Editing Work, Editor Business, Words

A Method to the Madness: My Editing Process

I’m sure that sometimes, writers get feedback that doesn’t always make sense right away. They can also get feedback that demonstrates confusion  or a general lack of understanding what the writer intended. Sometimes, particularly in peer review cases, they get truly banal comments that have nothing to do with the quality of the work: in essence, things like “Do you have to use “moist”? I don’t like that word.” That last one actually happened to me one time, and my knee-jerk response was to immediately ignore anything else they had to say. The point I’m making here is that as writers, we’re all going to hear things about our work that we don’t like. Yeah, sometimes comments are going to be stupid, but the majority of those are made by people who were barely reading your work to begin with. Editors, however, are not in this category.

As I mentioned in a previous post, editors are almost always trying to find a way to help you produce the best piece of writing you can. They’re the ones who point out plot holes and inconsistencies in characterization, which can make rewriting a nightmare. Still, you have to believe me when I tell you it’s necessary. Rewriting is necessary, and at least entertaining what the editor says is a must. You obviously don’t have to do everything they say, but at least consider it and try to look at it from a reader’s perspective before completely rejecting an idea. Most of the time, there is a reason for it. I promise we’re not trying to make your life difficult.  All editors have a process, and today, I’m going to share mine.

The first step in my editing process is a preliminary read-through. What happens here is that I simply read through the manuscript the way a casual reader would. This way, I enter the mindset of a reader and see the things they might notice. It also helps me get a feel for the general premise of the manuscript and the writer’s style. Because one of my random useless superpowers is the ability to read stupidly fast, this part of the process, assuming I’m left alone to work with few interruptions, usually takes me about a day. During my read through, I’m noting the plot and key characters,  various trends in the writing that I happen to notice, and just generally forming a basic map of the book-in-progress. In non-story manuscripts, I’m noting the main arguments, the types of evidence used, and getting a read of the general flow of ideas. Once I finish reading, I stop for the day and turn my attention to other tasks, letting what I read marinate in the back of my mind. I haven’t forgotten about the project for a single moment; instead, I’m just processing what I read and figuring out the best approach to take when I really sink my teeth into the work.

My next step is to open the document and read it again, but this time, I’m in full-on editor mode. I have a general idea of where the story is going, or an outline of the main points if it isn’t a novel, and now I can focus on the details. I know the core elements from my read-through, so now I can look for inconsistencies that I may have missed my first time around. My preferred editing tools are the Track Changes function and the Comment function in Word. It helps me keep track of what I’ve done and lets me go back and make changes to my own work when needed, and it’s easy. At this stage, I’m using the comment function like mad and highlighting areas of concern. During this time, I’m marking plot holes or logical fallacies, commenting on when characters feel off, and so forth. However, I also try to let writers know what works so that they don’t become too discouraged to write. And most importantly, I always try to suggest ways to fix problems. When a character’s behavior seems completely different than previously suggested, I usually mention the possibility of developing the character a bit more to make it more plausible. For instance, if a usually level-headed soul suddenly flips a table and throws someone through a wall, I suggest to the writer that maybe the character has been under a lot of stress and has finally reached their breaking point: wouldn’t it be a good idea to show the readers that? Likewise, if an argument’s evidence feels flimsy, I suggest ways to strengthen it. If it’s based on an ‘everyone knows this’ attitude, I try to gently point out that not everyone knows, and maybe it would be a good idea to consider the target audience and strengthen the point with other evidence like scientific research or a podcast. This round of edits is the first one, since my process involves a lot of exchanging drafts. I like to keep in touch with my clients, and my inbox is always open for them. I tend to focus mostly on plot, structure, and so on in the first round of edits, since proofreading something that’s going to be rewritten doesn’t make much sense. After I finish this first round of edits, I sent the edited manuscript back to the writer with a message summarizing my work and an offer to be in contact if there are any questions. The rest is up to the writer.

When the writer sends me a re-write, I do a basic repeat of my first step, but I’m also noting the changes made and adjusting my mental picture of what needs to be done. The second round of edits gets a bit more nit-picky. The trouble with re-writing is that both writer and editor have to go through a few more rounds of it before both are happy. The writer is usually somewhat irritated at having to re-write and might even have cut things out that might have made the story awesome the first time around. My second round is about looking at the plot/main point even more closely and putting the core elements under a microscope. Sometimes, even more things get cut out, or paragraphs are in the wrong place. I’m also looking for clunky sentences or things that just don’t quite flow as well as they could. As before, I also try to give credit where it’s due. This could be as simple as acknowledging that a writer definitely tried to do what I suggested, but a sentence structure is lessening the impact a bit. I say things like, “Good job adding character development! Here’s what you could do to make it hit a reader even harder.” It’s important to me to make sure my clients know I care about their work and that they don’t become totally discouraged. Therefore, I always try to be constructive, and encourage them use the comment function in Word to respond to me. I want to hear what they have to say. I comb through the whole document once again, and then I send my new round of suggestions back to the client.

This process continues for about two or three more rounds. Then, when the writer feels they’re ready to publish, I run the final checks. Final checks for me are basically proofreading and formatting to make sure everything is sound. Paragraphs are aligned, capitalization is solid, periods are in the right places, quotation marks are where we need them. My client then finalizes the changes, and I turn off Track Changes and send them their clean, official copy after my final payment is received. I take half the total fee at the beginning of the editing process as a deposit, then the second half before the final product is delivered.

As you can see, editing can be pretty busy on both ends. The editor spends quite a bit of time working with writers if they’re good, even if they’re mostly communicating by email and such. Writing and editing should be a two-way process, with communication on both sides. That way, the writer gets to publish the kind of book they wanted to write, and the editor knows they can look back on that project and think “I helped them make that!”

Is it hard? Yes. It is a long process, but it is most definitely worth the effort.

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