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The Reality of Edits
So, you’ve sold your first book, and the euphoria is off the charts. All you can think is; OHMYGERD, I’M A WRITER!!! You have your first Sally Field moment; they like me, they really like me. You can be forgiven if you dance around your living room with a lamp shade on your head and throw shiny confetti in the air. (Then you’ll have to vacuum that shit up. My advice? If you have to throw something? Make it treats for the furbabies. You get the exercise, and they happily munch up the evidence. Much less work.) Okay, where was I? Oh yes, I’M A WRITER!!!
After that, you’ll ordinarily get a letter from the publisher saying ‘Welcome’, which is nice. With my most recent publisher, I’ve had four truly lovely e-mails, from editing and the art department and the department that handles front and back cover blurbs. Everyone has been so welcoming. It’s been almost seven years since I was with Dreamspinner, and it’s been a wonderful homecoming.
The thing is… I don’t care how gently it’s done or how kind the editor, once they dive in to those first edits of your manuscript, your BABY, it can be both jarring and depressing. In some cases, you’ve worked on this book for months, and when you get it back for those first edits there are so many comment bubbles and so much highlighted that you wonder what the acquisition person saw to begin with. It can really rattle your cage, and not in a good way. I think the thing I try to remember is, those editors are working for ME, for my book, to make it the best it can be.
I have a tendency to hit on one word or phrase and just use it to death. It’s different for each manuscript, and this time around the word was ‘quelling’. I hadn’t even noticed how many times I used it. Somebody was always giving someone else a ‘quelling look’. Now, that’s not exactly an overused word in manuscripts. Good Lord, it was in mine. And that’s what a good editor does; they pick up on those things. They ask the questions that readers are going to ask if the issues aren’t addressed and fixed. And that is all to the good of the writer. The story is there; the editors polish it. They notice when something seems off, or clunky. They help you get rid of the excessive dialog tags, the adverbs, notice when someone’s eyes are blue in one section and green in another. I’m really lucky; I have a phenomenal beta reader who catches that stuff and an agent who does the first read through after the beta. Like I said, I’m lucky. But even with that attention to the story, first edits can sting. Anyone who says they don’t has a thicker skin than me. It’s a bit like someone saying; your kid could be so cute if only you’d get it a decent hair cut! I love my characters; thinking I’m not serving them well actually hurts me.
I think that’s the point, though, of working with your editors. Nine times out of ten, they’re right. You may be in love with a scene, but if it doesn’t serve the story, it has to go. I’m going to save the one I love that I had to cut for a free coda when the book comes out. There are a couple of others where the intention has been redirected and stream-lined. There is a hovering threat in this book, and the edits and additions suggested by the three editors who’ve seen it thus far have really honed that threat, made it much more focused and because they have, it’s a much, much better book. And even through that moment of ‘ouch’ as I read comments from a new editor, I’m trying to tell myself that they just want what I want; the best book possible. That is what I want, too. I want people to read this book and feel the same way about it they do other, much loved books. I want it to shine.
That’s not to say it’s easy. It isn’t. And I’ve never really been the target of edits that were hurtful or insulting. I think perhaps the ones that cut the deepest are the ones that are kindly delivered and true, because we know exactly what they’re talking about.
All of this is just my way of saying, “Thank God for Editing teams”. We writers might not always like what they have to say, but not one of us diminishes their importance to the finished product. So, thank you to my team. I will clip the quells, do away with most of the dialog tags and streamline where suggested. I will clarify the placement of trees and where exactly my main characters mother lives. I will make David and Jackson’s first date as romantic as their first sex. And I will try to make readers worry about that threat they can feel, even if it doesn’t have a name on it.
Any writer worth their salt knowns that no one writes in a vacuum. It can feel a bit odd, because you go from this very solitary endeavor, which writing a book is, to this conglomerate of people who have their hands in your manuscript. There’s a knee jerk reaction to be like, ‘no, that’s MY PRECIOUS.’ But the bottom line is you want your precious to sell, and editors clean it up and put on the shine. I’m very grateful to the teams who have cleaned up my manuscripts. Truly grateful.
That doesn’t mean I’ve been thrilled with every edit. But honestly? I don’t have to be. I have to be in love with the finished product again when it is, in fact, finally finished. And uniformly, I have been and that’s been because of well done edits. So yes, sometimes you read an edit and think, but he needs his best friend to pick out his clothes and do his hair and… okay, so he doesn’t. But I like it. Well, I can like it as a short holiday coda, or maybe when Michael dresses David for his wedding. It’ll be fine.
No, hopefully it will be good, thanks to the efforts of the editors.
About Diana CoplandDiana Copland began writing in the seventh grade, when she shamelessly combined elements of Jane Eyre and Dark Shadowsto produce an overwrought Gothic tale that earned her an A- in creative writing, thanks entirely to the generosity of her teacher. She wrote for pure enjoyment for the next three decades before discovering LiveJournal and a wonderful group of supportive fanfiction writers, who after gifting her with a “”Best New Author”” Award encouraged her to try her hand at original gay fiction.
Born and raised in southern California, Diana moved to the Pacific Northwest after losing a beloved spouse to AIDS in 1995. She lives in eastern Washington with four obnoxious cats, near her two wonderful adult children.
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