- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Value of a Good Book Editor
Speaking from Personal Experience
I’m the first to admit that I’m not Hemingway. I mean, I have a certain amount of game with regards to writing, but I’m not even in the same zip code as Dean Koontz and probably never will be.
Still, I was a classroom teacher for eighteen years, and I was educated by Catholic nuns who simply would not tolerate poor English, so it is safe to assume that I have some ability writing and that I can write with good grammar.
Well, that’s the problem when you assume. You make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” Get it? Ass….u…..me…..assume!
I am on the final leg of my latest novel-writing experience. The manuscript for “Resurrecting Tobias” is in the hands of my editor, Jaye Denman, and she is doing her thing with my pride and joy. Now, for those who assumed that my grammar would need very little fixing, go to the end of the line and be very ashamed. The fact is that practically every one of my paragraphs in that 130,000 word novel needs fixing.
Talk about a lesson in humility!
Faced with that news, I really only have two choices: I can become depressed and quit the writing profession, or I can realize that editors exist for a very good reason, and that reason is that all writers are human beings.
We make mistakes! We get so wrapped up in the story, the character development, the rhythm and the flow, that quite often we completely forget the basic rules of grammar.
Enter the editor, and a good one is worth their weight in gold. Mine is a good one, and I highly recommend Jaye to anyone who is serious about fine-tuning their book. You can find Jaye on HubPages under the name JayeWisdom…..just follow this link.
So I thought today we would spend a little time looking at what editors do, and I thought we could use my manuscript and Jaye’s editing notes to do that. Are you ready?
Into the Fire
I’m going to choose a passage at random and then explain the process.
“How many miles had I traveled? Several hundred thousand would be a safe guess. Four-seated puddle-jumpers through the Andes, jumbo jets skipping over continents, camel-back across deserts, kayaking down the Nile, crawling on my belly through the jungles while snipers with night vision zeroed in on body heat. All roads led to West Yellowstone, a mere eight hundred, fourteen miles from where it all began, a couple thousand to go and then what should have been, what could have been, what would have been, might actually be.”
Hopefully the red editing marks show up when I paste this to the HP format.
This passage is all about grammar. Four-seat became four-seated….several commas were added, 814 was changed to eight hundred, fourteen, and so on. This is a great example of the working relationship between a writer and an editor. All of Jaye’s suggestions were not necessary. I could have skipped a couple commas and the integrity of the work would have been fine….but…..I agreed with her and made the changes.
Now let’s take a look at another passage where the changes are more about content and less about grammar.
The Author Cringes As Content Is Attacked
“On to Eugene for a night at the Starlight Lounge. The crowd seemed a little restless. Must be something in the air making the natives a bit edgy. Well, this first reading ain’t going to make them feel any better, and that’s for sure.
The crowd was classic Eugene. If eclectic is what you want, head for Eugene, Oregon. There you will find your Age of Aquarius burnouts. There you will find your suburban hipsters. Toss in hair of every rainbow color, piercings of every size and shape, roll it all together and you have Eugene. (BILL: THIS MIGHT BE THE APPROPRIATE PLACE TO PUT THE GIRL—PAGE 39—WHO IS WEARING HOT PINK AND HAS LOTS OF PIERCINGS. YOU COULD SWITCH HER WITH THE “PRETTY LADY IN THE PURPLE DRESS. YOUR CALL, BUT READ MY NOTE ABOUT THE OTHER AUDIENCE MEMBER.)
A question before I even get started. “Yes, the pretty lady with the Grateful Dead t-shirt. What can I do for you?”
“Toby, I am just thrilled to be here. I just want to know how much longer you plan on writing and giving readings?”
“That’s an easy one, darlin’. As long as there are people like you who are willing to sit down and listen to me.”
Thank you, ladies and gents. Let’s get started tonight with a piece I call “Somewhere in the World Right Now.”
You will notice Jaye’s note to me in the second paragraph of this section. She was referring to my description of the typical audience member in Eugene, and the fact that the audience member that I chose to ask a question did not originally match the Eugene description. Get it?
At this point in the editing process, I have a choice. I can either take her suggestion or ignore it. Is she correct regarding consistency?
It turned out she was absolutely correct, and you can see the change I made in the next sentence after Jaye’s note to me….the lady in the Grateful Dead t-shirt.
Let’s take a look at one other editing example.
Jaye Greatly Enjoys Drawing Blood from Me
I say that while laughing of course. Jaye’s job is to make my manuscript the best it can possibly be. She has my best interests at heart, and I respect that greatly. Here is a wonderful example that just happened recently.
I added a couple paragraphs at the very beginning of the book. Jaye read it and came back with her own version. I can’t seem to find her note regarding this change, so I’ll just share the paragraphs with you, and tell you that they are a collaboration between the two of us.
“ I witnessed a stoning once upon a time. I was in Iran covering a political story. I had just left the Shah’s palace and on my way to the hotel I noticed a crowd forming in the public square. A woman, dressed in traditional Islamic hijab, was buried to her shoulders, and ten men stood about twenty feet from her and they were throwing stones at her. The stones were about the size of a football, or maybe slightly smaller, and all had sharp edges. The woman had several cuts on her face by the time I arrived, and the pain was obvious, but she did not cry out. Stone after stone hit her head, and the cuts increased, and after about fifteen minutes skull appeared, and then brain-matter, and her blood flowed down to the dust turning it red under the scorching sun.
Hundreds watched the spectacle as though it were entertainment, many nibbling on fruits, some drinking from tiny porcelain cups, sustaining their bodies with fluids as the young woman’s fluids mixed with the dirt and her life ebbed.
That shit will stay with you once you see it. That shit will alter the course of your life and put you on a path you never envisioned when you were a youngster playing Kick the Can. It did for me, and my writings today reflect those moments when mankind’s brutality overshadows all advancements made in the past two hundred thousand years.”
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An Important Point to Remember
I’ll let Jaye’s words explain this final point:
“Remember, Bill, it's your manuscript and you make the choices about which editing to keep and which you don't want.”
At the end of the day, the important thing to remember, as a writer, is that you are the one who makes the final decisions. It is your name attached to the book. You are the one who labored for months to make an idea a reality, and you are the one who will have to ultimately be happy with the result.
Your editor can only make suggestions. Whether you follow those suggestions is your decision.
I hope these examples give you a better idea of the process involved in editing, and also the importance of a good working relationship between author and editor.
Best wishes as you travel your own path!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”