Saturday, April 16, 2005

A salute to nitpicking editors

I'm finally entering the homestretch on this manuscript I've been revising. I expected to be finished a month ago, but things like life and taxes* got in the way. But it's all good now because two more long days will see me finished ahead of my May 1 deadline. I'll probably take advantage of that cushion by letting the story cool off for a week before I give it a final read-through and send it to my editor.

I like doing revisions. (And here I'll pause for a moment to allow all the writers who just fell off their chairs to climb back on them.) I like all of the stages and processes of writing, and revisions are just another part of that, so I like them.

When an editor says, "This chapter is all wrong; change it," an author's blood pressure tends to rise. What's wrong with it, you philistine? Would you know a good chapter if it bit you on the backside?

Well, yes. Actually, she would. She bought your manuscript, didn't she? How much proof do you need?

Editors nitpick their authors. Some editors see that as an unpleasant but necessary part of their job while others appear to view it as one of the job's perks, but never mind that right now. The bottom line is, when an editor pounces on some silly detail, she is probably saving you from the 1,579 readers who would have chewed your hide if she had let that detail get past her.

Want an example of editorial nitpicking? There's a minor character in my novel called Dr. Grissom. My editor said I had to change the name. Apparently there's a top-rated TV show with a Dr. Grissom as the main character. I don't watch TV, so I didn't know that. And when I looked into it I thought her objection was ludicrous because my Dr. Grissom, a middle-aged woman, is an OB-GYN. The only thing she has in common with the TV character is her title and last name.

I rolled my eyes. Trust an editor to be so anal.

But I do. Trust my editor to be anal, I mean. Her objection might have seemed silly to me, but she's doing everything in her power to make sure readers will stay riveted to my story and not be reminded that they missed the last episode of whatever that TV show is called. So I've changed the character's name. To Griswald. Only now I'm wondering if my editor will shoot back an e-mail saying, "No. That was Chevy Chase's name in the Vacation movies."

It can be frustrating, having an editor breathing down your neck when you're trying to create a good book. But sometimes an author is just standing too close to the canvas to see things an editor can pick up from farther away. For instance, I felt that the prologue to my story wasn't working, but when I went over it line by line, I liked it just fine. On the first round of revisions, my editor said nothing about the prologue. I shrugged and went about my business. But in this second and final round of revisions, she said quite clearly that I was to ditch the prologue because it wasn't working. So it had bothered her, too. Relieved to have that confirmation of my suspicions, I deleted the prologue and folded those events into the first chapter as brief flashbacks. Now the "disturbing" prologue is gone and there's an immediacy to the first chapter that wasn't there before.

So revising this manuscript (something I didn't have to do with my first book because my former editor liked it just as it was) has turned out to be a very satisfying experience.

And my hat's off to nitpicking editors everywhere.

* I figure my own, and as a self-employed writer, that can get a little hairy.


Anonymous said...

I got a name for you, Doctor Maltreat,how's that for a name!

Susan Kaye said...

Okay, I'm not real big on saying stuff like, "The Lord really worked through what you said today." Other than solid teaching from the pulpit or such. Anyway, "The Lord really worked through what you said today."

I've got a notebook with five edited chapters sitting on my kitchen counter that I can't even bring myself to open. The idea of editing drives me wild. Add to that the fact I'm not finished with the book and have to now go back to the beginning and try to keep all the stuff straight!!!

*the sound of hair being pulled out*

But, you're right that fresh eyes tend to see more clearly.



tristan coulter said...

you're just trying to score points with your editor in case she reads this, aren't you...

Brenda Coulter said...

Dr. Maltreat? No thanks.

Don't hate me, Susan, but I like editing, too. Anything at all to do with writing just rings my little bell. Sorry to go all Pollyanna on you, babe. It must be really irritating. ;-)

Tristan. Dear. Go write something on your own blog. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I got it, how about Dr.Debug, or Dr.Post. :-D

Heather Diane Tipton said...

I actually like rewriting.

Anonymous said...

Yes some people actually like editing/proofreading - I am one of those readers who finds typos in already published books not because I look for them but they just sort of jump out at me AHHH! and of course drive me nuts. I do however know better than to blame the writer, I have never been published but I do know that I miss things another set of eyes might catch especially when I'm too invested or too familiar with the piece. The mistakes are something an editor is paid to find, the author's job is to get the ideas into a coherent form and we all have bad days with the keyboard.