From the moment you’re assigned an editor or editorial team, your most important publishing relationship begins. The success of your book may not ride solely on how well you and your editors work together, but that relationship certainly contributes to the finished product, as well as to your enjoyment of the process—not to mention future projects!
Before I dive in, I want to thank my writing critique partner, Deborah Raney, for all she’s taught me about this important relationship. In fact, much of what I’m sharing today comes from an online course that Deb and I taught together (through American Christian Fiction Writers––acfw.com).
HOW THE EDITING PROCESS WORKS
Perhaps first, we should talk briefly about how the editing process works once you’re working with a publishing house. Each house does things a bit differently, but the editing of a manuscript will look something like this:
1. SUBSTANTIVE EDIT
The substantive edit (also called editorial overview, editorial letter, macro edit, etc.) of your manuscript may come from your acquisitions editor, or the line editor may also do the substantive edit. This edit may include the comments of two or more editors, or it may be just one editor.
The substantive edit is an overview of the issues your editor(s) sees needing work. This might include plot holes, story pacing issues, characters that need strengthening, issues of plausibility/credibility, overall writing issues such as point of view, grammar, etc., or other encompassing issues of the overall book. Sometimes the substantive edit is presented to the author in an eight page single-spaced document. Not that I’ve ever received one of those…
Personally? I LOVE this “rewrite” stage! The opportunity to go back in, now that you know the whole story, and really deepen the characterization, the themes, the romance, the suspense. Give me rewrites over that blinking computer cursor any day!
2. LINE EDIT
Once you receive the substantive edit and have rewritten your book according to these editorial directions, the next phase is the line edit. Just like it sounds, the line edit is the editor’s comments and suggestions line by line. These are often done in Microsoft Word’s Track Changes program, and involve changing words, phrases, asking clarifying questions, suggesting additions or subtractions of paragraphs, etc.
Usually the decision of whether to accept your editor’s changes is as simple as clicking “accept” or “reject” in Track Changes, but sometimes you’ll need to consult with your editor to clarify, nicely argue your case, or suggest a compromise. (These consultations are usually done via e-mail––which creates a great written record for future reference. But if you think a phone call is necessary you can work out a time to call that suits both of your schedules).
Also, not all houses use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes. Some houses still work from the “hard copy” and they send these questions to you (incorporated into the body of the story) in the form of a printed manuscript (loose pages) that you mark only if you have a differing opinion.
3. COPY EDIT
After you’ve sent back the corrected line edit, your manuscript will go to the copy editor. This edit is for punctuation, grammar, usage, consistency, clarity, mechanics of style (in keeping with your publishing house’s style.)
Many publishers will also have a group of readers going over the manuscript during this edit, in an effort to get as many opinions and catch as many mistakes as possible before the manuscript goes to press.
Galley proofs are also called page proofs, first pages, bluelines, first pass, author alterations, etc. This is the author’s last chance to view the manuscript before it goes to press. For most houses, this is not a place to make major changes (say like changing your hero from a doctor to a vampire), but only to catch printer errors, typos missed in the first pass, issues of clarity or continuity, hyphenation, etc. Usually, these galley pages will look exactly the way they will in the printed book—including page design, chapter headings, decorative dingbats, etc.
Some houses allow for more changes at this point in the process than others. For instance, I publish with Bethany House who handles the galley process a bit differently. My editor(s) insert comments within the body of the manuscript [[like this, in double brackets]] and as I’m reading the galleys, I address those questions in handwritten notes in the margin and make whatever changes are necessary. There have been times when I’ve even inserted paragraphs or only a sentence or two, but Bethany House still allows that type of alteration at this stage if necessary.
Typically this process (from submitting your first draft to the final galley stage) takes anywhere from seven months to a year, or more.
WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE AUTHOR/EDITOR ALLIANCE
When I signed my first contract with a publishing house, I was thrilled! And still so new to the writing world, I hadn’t been around long enough to hear the rumor that writers were supposed to be (according to some) “frightened” of an editor changing their “author’s voice.” Huh?
