Accepting Responsibility for Your Novel: Editing

When you write a novel, the chances are good that the publisher will hire editors to massage your text.

There are problems with that,of course. Not all editors are as good as you’d like. Editors get tired. Editors don’t get paid enough. Editors have lapses of judgment. Your editor might not like your work. He or she might not be adequately trained. The list of problems goes on and on.

But when your novel comes out, guess who the fans blame?

So you have to take responsibility for your editing. This means that as much as possible, you need to train yourself to edit.

There are some books that you should read: Self-editing for Writers, by Renni and Brown is an excellent place to start. You should also pick up some books on moderns American Usage, so that you can learn the difference between further and farther, and brush up on how to punctuate. I also like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style so long as you don’t consider it to be a bible. (There are some writer who correctly point out that if you slavishly follow their “rules,” you will actually hurt your style. Many fine writers, particularly in the U.K., seem to ignore their rules with excellent results.)

Beyond that, as a writer you should try to get more than one pair of eyes looking at your manuscript. If you belong to a writing group, make good use of them. If not, try to have friends or family members look at your work.

You will of course have times when you might need to argue with an editor over a passage. Try to be dispassionate about the argument. Quite often, things aren’t all black and white. But remember that ultimately, the manuscript needs to reflect your tastes and your style.

Always read your line edits and galleys, but edit more carefully than that. My last line editor only caught about 2/3 of my typos and dropped words. Beyond that, I found many instances where I was able to clarify my passages, things that my editor couldn’t have seen.

Similarly, when your galleys come in, you need to study those, too. I once had a package filled with galleys reach me on December 5. Inside was a note that said, “We need you to have these read and returned by December 2.” I called my editor and asked if I could have a day to look at them. She said no, so the book went out as it was.

Unfortunately, the typesetter not only had neglected to make a number of changes from my line edits, but he had also introduced some whole new problems. For example, a couple of pages from the end of one chapter somehow got inserted into the middle of it.

The book was ugly.

Now, I could say that it wasn’t my fault. I could say, “You know, editor, if you really wanted me to look at these, you should have sent them in a timely fashion.” I could whine about the fact that the postman took nearly two weeks longer than normal to deliver the package.

But the truth was that it was my fault. I should have put my foot down and demanded a day to read the galleys. I should have screamed, thrown a hissy fit, called my agent, and threatened to withdraw the book.

Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for your own editing.

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