain unapologetic and unrepentant until several books later. I agree. This character is too valuable as a foil to change so soon. In my defense, I originally wrote this book as a one-off, I hadn’t planned other books. Now that I am planning more, this is a necessary change.

I have 14 days to do my edits and hand my edited copy of the manuscript back. I am going to use every hour of those 14 days. I feel good, I think this is going to go well.

Big Plus – it looks like my editor and I are in synch. A good writer needs a great editor, and I think I got one. I took a quick look at some of his notes in the marked-up version, and, so far, I agree with them all. To quote Rick Blaine, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Big minus – I have to work in MS Word. I do my writing in Pages, not just because it works so much better than MS Word, but because in my day job I use MS products almost exclusively and I am not a fan. Bloatware. Look it up. Or click the link. So maybe this is my ‘rage against the machine’ moment. Curse you, MS Word! From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!

I’ll have more next week, after I really dig into these edits. I’m sure I’ll find some nit-picky things to complain about.

 

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Changes? We Don’t Need No Stinking Changes – the Editing Phases

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Last time, I ended with my need to find out more about the editing process. There are developmental edits, copy edits, and proofreading, and these different phases take up a large part of the publishing process. So what happens in each one?

Developmental edit: this phase examines the manuscript as an entire story, including all the vital elements. Does it hold together? Does it move to slowly in some parts, or too quickly in others? Does the story fit the target audience? The editor will look for character development, plot, tone, and voice to make sure those things are consistent throughout the manuscript. Typically, the editor will not focus on typos or grammatical errors because whole sections of the text might need to be rewritten or might get thrown out entirely. There is back-and-forth between author and editor in this phase.

Copy edit: the meat and potatoes of editing. This phase is like handing your manuscript over to your 9th-grade English teacher, you’re gonna get it back dripping with red ink. This phase is where editors work on spelling and grammar and sentence structure and paragraph construction. There is back-and-forth between author and editor in this phase, too.

Proofreading: essentially the last pass at copy editing. This is the detail phase where the editor is trying to catch every remaining error. Which is, of course, impossible. I’m sure everyone has seen typos in major book releases, it’s unavoidable. But the editors in this phase try to get it perfect. This is usually an editor-only process, with author review after it’s finished.

Now that we know what’s involved, at least at a high level, with each editing phase, I can see a couple of possible issues.  And by that, I mean issues I’ll have with the process.

Dev edit – the editor and I might disagree on some major points, like tone, or target audience, pacing, or even major plot points. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I need to decide how I’m going to deal with a disagreement like this if it comes up.  I’ll probably defer to their expertise, unless their expertise suggests something stupid.

Copy edit – I need to repeat my mantra of ‘be patient, be kind’ when this phase starts. I hate, hate, hate nitpicky edits to my stuff, and that’s something I’m going to have to get past. Yeah, I ended a sentence with a preposition, so what?

Proofreading – I’ll have a go at it when the time comes, but, honestly, by that stage I will have gone through the manuscript three or four times already, I’m not sure what I could add to the proofreading process after that kind of fatigue. But I’ll grind it out.

When these phases begin, I’ll let everyone know. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted on the details as they happen.
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The Schedule – we got a ways to go

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I got an email today regarding the schedule behind getting my novel published. As you may have guessed, it’s a lengthy process, an estimated 38 weeks. That’s a lot of weeks. I’m sure I can short-cut some of that because I’m highly motivated and can get my part of the schedule done under the estimated time. That still leaves others and their workloads to consider, though. I only have to worry about me, the publisher has to worry about me and everybody else in their pipeline.

There are seven (7) caveats the publisher puts right up front, before outlining the schedule.  These include things like larger project volume (more books in the pipeline), or complicated formatting requirements, or… author problems.  They don’t say ‘author problems’ but that’s what they mean.  More time required by the author than estimated = ‘this guy’s taking too long’ and Changes requested by author at a later stage of the project = ‘author suddenly realized he wasn’t taking this process seriously enough at the beginning.’  I get it, authors are the major barrier to getting a book published.  The whole enterprise would go so much smoother without them.

