Editing Part 2: Top tips

Based on my experiences with the editing process with Facing the Wave (and working as an editor and writing tutor for 10 years), here are my top tips for not just surviving but thriving in the editing process.

A common goal

The best way to start is to be confident that your publisher has your best interests at heart. They know the market. They have the benefit of detachment. You may have spent five stanzas belabouring a key message that could just as easily be communicated in two – and an outside reader is often better placed to pick this up. Your publisher is also paying to publish your work so they have a vested interest in seeing it do well.

While I’m sure there are horror stories about the editing process, it is worth going into it with the mindset that you are now part of a team and that it is a collaborative process. Editing will not go smoothly if you are too protective or combative about proposed changes to your story.

Brutal is a mindset

Even with the best team, it can feel brutal. A comment in the margins that says ‘clunky’ can be interpreted as ‘what a load of tripe – I’ve never read anything so awful’. This is definitely not what your editors are saying. They want to work with you because they like your story and your writing. Don’t take it personally. You are not a fraud. Your writing is not rubbish.

Let it sit

Feedback can make you feel icky, defensive or anxious. When I receive feedback I read it briefly and then sit with it for 24 hours before I address it or mull over it in any great detail. This tends to help me get past any overly emotional reactions to feedback, and to approach it with my editing hat on rather than my overly-precious, perfectionist, self-doubting writer hat (not a helpful hat at any stage of the process).

Mostly subjective

Feedback is just one person’s opinion. That said, the people you will be working with are likely to have well informed opinions based on industry experience.

If you listen to more than one person, they may have different opinions. I had an interesting experience with this writing Facing the Wave. In the opening stanzas of my story, I describe a range of characters and their different surfing styles. Prior to my manuscript assessment I received feedback that I was breaking a general picture book rule whereby you should lead with, and stay focused on, your main character. I was already aware of this but I had a really clear vision of how this could open the story in a fun dynamic way so I left it in. One of the first things James (my publisher) told me following my manuscript assessment was ‘I really love the introduction to the family with their surfing styles – I can see how that will look in the illustrations.’

Difference of opinion is also particularly true for rhyme and meter. Although there are many rules that can help you write rhyming prose effectively, sometimes another person will just hear or read something differently to you. This can be frustrating but, as discussed in Editing Part 1, it is worth considering whether your readership will have the same spread of reactions and whether there is something you can do to make your story work for more readers.

To kill or not to kill?

You don’t have to kill all of your darlings. But you should be very picky about which ones you save. I think of feedback and changes in three categories:

  1. No brainers. These are small tweaks or suggestions that either you don’t care about or that immediately make sense. In this case, hit ‘accept changes’ and move on.
  2. For discussion. These are things that you might discuss with the publisher and workshop different options. Sometimes you will receive direction (such as, this stanza needs X) and sometimes you will receive direction with suggestions (such as, this stanza needs X, perhaps you could say Y instead). If you don’t like a suggestion you can always go away and come back with your own proposed change to make X happen.
  3. Tough choices. These are few and far between but these are the tough decisions where one party is set on a change or element and the other party disagrees. When I am editing others’ work I try to provide sound reasons if I have a deal breaker suggestion. When faced with this as a writer I tend to ask myself ‘Is this the publishing hill I am prepared to die on if need be?’

You shouldn’t change things that are going to make you feel uncomfortable every time you read your book, but you should be selective about your deal breakers. You should also be able to articulate to your editor why this phrase/character/description/illustration direction is so important to you and your story. If you and your publisher have conflicting deal breakers then it is not likely to be a productive relationship.

Know your story

Knowing what is important in your story, and why, goes a long way to helping you decide which elements are unkillable darlings, and which parts are just things you are fond of. Knowing exactly what makes your story strong and what is essential can help you feel more comfortable with the editing process. This can stop you becoming hung up on particular phrases or stanzas, and it also helps you be open to feedback.

For example, in my story it was really important that the relationship between the child protagonist and his father hit a particular note. So, when we discussed cutting back some of the dialogue between these characters, I was a little bit nervous. However, because I knew what I wanted to achieve in this dynamic I could articulate this to the editorial team. They reassured me that the intended dynamic was still very obvious to the reader, we made the cut, and the story was much stronger for it.

In short

Expect to be uncomfortable in the editing process however with the right team it should also be exciting and rewarding as you see your story get polished to its absolute brightest. Know what is important to you but be open and flexible.

Published by bec16

Bec is an author from the Gold Coast with over 10 years of freelance writing experience. Her first picture book is being published by Larrikin House in 2022.

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