Not that you asked for this, but because someone I know had nooooooo idea what I’m currently doing to put bread on the table (“Um, writing?” was the guess), I thought I’d share what I do before I announce the winner of John Howell’s scrumptious novel, Eternal Road. Feel free to mentally check out if you’re not interested. Or, find yourself some coffee/tea and a doughnut/muffin/cookie/peanuts/whatever if you are.
I mentioned in a previous post that I wear many hats. These days, I am a freelance book editor/writer. Some people think editing is glorified proofreading—that all I do is check for typos and maybe correct a few mistakes in grammar.
Usually, when I’m hired by a publisher to edit a novel, I have to do what’s called a revision pass on the book. During that phase, I read the book and make notes on what the author needs to revise before the line edit occurs. This is the big picture phase. I have to say what works and what doesn’t. This is the place to address issues of character/perspective, setting, timeline, etc. Some big picture issues, however, don’t rear their heads until the line edit begins.
At this point, I’m not yet communicating with the author—just the in-house executive editor, publisher, or managing editor (whoever hired me to do the work). But this is the phase where I might say, “This character is not doing anything for this book. I suggest you cut him/her” or “Maybe this scene should come from this character’s perspective.” I often have to make hard calls like that. Another hard call is to say, “This scene that you’ve probably worked on for two weeks has to go, because it’s not advancing the plot one iota.” Believe me, I’ve been there in regard to cutting cherished scenes. (I’m the one who worked on a scene for two weeks only to have someone tell me to cut it.) So having to say that to someone is hard.
Some of you might be getting mad right about now, wondering how dare I tell an author to cut a cherished scene. But I do it, because that’s my job. I don’t work for the author. I work for the publisher. My job is make sure that whatever book I work on is acceptable to the publisher. So I can’t be a pushover in this regard. After all, would anyone want a dentist to tell you to keep the cavity you worked on for a year? If it’s hurting you, it has to go. But I will do my best to be fair. After all, editing choices are not a spur-of-the-moment choices. They come through a careful analysis of the book.
If the deadline is tight (and I don’t know too many publishing deadlines that aren’t these days), I’ll get a head start on the style sheet while the author revises the manuscript. The style sheet is a list of every character, place, and animal in the book, as well as other important proper nouns (wars, inventions, festivals, setting details), and issues the copy editor or proofreader might run up against. If the author spells a word a certain way (good-bye versus goodbye), that has to be noted as well. Terms that could be spelled a certain way have to be verified via the dictionary to avoid any confusion for the copy editor, proofreader, or anyone else who works on the book. Terms and grammar issues also have to be verified through The Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) and the publisher’s style manual. I have to turn in the style sheet when I turn in the edited manuscript.
It’s a challenging job! Though as I mentioned I don’t work for the author, I am the author’s advocate. Everything is done to help that person’s book to shine.
Reinforcements I sometimes need when the going gets tough
I’ll stop here and get to the winner of John’s book. And that person is Laura Bruno Lilly. Congrats, Laura! Please comment below to confirm.
Edit image from clker.com. Proofread image from dreamstime.com. Other photos by L. Marie.