Editing: Through the Eyes of a Debut Author
Updated: Aug 28
Hitting the Jackpot is my debut novel, so it's my first experience of being 'edited'. This post isn't going to be a 'how to' guide, simply a record of how it went for me. The headline takeaway is - it was a big surprise, but hugely rewarding.
I (naively) expected the editing process to concentrate on correcting my grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. As a teacher of junior children, and therefore an 'English' teacher, I hoped there wouldn't be too many of these. Also, when offering me a contract for the book, I was told it wouldn't need any 'major structural changes'. Having said that, my editor, Morgen Bailey, warned me there would be 'blood on the floor...' I girded my loins - and my lions, 'just in cases'.
My 90,000-word manuscript arrived with 2,061 revisions. Blood on the floor? It was all over the walls and the ceiling. I hadn't even written a horror/slasher, it was a romcom. Having recovered from the shock (and embarrassment of so many 'problems' with my work) I turned on the positive mindset approach I preach to the seven-year-olds in my class, and instead saw 2,061 opportunities to improve my book. I had two weeks and counting...
I hadn't used Word's Track Changes feature before - I hadn't noticed it existed. Luckily, Bloodhound Books provided handy guides ref How to Tackle my Edited Manuscript and How to Use Word's Track Changes. I could do this. I decided to work through the revisions one by one. I'm retired, so have the time. I'm also an ex-primary school teacher, so am nosey regarding how these things work.
The first (pleasant) surprise was that there weren't that many grammar, punctuation or spelling errors. As I've said, I teach English; my wife (Masters in Applied Linguistics) had read the MS more than once, as had a number of beta-reader friends. So what were the 2000+ revisions all about? It was here that I made my first big discovery about what 'editing' really entails.
Morgen had spotted a number of (what I shall call) linguistic 'tics' in my writing. She was kind enough to tell me that these were quite common among writers, I didn't have a hitherto undiscovered illness. The main manifestation of the issue was my penchant for using the word 'just'. At times this pesky little word has a meaning: I just got in means a moment ago. But, I'm just going down the shops; he just didn't get it; I popped in just to say hello. Did those 'justs' add much, if anything? There were 464 justs in my manuscript.
Morgen conceded that there could be an element of pedantry in such forensic detail, but with my primary-teacher hat on, I wanted to write as well as I could, so I organised a search and destroy mission of unnecessary 'justs', and ended up with just 146. Similar missions were necessary to cull secondary infections involving multiple appearances of equally superfluous words like well, so and anyway.
As well as my linguistic 'tics', Morgen was very sharp when it came to two words repeated in close proximity: '...snaps her hands behind her back and leans backwards...' (x2 back - as Morgen would comment) or '...then an even nicer touch, the saleswoman wanders past and touches his arm...' (x2 touch) For me, this kind of detail coming from a fresh and trained eye was invaluable. Morgen's mantra was 'leave nothing that will take the reader out of the story' - now it was my mantra too.
There were many 'one-off' issues that Morgen raised, too many to detail here: one example concerned the age of my characters. I made a number of references to secondary characters being 'around' the same age as my MC, without ever having stipulated his age. A quick fix, but you can only apply the fix if somebody points out the problem.
A surprise of the editing process was a 'Character Table', produced by Morgen. This displayed a list of all (I mean all) the names in the book: female first name, female surname etc. I will admit, I couldn't quite see the point of this on first sight. And then Morgen pointed out that I had a Tom and a Tony working in a bank, a potential source of confusion and/or distraction for readers. The table quickly showed which letters of the alphabet I hadn't used for a male first name, and Tony was sacked, to be replaced by Oliver. It wasn't only names that started with the same letter that had to be treated carefully - 'sound-alike' names were a complete no-no, especially if the book was ever going appear as an audio-book: so, Tom and Ron couldn't both survive, nor could Paula and Laura. In the end, I changed ten names using the Character Table - something that I will create for myself for future books.
Once I'd finished all the comments/suggestions, I converted my Word file to Mobi and put it on my Kindle for another read-through. I feel that seeing it in a different format prevents at least some of the 'word blindness' that can come from reading it in the same format again and again and againzzz.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process, I learned so much, and I got a particular kick from Morgen's regular comments on phrases she liked and things she found funny. I never got round to counting how many of Morgen's 2,061 comments were actually positive, but at a rough guess, I'd say it could have been as many as half - ahem... Seriously, as a primary teacher of 40 years, I know the power of praise; it was very rewarding to find myself on the receiving end for once.
Two things made the process such a success for me: the first was time. I needed time to go through the suggestions one by one, something I wanted to do in order to learn as much as possible. I know this must be difficult for writers who have full-time jobs and heavy family commitments, but if you can do it, I would recommend it.
The second thing that made the process a success was an editor who I trusted and respected, plus, I hope, my willingness to learn. I never took a suggestion as a criticism, but always as an observation that could improve the book, and my future writing style and habits. Even my speech has changed - I just can't say the word 'just' anymore, without an alarm bell going off in my head, and a mental image of (x2 justs in that sentence) popping into my mind.
Now, I'll just send this post to Morgen, just to make sure it's really ready to go...
Hitting the Jackpot, 4th May, Bloodhound Books