The Editing/Revising Process
Shannon Hale has said that writing is like throwing a bunch of sand into a sandbox. Editing and revising are like building castles out of that sand. I like the metaphor. It is nice and pretty.
But sometimes the process of editing and revising simply isn’t pretty. It can be, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it is more like getting buried by ten tons of the sand and then being told to dig yourself out. Especially the first time. There’s a lot of talk about killing off book babies, murdering characters, and cutting things. It sounds violent because, in all reality, sometimes it is. Sometimes it is brutal. It feels that way at least.
But it is ALWAYS worth it.
For me, there are 3 types of editing I go through as part of my publisher’s editing and revision process. These are not cannon or industry standard, but it will give you an idea. They are developmental, substantive, and copy editing. Each one comes with its own positives and negatives and I will address each one in turn.
Developmental Edits/Revisions – these deal with plot, story structure, and characters. These create the largest revisions to the manuscript as you, as the author, work on the areas the editors have pointed out. While I was working on these revisions for my first novel, Sands, this was the part where some of my personal favorite characters got the ax, a few chapters were condensed into a single scene, and I most felt like tearing my hair out. Why was it hard? Because I’d grown attached to characters and things within my novel and having someone tell me that those sections and/or people simply weren’t important enough to the actual story was a hard pill to swallow. It is every time an editor suggests something be removed/changed/tweaked/condensed.
But let me make something clear. They may be right. In fact, they’re probably right. They have a vested interest in making sure your novel flows well, works well as a story, and is the best it can be. They’re not being vindictive or mean. In fact, your developmental editor is on your side. They’re trying to help you. The two I’ve worked with have made my novels 100 times better than I could have done without them.
After your plot works well and the holes are patched, shored up, and streamlined, the manuscript makes it over to the substantive editors. Again, these are relative to my experience with the process at Future House Publishing and are not necessarily industry standard, though most of the same concepts apply.
Substantive Edits/Revisions – these deal less with what you say as opposed to how you say it. Are you using passive voice instead of active? Is your sentence so convoluted no one will ever understand it? Do you show AND tell and then repeat yourself again? Do you say someone has black hair in one scene then give them red hair in a different scene without giving a reason for the change? Your substantive editor will find all these places and help you fix them.
The substantive editor I’ve worked with is the most detailed person I’ve ever met. She is meticulous, organized, and finds inconsistencies in my manuscript that I don’t even realize are there. Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye on exactly how to change them, but we always figure something out that works well for the both of us and – even more importantly – for the story itself. That being said if your developmental editor is your friend, your substantive editor is probably your best friend. They keep you from being stupid. Mine in particular has taught me more about writing mechanics than a lifetime of English classes (sorry Gilbert Public School English teachers).
Finally, it moves from there to the Copy Editor(s)
Copy Edits – these deal with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They’re pretty straightforward. They can make or break your manuscript.
In the end, what I want to say about the editing/revision process is that although it is sometimes hard and painful, sometimes mildly depressing, in the end, it makes your manuscript better. In the end, it is worth it. In the end, you come out stronger than you were before. Your editors (and beta readers/writing group/critique partners) are on your side.
When doing repairs, you frequently have to tear something apart in order to fix it and put it back together again. Sometimes you have to pull it apart several times before it works when you put it back together again. Sometimes it doesn’t look the same as it did before. Sometimes you have to knock down that sand castle and start over. But – in the end – it works. And that’s the goal. In the end, all of it helps you have a real book. Your book.
Don’t forget to stop by Amazon to get my newest book, Resurgent Shadows, Book 1 of the Successive Harmony Series. Also, Sands is only $0.99 for the next few days. If you don’t already have an electronic copy, you should go get one while it’s on sale.