The dying art of editing?

You often hear that the art of editing is dead. I’ve read many articles along the lines that the truly great editors, the sort who can turn a sow’s ear into a literary silk purse, are a dying breed and today, all editors really do is cross a few t's and dot a few i's.
I don’t know if this is true in some of the big publishing houses. I expect like most things, it’s true in some cases and not others. What I can say with complete confidence is that this hasn’t been my experience with the small independent publisher who has taken on my young teen novel.
If I’m hand-on-heart honest, I never really ‘got’ what an editor did until now.
Because my deal involved re-writing sections of the story, I’ve had a lot of back and forth emails with mine. It started with a revised synopsis and then I had to go away and write the altered version. I handed this in and waited with bated breath.
She got back to me within days saying lots of nice things but telling me my ending still wasn’t right. I was quite tempted to howl on the ground and drum my feet at this point, convinced I was just a rubbish writer who would never do it properly. She assured me this was all perfectly normal, even with well-established authors.
I felt a bit better. And then she sent on the marked up copy...
My first reaction was, to put it in blunt and not very erudite terms, OMG in fifty point bold capitals. It seemed like she had gone through with a red pen and hated every word of it. It didn’t help that I was ill that day and had no sense of perspective about anything.
A couple of days later I sat down with it properly and carefully went through all the comments. I was struck forcibly by two things. One was that some of the changes were incredibly small, the other was that I could see she was right in the overwhelming majority of cases.
I’ve just finished my second re-write and the editor has breezily assured me that there will no doubt still be a few issues to be resolved. I feel like I can cope with this because I know that will result from all this will be a much better book.
So whatever you might hear, the art of editing is definitely not dead everywhere.


Karen said...

I completely agree. Every time there were revisions to be done on my novel I'd have a crisis of confidence and want to pull my hair out, but somehow I'd get them done and could see straight away that my story was stronger. They really know what they're doing, and make it look effortless!

Ellie Garratt said...

Coincidentally, I touched briefly on this topic in my post today, after noticing a glaring punctuation error in one of my short story submissions. Despite often believing my stories are polished to perfection, an editor still finds a mistake or two! More than that, they will often suggest more sweeping changes, such as plot or characterisation. The changes they suggest are always an improvement.

Spot the obvious errors

Fionnuala said...

Good to know... Would she like to edit mine?!

Caroline Green said...

Maybe, Fi...if only you wrote kids' stuff!

Karen, I know exactly what you mean about it seeming effortless.

Ellie..your blog looks lovely. I really like the way you've designed it!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oooh, if only you could bottle that and I could buy it! It must be so brilliant to have a good editor focussing on your work and wanting to bring the very best out of it.
I've been re-reading the only editor who commented on my novel - a brief report but, after the initial sting of the weak points, sooo helpful for my rewrite!
I'm so glad to hear all's progressing so well, Caroline - you deserve it!

Caroline Green said...

Thanks Susie :)

They're clever buggers, aren't they?

Kate said...

Fascinating post - It's interesting to know what I would be in for if I ever get to that stage :-)

Gillian McDade said...

Interesting post, Caroline. I consider myself the queen of editing but sometimes I wonder if it ever stops!

Caroline Green said...

Kate, crossing my fingers for you. If it's any consolation, I became convinced it would never happen!

Jason Black said...

That's one of the benefits of a small press: the personal, hands-on attention.

When I was at the PNWA summer writers conference last month, somebody made a quip about small publishers that has really stuck with me: when a small press makes you a publication offer, they're putting their money where your mouth is.

Small presses are almost always self-funded by their proprietors. They're not like big publishers who have a budget for bringing in 24 books a year or whatever in the genres they serve, and fully expect some titles to fail. Small publishers need every title to succeed, to turn a profit even if it's a modest one. But at the end of the day, they're betting their own money on your words. It's pretty high praise. And along with it comes the kind of careful, personal attention to your work that represents the publisher wanting to give their investment in you the best possible chance of success.

Writers who are still looking for publication and want this kind of attention can get themselves a good agent (who ought to do much of the same final-draft polishing work as described here), or can hire a freelance "book doctor" such as myself, Elizabeth Lyon, Erin Brown, or any of dozens of others out there. Because what it says at the beginning of this post is largely right: big publishers do a whole lot less of this type of developmental and line editing than they used to.