I hope everything's going well for you. I'm hip-deep in the middle of...well, let's just be frank, about fifty projects right now. But at the top of my priority list is edits for my upcoming collaboration with Stevie Kopas, SLASHVIVOR! from Sinister Grin Press.
Thinking about what to write about today, it occurred to me that there is a hell of a lot of advice out there regarding how to self-edit and how to be an editor - read it aloud, check for junk words, print it out and use a red marker, etc., etc. - but not so much advice about how to behave when you've received notes from your editor.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? You get notes from your editor, and you make the changes, bingo bango. Well...not so much. And I've had to hold hands with so many authors going through their first edit, that it occurs to me this might be a hole in our collective internet consciousness. People may either be scared or ashamed to admit that they have questions or concerns about working with an editor, or they may just be so excited to actually have a book deal that they just let themselves be bowled over when they shouldn't.
So today I'm going to talk a little bit about how to handle your first edit. Let me know in the comments if you have any input or further questions.
1.) You're going to feel overwhelmed.
Every author has a secret dream. After slaving away on a manuscript for months, possibly years, they wouldn't even send it out if they didn't think it was perfect. And, secretly, we all hope that when editorial notes come back they'll simply say, "No matter how hard I search I can't find a single flaw."
To my knowledge, that dream's never come true. (Although I think we've all heard rumors about HARRY POTTER IV and more than a few of Stephen King's works.) In fact, it's not going to be anything like that. Your manuscript is going to come back riddled with red ink and thought bubbles, and quite possibly with a separate letter listing overarching concerns. I've personally received editorial letters of upwards of nineteen pages.
The reason we all secretly hope we'll get that "perfect kill" note is that this is all very scary. Because if you thought your manuscript was perfect, how is it possible that there are thousands upon thousands of flaws?
I'll just say this: don't fret. Or, more accurately, go ahead and fret. Fret for a few hours or days. Piss and moan and groan to all of your author friends about your nineteen-page letter. But then relax. Go in and make the few hundred easy changes. (Missed capitalizations and so forth.) Then it won't seem so bad. Then make a few hundred more middling changes. Then you'll be halfway done and it'll seem downright manageable, Don't feel bad about feeling overwhelmed. Just don't let it paralyze you.
2.) Learn to love track changes.
This is kind of a nuts and bolts thing. I should probably entertain at the beginning of this section that not everyone writes in Microsoft Word, and all kinds of other programs are perfectly serviceable and blah blah blah. Okay, has that pointless thought been fully entertained for the benefit of those who are going to complain about it? Okay, now that we've dispensed with that, let's deal with the fact that you're writing in Microsoft Word and your editor is responding using track changes.
Let's take a look:
This is what track changes look like in case you've never seen them before.
Now, a brief tutorial. To get to track changes you want to click on your "Review" tab. You turn track changes on by clicking on the bottom portion of the "Track Changes" button (1.) (You should actually turn track changes off when you receive notes back from your editor. Basically, you'll be making the changes they've requested and you want them to stick.)
You can simply accept or reject your editor's suggestions using the appropriate button (2.) If it's more complicated than that, get into the document and make your changes manually. To see a list of all the changes your editor has made, you can use the reviewing pane by clicking the appropriate button (3.) You can also leave thought bubbles for your editor by clicking "New Comment" (4.) Delete hers as you make the requested changes by right-clicking the bubble and selecting "delete."
Here's what a text with track changes looks like. I've deliberately chosen a section of "Hamlet," (you know, the most famous play in the English language) to prove a point. I can fuck with Shakespeare, so don't worry about your editor fucking with you. It doesn't make you a bad writer.
Those little black lines on the far left indicate a row has changes in it. Actual changes look just like red ink. (When multiple people are working on a manuscript, their changes will appear in different colors.) The highlighted portions belong to a particular comment. Comments are also color-coded, and they also list the initials of the person who made them, as well as how many comments there are. So SK4 is my fourth comment.
3.) This is a back-and-forth
Here's what I think kills a lot of authors on their first edit: they feel compelled to bow their editor's every whim. I will say this: I agree that you should address an editor's every concern. But when I say "address" I don't mean "automaticaly acquiesce." Editors are (gasp!) human, just like you, and they make mistakes, just like you.
So picture, if you will, (and, yes, this has happened to me) you reach a change in your manuscript that is just plain wrong. You had it right the first time, so you dust off your Webster's and google five different sources, and all are in agreement: the way you had the words originally was correct. Are you going to go ahead and make that change just because your editor said to? Well, if you do, you're a weak-willed worm, so I guess there's not much I can do for you. But the correct answer, of course, is no. You reject it. Maybe you even leave a thought bubble saying that you double-checked and couldn't find anything wrong with it as written.
Now I want you to just expand that concept to your entire manuscript, even down to the things that are a matter of taste. Don't be afraid to have a discussion with your editor about something you disagree with. It's not like talking back to a teacher in school. It's like having a dialogue with a business partner. (Golly jeepers, in fact, now that I think about it, it actually is that.)
4.) That being said, don't be a tool
Now, when I say this is a back-and-forth, please, for the love of God, don't take that as carte blanche to fight everything your editor says. And if you do, don't mention my name.
Here's a piece of really tangible, really easy advice. Remember when I said up front that you should go through and take the hundred or so easy, impossible-to-fight-about changes, and just make them? Let me expand on that a little bit. I recommend you take every editorial change you can live with and just go ahead and make them.
Did your editor change some wording you kind of liked? Ask yourself: can I live with it. Did your editor fuss about a form of address or something kind of finnicky? Ask yourself: can I live with it. And on every single change where the answer is "I can live with it" go ahead and change that.
Now here's why I say that: because you need to pick your battles. There are going to be a few things in this manuscript that you simply cannot bear to change. That you nailed, that you're certain of, that your every authorial instinct is telling you needs to stay, even if the editor didn't get it, even if the first ten readers won't get it. It needs to stay because you nailed that shit and you could write a book about why you nailed that shit and you don't care if only one thirteen-year-old kid in Omaha, Nebraska ever gets why.
Now there are two possibilities with those kinds of issues. The first is that you have fought and kicked and moaned and fussed about every little Oxford comma and italicization. In which case, your genuine concerns get lumped in with all your crap concerns under the umbrella of, "This is a problem author." And guess what you don't want to be labeled as? Guess what happens when your publisher tells other publishers that you're a problem author? Now, you might get your way, but you might also be surprised to find out that suddenly that publisher isn't interested in your sequel anymore. This is not to scare you, this is just to say: don't be a tool.
The other possibility is that you come off as a reasonable, well-educated author who has a few concerns. You've agreed with pretty much every change, even the ones that are a scoche questionable. Suddenly your five or six "I can't live with this" problems seem like the product of an author who cares about his work instead of a whiner. And guess what? Your editor cares about your work being the best it can be, too. So suddenly you have a reputation as a dedicated professional who's easy to work with, but doesn't just bend over every time an editor snaps his fingers. Now guess what happens when that reputation starts to make the rounds?
Or, in short: don't be a tool.
How about you? What are your tips and tricks for surviving your first edit?