6 Oct 2016

On Editing

As part of my October series, I am reposting posts from the archives of the Magical Realm. This particular post was published in August, and is out of date with regards to my current activities; however, the information it presents is still important, and many of you have found it interesting.

My Experience with my Editor

If you haven’t been following this blog for long, here’s the situation: a couple of weeks ago I hired an editor through the Reedsy platform. (Incidentally, I am getting quite enamoured with it: I have already benefitted from free advice on the cover design of the Necromancer, and have gotten the interest of a company called Publishizer through them.)

My editor firstly began work with me on the query letter. I already wrote on the process a while ago. Suffice to say that I found her very helpful in getting the query right.

But of course, the main reason I hired her was to help me with the Ark. I can confirm that she has both given me a substantial (20-page) assessment, along with inline comments in the document proper. Both have been useful; the former especially. She has, in particular, suggested three things:

  1. That Casey’s personality, and especially his voice, is not sufficiently distinct from Conall’s;
  2. She has suggested I give more backstory to Kaylin, and clarify her motives more;
  3. She has suggested I ease up on the language and poetic elements.

She has also given me feedback on other minutiae: she has suggested I change names, work on pacing and timing, and put more focus on explaining the 22nd century in discussions (rather than talking about the last century!)

Of course I do not agree with all of her feedback. She has for example suggested that I make the world more futuristic; I deemed this unrealistic and beyond the remit of the story.

But on the whole, her feedback has been very useful. She has identified flaws I subconsciously suspected but needed expert advice on—as well as finding flaws and areas of improvement that I did not envisage. For that, she was worth the $600 plus 10% Reedsy fee. Or at least it was for me; your milage may of course vary.

One thing to note is that an editorial assessment is NOT beta-reader feedback—and nor is it a replacement. Beta-reader feedback is more personal, more subjective, and treats the novel as a holistic whole. A good beta-reader will tell you what they like—perhaps in the general direction of the plot and their opinion of the main characters.

An editorial assessment isn’t about that. An editor, like mine, will say very little in the way of her personal feelings on the book (except in some instances where it is directly relevant: she highlighted chapter seven as an example). Instead, an editor will focus on specific, practical, and skills-dependent elements. She will tell you whether a character lacks backstory, whether there is too much exposition, and so on; and she will go all the way down to the lower levels of a story’s structure, treating the issue of grammar and syntax (even individual paragraphs and sentences) along with specific recommendations on removing scenes, changing points of view, and all the varied minutiae that make up a book.

From here on in, I will discuss some of her specific advice, and the specific revisions I will be making as a consequence. But first: a question you may have.

Why Reedsy?

I could have looked for (and indeed already found) editors without the help of Reedsy. By hiring them directly I would have removed 10% off the cost—which can be especially significant for larger projects.

So why didn’t I? Well, the simple answer is that Reedsy is an excellent resource. It makes everything that much more convenient; it provides a substantial list of editors from which to choose, and let’s you search by the genre that the editors specialise in (which is important in my case). This saves me a fair bit of time and allows me to find competitive offers.

It is also very useful for making contacts. One way in which they do this is through their recently begun live videos. They take an expert—last week it was cover designer, this week an editor—and have them discuss a particular topic. Last week I received feedback on the cover for the Necromancer, as well as being privy to what other book covers did right and wrong among the cohort. This week I listened to an interesting talk about the ins and outs of worldbuilding.

Reedsy has also put me in contact with Publishizer—a company that specialises in crowdfunding books. I will say no more on this (it’s a secret) but what I will say is that I am very curious to see what happens.

The Workings of the Ark

I have compiled an extensive revision plan on the basis of my editors’ feedback. Below is an abridged version.

  1. I have decided to significantly alter Casey’s narrative voice and dialogue—particularly in the earlier scenes. I have already edited and/or rewritten a number so far. The basic idea of my edits is this: his expressions and thoughts are a little too complex and too poetic for him. I am rewriting him with a focus on being more direct, less verbose, and tending towards language is that is less flowery. I believe this will contrast sharply with Conall’s voice (which if anything I making a little more poetic) and make the characters more distinct.
  2. I am writing additional backstory for Kaylin.
  3. I have introduced an extra plot device; this I will use to heighten the conflict of the two protagonists, introduce additional tension in the book as a whole, and I will specifically apply to some of the weaker chapters. (Naturally, I’m not telling you what this plot device is; you’ll have to see for yourself!)
  4. I am changing some names, because too many of them start with C; they have become confusing to the reader.
  5. I am changing some of the discussion.
  6. And various other minor changes.

So, that’s the gist of my revision so far. I will be implementing these changes over the course of my stay here, particularly when I will be away in the countryside and will have no Internet. Let me tell you: it is not an insignificant amount of work.

The Art of Editing

Finally, I shall discuss some of the more abstract principles of editing at the end of this post.

The following is not a comprehensive insight into all that goes on in editing, but it does cover some of what has struck me most strongly while working on the Ark—and before that, the Necromancer.

If there is one maxim that applies more truly than any other, it’s that writing is in the re-writing. Rewriting is where you discover hidden potential in your prose; like a diamond covered by dust, your job when editing is to brush away the dust, find what is beautiful, and get rid of what is less than shiny.

The catch, of course, is that there must be potential locked underneath the original prose. If there isn’t, re-writing potentially allows you to start from scratch. But the key caveat is that it might allow you; often, however, if the original prose has no redeeming features, then it isn’t worth the effort to re-write it. Just get rid of it. (Indeed, for some writers, this may mean getting rid of an entire book. That’s one of the downsides of writing, and art in general.)

Then there’s the difference between re-writing vs editing. The former is ultimately a destructive process; you can certainly re-write prose to bring out its potential—to bring it closer to your creative vision—but the prose is of a different character afterwards. Editing, if done right, preserves the overall character of the prose. But editing is also limited in scope.

Editing can be about changing a particular word choice, or to replace a misused semicolon, but sometimes a full re-write is necessary. Being able to tell when a piece of prose requires rethinking some words, or a full re-write, is a skill I am still learning to master. I suspect it will improve with experience.

The last maxim I shall leave you with (for today, at least) is that a character’s voice is dependent not only on what he says, but also how he says it. One may say ‘he saw the boy, attired in the manner of a king, and was filled with a terrible yearning; what wealth, he thought—and what artistry! He could never hope to emulate him. He was too anodyne for that, too uncultured.’ Or you can say: ‘Damn, that boy knew how to dress. I could never hope to copy him; he was like a goddamn king. Next to him, I looked homeless.’

These two pieces of prose say much the same thing; yet the style in which they are written leads to stark differences in their character and feel. The former prose sounds like it was written by an aristocrat, or a famous 18th century writer; the latter is typical of modern teenagers. (Well, perhaps a relatively intelligent modern teenager.)

Anyway! That’s it for now. I will be publishing more posts in the near future: one will likely be about editing (once more) and the other on the current state of British politics, particularly in the Tory party. Until then, keep following. I am performing a great deal of work on the Ark—some of which you will even get to see before publication—and I will be releasing a number of photos of Romania in the not too distant future.

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