Not really a secret: I’ve been an editor for an electronic press for almost twelve years. I was fortunate to have an excellent trainer and supervising editors who helped along the way, and as I look back, I’m very proud of the books I acquired and published. I’ve worked with a variety of award winning authors who began as newbies to Rita finalists and New York Times best sellers. One thing is always the same…no one can edit their own books. The flaws in our own work seem to blend into the fabric we’ve woven, making it nearly impossible for us to identify until we have been away from the subject for awhile. (Thank goodness for spell check or I couldn’t write a note without typos.)
My editing specialty is actually content editing, or developmental editing, and finding repetitions and holes in the story lines. Once an author has the manuscript written, I’m the first reader who recommends how to tighten up the Plot, point out where the characters’ personalities and behaviors need more Development and Depth, and check to make certain the Pacing and Hooks keep the reader interested to the very end…and beyond. I want that book to stay in the reader’s head long after they finish reading it. I want it to be one they’d like to read again and again.
But as an author, I find it hard to duplicate this ability for myself. Why is that? At the time it looks okay when I send it to my beta readers. They pick up on a few things but editors pick up everything!
Oh, I easily identify what it needs, long after it’s published, but if left to my devices, I’d rewrite my books every two years, just to make sure. Well not totally rewrite, but I’d re-polish them, dust them off, at the very least. And then, I also believe I should leave them alone. Sometimes that initial wording isn’t the most grammatically correct way of putting it, but it’s the most honest interpretation of what’s going on in the author’s head. The wording is slightly uncomfortable, but the feeling is accurate. So when editing, it’s important to allow the character’s voice to reveal itself in dialogue while the author’s voice comes out in narrative as well as in the way the style of the story is put together.
My author voice is more than one style, depending upon what I’m writing. It’s one way in my serious plots, but something entirely different in my romantic humor. One is an example of my dream state writing, and the other is full of my internal thoughts, a process I don’t dare speak. In any case, they are both different from my style here on my blog, which is my more informative voice. So, it’s important that wording and sentence style belong to the author, as long as the structure is somewhat accurate; no dangling participles or misplaced modifiers, split infinitives and so on…
Everyone worries about the comma, but as long as the pause is in the right place, and the reader can make sense out of the sentence, then all is well. Different grammar rules allow for some flexibility. Take fiction versus non fiction: fiction has more lenient rules often because like poetry the author controls the meaning of dialogue and narrative using sentence length and rhythm to determine pace. Pace helps drive a story. During action, danger, or suspense scenes the reader is tied to the scene (no breaks) until the conclusion. Sometimes, I find myself holding my breath so I read faster to catch my breath before moving on to the next scene. If the author has been paying attention, he/she will give the reader a change of pace–some down time to recuperate–before going on to another breath holding scene.
You can see why it’s important to have a fresh eye on the manuscript. If you’re the one writing the story, you know what’s coming. You’ve edited this a few times and certainly read it enough that you aren’t holding your breath or sobbing at the scenes this time around. It’s beginning to make it more difficult to be objective…more difficult to see where you need speed or a break…more difficult to identify what could make your book the best it could be. If the editor has been in the trenches with the author helping rewrites maybe they both need an objective eye, a fresh point of view. The answer is an educated beta reader–someone who can answer your list of concerns and point out anything else they might come across.
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Maximum Impact the Writers’ Notebook by Editor, Maureen F. Sevilla
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