Going Mad?

You have toiled over your manuscript for weeks, months, maybe even years. You’ve written and rewritten more times than you can count. You’ve removed scenes and sentences you’ve loved in the effort to make your book ready to publish. Finally, you’ve sent it off to an editor for polishing. It is rather like sending your baby off to preschool… you stand tearfully at the curb as your child is taken away on the school bus. Away from you. Out of your hands.

Then the editor reads it and sends you suggestions for changes. Again you painstakingly go through your manuscript sentence by sentence, word by word. Is that comma really justified? Should I combine those two sentences to make it flow better?

Finally, you think everything is done. It is formatted for an ebook or print. You see the latest version. Is that a typo?? How did we miss that? How many times have you and your editor read through this labor of love and yet you are still seeing errors?

Are you starting to feel like you want to bang your head against the wall because it would feel better than going through your manuscript yet again? You’re not alone.

Any author who cares about the quality of the book they publish goes through this. Yes, it is maddening. Yes, it makes you want to tear it all up into little bits and flush it down the toilet before you jump off the nearest cliff. Yes, you may reconsider your life’s work and decide it would be better to devote your life to swallowing all the alcohol your system can stand. Could this be why Hemingway killed himself?

Take a deep breath. It may seem endless. It may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t find every single typo or error that managed to creep into the manuscript while everyone was sleeping. This is where it pays to have a good editor, or publisher or agent there to hold your hand, wipe your literary brow and tell you it will be okay. Sometimes I find myself like the birth doula I used to be, except I’m reassuring my authors over email or the phone that it will all be okay. If I could, I’d give them a real hug when they are feeling like it will never end.

Before you decide to commit yourself into the nearest mental health facility and give up writing forever, take a look at that dreaded bit of writing again. You may be tired and weary, but the end is in sight. If you are so sick of the sight of your work that you don’t ever want to see it again, chances are you are so close to your goal that you can’t see the forest for the trees. (Yes, I know that is trite and overused, but it seemed appropriate here.) Deep breath. Cup of tea (or other favorite beverage). It is worth that last close look.

Forgive my pregnancy analogy here, but I used to be very deeply involved in the childbirth field. Mothers go through pregnancy, getting bigger and clumsier. I know. I’ve been there many times. By the end of pregnancy, all you care about is getting that baby out of your belly and into your arms. It hurts. You feel awkward. Your ankles have disappeared. All of these inconvenient details help a mother prepare her mind for labor and that first initial separation with her baby when he or she leaves her body and becomes a separate person.

Likewise, all this detail-oriented editing and proofing over and over prepares you as the author to let your book go out to the public. Writing a book has often been compared to giving birth, but the analogy holds true. By the time you’ve vetted it so much, you’re ready to hurl the damn thing out the window and let it fall where it may. Having a trusted editor, agent or publisher can help ease this transition for you and make you feel better about the process. You don’t have to go through it alone.

Once your book makes its debut, it will be the better for all of this hard work. It will be crisp, well-written, and as error-free as you can make it. You can feel good that your book, even if you self-publish, is as high quality as it can be.

So, when you feel you are truly losing it and that you’ll be physically sick if you have to look at even one more page of your manuscript again, keep that big picture in mind. As a birth doula, sometimes I had to remind mothers of their goal at the end; that all this pain was going to result in a sweet little baby in their arms. The pain sometimes made them forget. As an editor, I sometimes have to remind my authors that at the end of all this pain, they will get a wonderful book that they will be proud to see on the shelves.

That end result is worth it.

Guest Post: The Inevitable Comma

This was written by a client of mine, Morgan Gallagher. Despite our differences (she lives in the UK and I’m in the States), we have managed to form a wonderful relationship while working on her first book, Changeling. I had asked her to write a short blurb for my Client Testimonial page if she liked my work. In response, I got this wonderful article about her experience working with an editor…me. Thank you, Morgan…you made my year.

The Inevitable Comma

by Morgan Gallagher

Using an editor is a scary business. Having spent much of my adult life rubbing shoulders with writers in the bar at SF conventions, I’ve heard a lot of comments about editors. Very little of it positive. I’ve listened to Harlan Ellison rant about editors changing his work when they weren’t qualified to… well, do check out Harlan’s thoughts on the matter for yourself! I’ve talked to James White, at length, about editors, and whilst he did have an excellent editor at Tor that he both admired and was fond of, he always told me that the trick to being published was to do the editing work yourself. We once spoke about rejection letters, and how he’d never had one, and the secret, he said, was to do all the work yourself. So there was little to reject… or edit… once you had submitted. Wield your own blue pencil. This was, basically, Harlan’s stance too – the writer could do the work and craft the words themselves. The epic depths of the stupidity of the editor, is always plumbed by mention of what was once done by a hapless editor to Damon Knight. His short, ‘Eripmav,’ featured a vegetable sucking vampire from another planet. The entire short was a shaggy dog story, leading to the terrible dénouement, that the veggie vampire was finally killed by a steak to the heart. Said hapless editor thought he’d spotted a mistake that no one else had, and changed it to ‘stake’ just before print, thus killing the story with his very own stake to the heart.

Another editor anecdote comes via a very well known children’s author, whom I cannot name for reasons about to become clear. Whilst staying with her we chatted about editors. I asked how she coped with hers, and she confided she ignored most things. She showed me the next day, that when her typewritten manuscript was returned for correction, she instructed her secretary to retype the same sentence, cut it out onto a strip, and staple it over the marked-for-change original. It was then sent back to the editor, who would then allow the correction through. She showed me one such ‘edit’ and the written comment beside it saying “So much better!” and sure enough, when you lifted the flap of stapled down addition, the exact same sentence was written underneath….
Eek!

Therefore, it was with great trepidation, I sent my final manuscript of my first novel, Changeling, off to a professional editor. I’d always taken on board the words of the writers I admired, both as people and writers, and worked hard to do most of the content editing for myself. “Murder Your Innocents” is a dictum I take seriously. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I needed an editor, I was just worried about all the bad editor rap I’d been in contact with. And the ego thing, of course. When my publisher suggested I get the final manuscript edited, and suggested a friend of hers who was very good on spotting mistakes on grammar, I bristled and said “Mistakes!” in true Lady Newbury style (“A handbag.”) My work wouldn’t have mistakes, I edited as I went along!

When the manuscript finally returned, it took me a couple of days to set aside the courage to open it. Just In Case. I didn’t peek once: I left it until I was actually going to sit and methodically work through my version of the manuscript, with Toni’s version. It felt like going to the dentist… something you had to do, but dreaded, nonetheless.

Imagine my shock, when not only did I immediately find her comments and corrections invaluable, I was actually enjoying the process within the hour. I posted on Twitter, within two hours of starting the match by match edit that a good editor was worth their weight in gold.

Finish reading the rest of her marvelous article here.