No work is perfect. That's the truth and the liberation from our perfectionist tendencies. No one expects perfection from you.
So don't expect perfection from yourself. No perfect writer exists, which leads to what I want to discuss today. Editing and revision in the course of writing and publishing.
Most books go through several rounds of editing and revision before publication. At one time, I had heard that a famous author of epic novels had a non-editing clause in her contract. I don't know if this is truth or internet rumor, but I can assure you, such a thing would be a mistake. Every work can be made better.
Last year I gave a keynote address to a women's group, and at the end, during Q&A, someone asked me what editors do. Oh, I could go on and on, but it boils down to this: an editor makes the work better. Writing and editing are collaborative processes. Editors are an asset, not gate guardians (although they can be).
So let's talk about the many ways your book will be polished and improved before publication, because this will demonstrate that every book on the market has gone through multiple stages of editing. What you see on the page is the result of finely honed editing and collaboration skills, not inherent genius (although for some writers that may also be true). So don't compare your drafts to someone else's published novel.
1) Self-editing and revision prior to submission. You are probably editing and revising as you work. You'll receive critiques, feedback, and workshop commentary to improve your original submissions. You'll read/revise/edit after you finish the first draft. And once you think it's polished, you'll send it to an editor/agent. What follows are the steps in their process.
1.5) Revise and resubmit. Some publishers have a little test between the "we like the work and are considering publication" and publication. That's called a revise and resubmit letter. The editor sends you a letter in which they say they are interested in contracting with you, but they need you to make some changes before they will go to contract. I had one of these early in my career, before I jumped onto the mommy-track, and I didn't realize that the editor wasn't saying she hated my work. She was saying she liked my work, but she wanted to see how well I took correction. How well I could make required changes. Obviously, past-me failed that test. If you receive a lovely or not so lovely revise and resubmit, you're working without guarantee of contract, however, the editor took the time to evaluate the work and list what would improve the work and ready it for publication. They wouldn't waste their time if they weren't interested.
If you get this letter, run-don't-walk to your computer and make the changes. They're serious about your work, but want to see how you handle the revisions. How long does it take you? What's your attitude about the changes? (please don't argue with an editor/agent at this point... save that for when you have a standing (professional) relationship). How well did you make the proposed changes?
2) Content edits. These are larger revisions. Once you sign the contract, your book will go into a publication schedule based on a timeline your publishing house has preset. SO, you may not get edits for awhile after signing the contract, because it's not on their production timeline. When it is, your direct editor will send content edits. This is big picture editing that focuses on inconsistencies in character, plot, etc. My editor broke it down by chapter with about a paragraph of suggestions for each chapter. Others will use the comments and track changes in MS Word. HOW you make those changes is typically up to you. And they can be annoying. I once had to change a character name because they'd just published a book from another author whose character had the same name. Do the work anyway.
2.5) Managing editor comments/Q&A: After content edits, the work goes to the managing editor for that line who does a similar set of suggestions based on the needs of the line/publishing house. This ensures the continuity in their published works.
3) Line edits. This is what I thought about when I thought of editing. It's when the editor adds comments and questions at the paragraph and sentence level, typically using comments and track changes. It's done after content/Q&A edits are completed and in the production timeline of the publishing house. Translation: It feels like there's a lot of wasted time, but while the editor is working on your line edits, they're also working on someone else's content edits. The process feels a bit like an assembly line, and each time, someone else wants you to make a change. It's all part of the process.
4) Copy Editor: The copy editor is the grammarian and style guide for the publishing house. Here's a for instance. My publishing house has a style sheet that italicizes sounds like boom, bang, clack. The copy editor makes those changes, but is also an expert at grammar and Chicago style who makes the grammar-approved changes so your high school English teacher doesn't email you with a list of grammar errors in your work.
5) Proofreader: Changes everything the copy editor did. :) Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It certainly feels like this is true, because the copy editor will add a comma, and then the proofreader suggests removing the comma. The real goal of the proofreader is to catch the final errors in the galley before it goes to print. When you consider that the work has gone through multiple edits with multiple people, the potential for dangling strings is high. This is why you sometimes see double-typed words or unfinished sentences in a published work. They're often pieces left over after changes during the line editing stage. The proofreader's job is to catch those and more. Most publishing houses have a hard rule against major editing or revision at this stage, because the work is in the final stages and you don't have time to do another proofreading of the work.
Ok, so what you see above is how much work is put into editing and revision before a book is published. The goal of sharing this with you is to demonstrate that you can't compare your draft to a published novel. Your work doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a compelling story. The rest can be fixed in the editing process.
I'm a big fan of turning points. Well, not in real life, because in real life, turning points are messy things. Turning points are the chaos leading us inevitably into the storm.
My father died when I was thirteen. It was life altering before I was old enough to understand the implications and repercussions of such an event. From that point forward, my life was broken into before and after.
Before my father died:
Turning points are messy things because of the effects they have on our character's lives, as they had in my life, as they have in your life. Turning points are story events that cause the story to turn in a new direction.
The new direction in fiction is typically caused by a choice the character makes (or doesn't make) or a dilemma they face, such as if my mother had chosen to keep living on the "good" side of town by getting married rather than going back to college.
These turning points should lead your character into something new and significantly different. If the choice your character faces is whether to eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant or Taco Bell, that's probably not a turning point, but if the trip to the Chinese restaurant leads our character into China Town where she is faced with a life-changing choice--find the treasure your boss stole or your best friend dies--that's a turning point.
The crossroads in this fake story is the character's before and after, and like those traumatic before and afters in your own life, the character's life will never be the same.
For instance, the protagonist who was just going to dinner with a friend is there to discuss a job offer because she can't work for a dishonest so-and-so any longer, but after her friend is kidnapped, she has to stay with the employer to find the treasure and save her BFF. So the dinner in China Town becomes one of the character's turning points.
In real life, turning points are traumatic, but isn't that exactly what we want for our characters? If the character is not faced with significant turning points and equally disastrous choices, then we may not have a turning point that will keep the reader reading.
In the opening of this post, I said turning points were the chaos leading us into the storm, but the storm is where our character will grow. Give them that opportunity by giving them a worthy turning point.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Show Don't Tell
Wired for Story
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.