So, I’m just going to come out and admit that I like editing more than the early creative stages of writing. There’s just something ridiculously satisfying about taking a lump of words (because, let’s be honest, no one’s first drafts are that stellar) and turning them into something shiny and glorious. I get pretty excited by it.
It can be incredibly stressful, but the results are more than worth it.
This post is going to be about the general editing process, from pre-agent to publication – and I’ll throw in a few If Birds Fly Back anecdotes as well.
Before submission to agents
You have this thing that sort of resembles a book, and you’re more than a little proud of it. You polish it the best you can on your own, or maybe with the help of critique partners or as part of an MA program.
I wrote most of If Birds Fly Back during my MA in Creative Writing and Publishing, so I had the benefit (and sometimes the disadvantage) of getting LOTS of feedback. My number one piece of advice at this stage is: Take advice from people you trust, and take advice from everyone else with a bucket of salt. When you’re editing, stay true to your vision, while also incorporating advice that you find helpful. (Big shout out to my critique partners – especially Helen and Lin – who ROCKED.)
When you have an agent
So obviously I jumped a step here (an agent first has to accept you as a client, after perhaps a re-write), but once you have one, the nitty gritty begins. How much work you do with your agent varies considerably. Some agents are content to send it straight out. Others take quite a bit of time to restructure and fine-tune your writing (my friend and agency sister, for example, is on her fifth month of editing with her agent!). Be sure to choose an agent that has an editorial style with which you’re comfortable.
Agents are kind of like superheroes. And they make your books a lot better, so on the whole, just follow their advice when it comes to editing. They’ll get a good hold on your story, and often time figure out what it’s really about.
I have a slightly strange editing story with my agent. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I may be the only author in history to send my agent a five-page editorial letter for my own book. Because I am a crazy person, obviously. I took on my own notes for about three and a half weeks. During this time, I added about 10,000 words to the original 64,000-word manuscript.
Claire (hello, agent!) then looked over the new draft, said it looked good (thank god), and offered a few more comments. I then had two days to incorporate her suggestions, and then – poof! The manuscript was on submission!
When you have a publisher/editor
Congrats! An editor – or perhaps more than one – wants to work with you! Now the real work begins.
Within the first couple of months (sometimes later, if your pub date is further off), you’ll receive a letter with structural edits.
When you receive said letter – which details every way your book could be better – your immediate reaction might look something like this:
But not to fear! Your book will be so much cleaner afterwards, you’ll be jumping for joy! And you’ll have a super duper appreciation for your editor, who has looked at your book with fresh eyes.
After structural edits come line edits, where you hammer out the language and all of the smaller structural details. Next are copy-edits (Have you used an adjective as a noun? Did you mean lightning where you’ve written lightening?) Then on to proofreading, then proofing pages… It seems never-ending, but then – a book emerges! A finished book!
Edits with your publisher also vary considerably in length, as do the number of editing rounds. It all depends on you as a writer and your editor’s style.
A final note
During each stage, you’ll always find things that you could’ve done better or differently. You’re going to have to get over this. (I say that now, but when If Birds Fly Back is ready to fly into the world, I’ll probably be holding onto it with my teeth.) I think every writer feels this way – and it’s only natural. We care about our books. But all of this editing will really show, and your book will be better for it.