Be patient, be kind. That’s my mantra when I go to the grocery store, it’ll be my mantra with this process, too.

So what’s the schedule look like?

Contracts – 4 weeks
Developmental edits – 5 weeks including author and publisher time
Copy edits – 5 weeks including author and publisher time
Edit review – 1 week, publisher
Proofread, second editor – 2 weeks, publisher
Proofread review, author – 1 week, author
Print formatting – 1 week, publisher
Kindle formatting – 1/2 week, publisher
Formatting quality check = 1/2 week, publisher
Print and Kindle review, author – 1 week
Proof copy upload and order (I’m not sure what this means) – 1 week
Marketing and trade reviews – 16 weeks

Whew! My manuscript is going back and forth over and over again! If I’m counting right, SIX TIMES! No wonder the publisher puts a lot of language in their contracts to protect themselves, that’s a ton of work on spec. Imagine if I were a writer who didn’t know what compromise or collaboration were, I’d drive the editors crazy. I understand collaboration, but that still doesn’t mean I won’t drive the editors crazy. I’ll just try to be polite about it.

It looks like 22 weeks (-ish) for the process to reach a final product.  That’s 5 months, or somewhere in February for a release.  I’m guessing.

The first thing I want to know: what’s the difference between developmental edits, copy edits, and proofreading? Luckily, the publisher spells that out for me. I’ll fill you guys in on the details in my next post.

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Next Changes? The Editing Phases

The Contract pt. 2 – I’m supposed to do what?

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Last time (The Contract pt. 1) I went over the negotiation process, or at least how I approached it for my contract. TLDR – know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign, and get all the help you need to reach that understanding.

I signed, they signed, we now have a legally binding document that outlines our obligations to one another as we go about getting my novel published.

Sweet. But… hold on a second. I wrote the novel, isn’t my part in this exercise pretty much over? Not even close. If you want to get your book in someone else’s hands – and have them pay you for it – then finishing a novel is just the very first part. Your publisher is putting themselves out for you, especially if you’re a first-timer, and you need to realize you have obligations too.

Marketing

In the contract, my publisher outlines very specifically what marketing they’re going to do for me. For example:

  • Provide PR leads
  • Promote my book on their website and on social media
  • Outreach to influencers
  • … etc

The contract also outlines what marketing I agree to do. For example:

  • Build a website (where you are right now)
  • Journalist and influencer outreach
  • Contacting reviewers and responding promptly
  • … etc

This is a lot of promotion and glad-handing, and we haven’t even gotten to the editing process yet! Hokey smokes, can’t I just write stuff?

Nope. Being an author means, in the parlance of our times, you gotta hustle. My publisher will do everything they can to make my novel a success, but I can’t just lay back and wait for the cash to roll in, I have to take an active role in my own success. I have no problem doing that, I actually like it, but if you’re the kind of person who really would rather not, you’re going to need to get over it. If you want someone to buy your book, they need to know that it exists in the first place. Like it or not, you’re your own marketer.

Editing

While you’re revving up your marketing engine, you’ll also be going through the editing process. I’ll get into more detail as my novel reaches those stages, but in the contract there is section dedicated to the editing process. This is perhaps the most collaborative section, since the publisher and the author need to work closely on edits. The publisher protects itself, however, by outlining that when the author is unable or unwilling to make edits, the contract terminates immediately.

Honestly, I’m behind the publisher on this one. If you’ve gone through the effort to find this work and execute a contract to publish it, and the author digs in his heels and won’t make changes to the manuscript to make it fit for publishing, they’re not really someone you want to work with anyway. As I’ve outlined elsewhere, authors used to working alone might have a problem becoming part of a collaboration.

The contract also includes sections for royalties, payments, subsidiary rights, sequel rights, controls, translations, termination, auditing, etc. If you really want to go over any of that stuff, let me know, I can make another post about it.

The process starts in earnest tomorrow. I’ll fill you in as it moves along.

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