I went blindly into the relationship thinking we’d be a team, my editor and I—a writing partnership—and that we’d benefit from each others’ strengths while collaborating on the story to fix the weak spots. I believed my editor would bring a perspective to the table that would lend perspective to my writing and that would help me to become a better writer. I didn’t have an inkling that I should be worried about him/her altering my writing style in such a way that my story would lose “my voice.” I was naïve in understanding I was supposed to be wary of that—and with good reason. It has not proven true for me in the least! Quite the contrary.
I’m blessed to have been partnered with fabulously gifted editors who “get” my voice and my style of writing, and who are big encouragers (and correctors, hey, we need both in this process) than I ever dreamed.
So, in short, do NOT fear the editor/author relationship. Look forward to it! It’s a great gift and privilege to work with these professionals. They’re here to push us to be better, most certainly, but it’s only because they want the very best for us. And our books!
HOW TO ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES WITHIN THE AUTHOR/EDITOR RELATIONSHIP
Last week, my editor from Bethany House, Karen, called to check in with me and to see how this current book was coming along. After a few minutes, she said, “Okay, I’m taking off my editor hat and putting on my friend hat. So, how are you doin’?” LOL! I love that. In addition to being my “publishing writer partner,” my substantive editor and I are also very good friends.
I hosted her and her husband in our home when they visited Nashville a while back, and we had a blast visiting antebellum plantations and seeing the sights. We’ve orchestrated a wonderful and workable balance in our friendship while maintaining a clear distinction between that and our working relationship.
We’re both professionals and realize that writing books—while a very creative and artistic process—is, at the end of the day, a business. My book becomes a “product.” And it’s her job to make sure that product is the very best it can be by pointing out the weak areas, and the areas where she believes I could do better. I never take her comments or suggestions “personally.” I learned long ago (first in life, and then carried this lesson into my writing) that until the moment I breathe my last, I will always have a lot to learn.
I’m committed to remaining teachable, which isn’t hard for me because I have so many areas I need to improve in (ending sentences in prepositions is only one of them
I love this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
UNDERSTANDING THE EDITOR’S RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER DEPARTMENTS WITHIN THE PUBLISHING HOUSE (crucial as you navigate concerns regarding cover art, back cover copy, or in marketing aspects of your book)
Along with the practicalities and logistics of communication, there’s something else to keep in mind. Depending on which publishing house you’re working with, it may encompass a large personnel base or it may be smaller and have a more “family feel” to it. Either way, remember that when you’re speaking to someone in that house (whether it’s the President, the Marketing Director, or the assistant’s assistant’s assistant in the Shipping and Receiving Dept), you are speaking to “the publishing house as a whole.”
Essentially everyone who works in that publishing house is working “with” you because every area in that company has their “hand stamp” on the success of your book. Treat everyone in that publishing house with deserved respect and gratitude. There are 1,984,978 writers out there (last I counted) who would gladly take your place (and mine). To illustrate…
I was recently in a workshop when the editor giving the presentation said (very nicely, of course) that life was too short to work with an author who was “a pain,” and that their publishing house would have to seriously consider whether to contract (or re-contract) an author who was difficult to work with. Ouch! But honestly, don't you agree? Who wants to work with someone who's a pain in the you-know-what? Life's too short.
So bottom line…play nice! CBA is a small market, and editors from one house are often friends with another at a different house. Or they may change houses so you might see them again somewhere down the line. News in this industry travels fast, as does the reputation of a snarky or demanding author.
Now, ahem…speaking of remembering to be nice, I’m off to complete my Christmas shopping for my editors! Thanks, Mary and all, for allowing me to guest blog!
Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will be entered into a giveaway for a copy of Beyond This Moment (Bethany House Publishers, a Timber Ridge Reflections novel).