Editing Fiascoes and Treasures

To those close to me, I was totally clear. To those here, I was less clear for the sake of prudence and tact. However, I will now be honest: the editing portion of my first novel was absolutely awful. It was my first, so I was green and wide-eyed. The whole experience left me drained and disillusioned.

One thing I was glad for was the guidance I had from others. My friends were invaluable. I also had several words of wisdom from an acquaintance, the writer JL Langley, who has been there several times over in this genre and was both generous and kind when I was first going through the editing portions. One thing she said stuck with me, and I have a feeling it always will, no matter what I publish or who I publish through. She told me that with her first novel a lot of her “voice” was trimmed out and watered down by the editor, but she was so green and so thrilled to be getting published that she accepted almost all the editor’s changes without questioning them too much — something she would never do now and regrets doing ever since. She warned me against letting this happen and said that I need to be pleased with and proud of the final product. Wise words, right?

I don’t think I did that, and I think it was in large part to JL’s advice. However, it was a frustrating experience from beginning to end. First, my indents were all wrong (I put them in; they wanted none, as they get automatically formatted later in the process). It was part of not knowing what their guidelines or style formats were, and not researching beforehand. I had to go through a 180k word novel and delete every single indent. Second, there was little comment on the content, just the grammar. Little guidance. Third, the time schedule was ridiculous. I was given one month to go through this 180k word behemoth twice for the editing stage. No allowance was made for the length of the novel. Fourth, sometimes the communication styles between the editor and myself were not what they should have been. I was sometimes attacked and made to feel like the green newbie idiot I probably was. (For instance, instead of saying I was using a word too often, I was asked if I even knew what it meant). However, this is publishing. Suck it up, put on your big boy pants, and get over it, right? Right.

All that I could deal with. Probably. But I was told that there was one “rule” (which is nowhere in any of the publisher’s style guides) that really tripped me up. I think it’s a blanket provision made for lazy editing and that no publisher in its right mind would insist on such an idiotic thing. It involves all the pronouns in a paragraph always pointing back to the same person. (For example, had I used “he” or “his” to refer to Elliot in a paragraph, I could not in the same paragraph say, “Hector, his bald head shining in the glaring light, turned to Tim and whispered…” Even though it’s obvious with the structure of the sentence and basic rules of commas and sentences that I was referring to Hector with that “his”, I would have been told to change it by rearranging the sentence, using Hector’s name again, starting a new paragraph, or something similarly ridiculous).

I understand, if a pronoun is unclear, the editor needs to point it out. But this “one ‘he’ per paragraph” rule is bizarre. Read your average book. Nobody else adheres to this absurdity. People don’t think, talk, read, or write this way. When you try, it comes off to the reader is wooden and a involves lot of unnecessary name dropping. Trying to find out how other publishers do it, I brought this up to my aforementioned writer acquaintance and she commented only that it would drive her crazy to have to rewrite so many sentences, and that her publisher has no such rule.

It’s a stilted way of writing and makes sentences frustrating. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through that again, knowing there was at least one comparable publisher without that rule. So, I wrote and stopped and stalled. I considered writing my next wolf book, but remembered that I was told that this publisher prefers to pair up the same writer and editor through a series. I didn’t want to let the series die, but neither did I want to go back to that awful situation. It also dampened my desire to publish further through them. (I’m being tactful. There were other things which brought me to this feeling. Lots more.)

I wrote one short story, “The Snow Queen”, with this publisher. It went well, the (different) editor was in and out, and it was an easy, pleasant process. I just finished the edits on another short story, “Threads of Discord”, with yet a different editor and finally decided to ask about this pronoun rule. I’m paraphrasing and making things bitchier then they were ever intended, but the answer I got essentially told me that it was a stupid rule, that it may not even be a publisher’s rule, and that it was likely to be ignored by a good editor (100% my words, not hers). I was also told that I can request a specific editor. Um, done!

I now wouldn’t put up with the bullshit I took on my first novel. I can accept when I’m wrong, and I enjoy the learning process (this recent editor showed me a predisposition to the dreaded passive voice that wasn’t easy to face, but makes me a better writer in the long run. That’s good editing.) Editing is like being told the ten thousand different ways you’re wrong — you learn, you wonder how you ever let that embarrassing mistake pass you by, and you end it by being thankful, but wrung out. There’s no need to deal with draconian, pointless rules and a sometimes insulting attitude. I’m glad for it now, and I learned a great deal, but not about things I would have wanted nor during that unsteady, unsure time.

And it makes the future brighter for remaining with an otherwise nice publisher with a definite sense of family and approachable, kind, professional staff. I’m not saying I won’t branch out eventually, but it takes away some of the dread of writing, even though I had since decided not to let that get me down. It’s just nice to know that it’s not all bad, that you have a good editor, and that you have options…and nerves of steel forged by an unpleasant situation and then tempered with the kindness and good sense of someone new.

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~ by Darren Endymion on July 6, 2015.

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