Friday, October 19, 2012

Editing, 1, an intro

I told you I would write it! Bartholomew, you had no faith. Here it is, that post on the differences between revising and editing. Except that rather than just ramble on about the differences, I would rather discuss things as they become relevant in my own editing of the first volume of The Quantum of the Past.

Alas! Something this enormous requires an introduction and here it is:

Reading the one star reviews about any self-published novel, one thread is common: It needs editing. It is known that Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords don't assign an editor to "Indie" authors (unless they buy the service packages provided by some of those sites). The result is that most self-published novels available at ebookstores are just revised manuscripts--some so poorly revised that you wonder if the writers even bothered to use their word-processor's spell/grammar check feature. An editor would have helped them, like the reviewers say.

What does that mean though?

It probably means that the reader found an abundance of typos or formatting issues in the text. Since to the world at large the words edit and revise and copy-edit are synonymous, it makes sense to say that a novel needs editing when it is poorly formatted or has abundant typos or when the grammar needs help or when it is so redundant that it is painful to read. To a writer, the words editing, revising and copy-editing encompass different worlds. Crossing the t's and dotting the i's is not what an editor does--not entirely.

Okay, so why not just hire someone who can comb through the manuscript and rid it of those annoying redundancies and other buggers? If I were to hire a freelance editor, I would look for more than someone who can find my typing errors. What's so special about an edit and an editor?

Many authors just haven't had the pleasure of working alongside an editor to improve their novel...

I told you my sarcasm just doesn't come through. That was meant to be sarcasm. Before self-publishing became what it is now, writers would come forward with stories about what it was like to work with editors. Let me share something with you that Tyler Dilts shared with us during a workshop.

The joke goes something like this:

Two men wander through a desert, dying of thirst. One is a writer and the other an editor. In the distance they spot an oasis with a small pool of water. The two men rush to it and rejoice. They are saved!

Before either can take a drink, the editor pulls down his pants and starts urinating into the pool.

Horrified, the writer says, "What are you doing?"

The editor smiles and says, "Don't worry, I'm making it better."

Oh, good, you got that the pool of water is a metaphor for the prospective novel. Harsh isn't it? Just what is it the editor does to arouse such criticism?

In my experience, self-published writers see the editing process as just another version of the revision process, but it is not.

Why? Here are some results of the editing process:

  1. The editor strengthens the vision of the novel.
  2. The editor rejects the initial vision and helps the author reach the potential of the novel.
  3. The editor helps the novel become more marketable.

Yeah, I know what you're saying. This is what the revision accomplished, no?

Consider that when a writer finishes revising, they have created logic or emotional reasoning for each element included in the final draft of their manuscript. The revision of a novel is sometimes grueling. We have beaten away unnecessary elements and subplots and even characters that we fell in love with. So, the revised manuscript an editor gets is often a Pyrrhic victory.

Do you see the problem?

Editors will sometimes make comments that challenge the vision of the novel--that hard earned vision hammered into submission during the revision process. If the writer is the editor, how can they convince themselves that the vision has problems after working so hard to shape it?

This is what makes the editing process so vastly different than the revision process. The writer has built the structure and taken steps to strengthen it. Now an independent survey team comes along to test it. This independent survey team is cold, calculating, and does not care about your work, not the way that you do.

They want to see if your structure is sound and if it isn't they give suggestions on how to make it sound and if it isn't up to par, they will tell you to tear it down and start again.

How many of us would have the heart to tell ourselves THAT after spending so much time working on our novels? Some of you are answering this question. The right answer is, "I would be objective enough to start anew if needed." The honest answer is, "I don't think I have the strength to do that."

But who am I to tell you what you can and can't do? There are all those internet articles on credible websites that tell you that you can and that it's easy to edit if you just follow some simple rules! And I am a hypocrite after all--I self-edited my first novel, Absolution.

What I want to do is demystify the editor and what he/she does. At the same time, I'll tell you what I did while editing Absolution and The Quantum of the Past.

Here are the first couple of requirements of my Editing process: A completed manuscript; an acceptance of the statement.

"Completed" means that I have revised and refined the manuscript to the best of my abilities. This is a point that many of my contemporaries do not understand. An edit requires a whole structure.

The "statement" is this one: I acknowledge that no matter what I do to the manuscript from here on out, I will NEVER succeed in bringing into existence more than 70% of the mental image I have of my novel.

That means that regardless of my skill and willingness, the novel in my soul and the novel I publish will only be 70% identical. The novel I publish will always lack something. It is a sad reality that no writer is so skilled that they can perfectly transcribe that ideal novel that lies on the border of here and there--that place at the tip of your tongue; that edge that borders on consciousness.

And if you ever come across a writer who says otherwise, pity them; they are unaware of this fact or in denial or blind with arrogance.