As I write this I’m only hours away from receiving my editorial notes for my latest book, GRAYNELORE*. How do I feel about that? I’m excited – I actually like the editorial process, if I’m also anxious and just a little bit daunted. As yet I don’t know the size of the task that lies before me. What if my editor has suddenly found me out? After all these years, I’m not a writer at all…! And my book is such an awful mess it is beyond my skill to put it right? (I assure you, this is not very likely to happen. After all, my publisher does actually want to publish my book!)
I’m often asked: “But it’s your book! How can someone else simply come along and tell you to change it?” It’s a common misconception of the editorial process. In truth, that’s not how it goes. Could you, for example, ever imagine making a movie without a film editor?
Let me try to explain how the editorial process actually works. I must begin by saying that every book I have ever written has benefited from the process. I would go further and say, there is not a book in the world that could not be improved by a good editor. No author is perfect. No book is perfect.
An editor has exactly the same goal as the author. They simply want your book to be the best that it can be. They don’t want to re-write it, they don’t want to own it. When I write a book I’m creating a new universe: and I’m doing it all inside my head. When I come to write it down, I try my very best to get it right, to tell the story in the very best way I can. With nothing missed out and nothing superfluous to the tale.
Now, when an editor reads my book, they have never been inside my head. They only have the written words to go on. Those fresh pair of eyes can spot where perhaps some essential piece of information has been accidently omitted, or perhaps where too much is given away too early in the plot. They can see where the text appears unclear in its explanation. Or where the text has been overwritten or underwritten making the pacing of the story unbalanced. Many, many small things, that if put right will make the book all that much better.
And, of course, an editor can also see all the things that are absolutely right! And they will often tell the author so, which my sorely wounded ego gratefully welcomes.
Doesn’t the author have any say in this process? Well, yes, naturally. Author and editor are on the same team! And if no author is perfect, then neither is any editor… and they don’t pretend to be. (Not the good ones). Editorial comments are informed suggestions, not commands! An author is entitled to disagree. There may well be a little anguish (usually on the part of the author). There will certainly be discussion. And there will be resolution. Though never compromise… where the proverbial race horse becomes, inevitably, the proverbial donkey. Indeed, the editorial process works in favour of the author. And to give one famous example, using perhaps my favourite book of all time, it is why Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic work is entitled, ‘Treasure Island’, and not, as he would have had it, ‘The Sea Cook’.
But for now I must stop! Something important has arrived in my mail box. Wish me well. I’ll let you know how I get on…
*Stephen Moore’s GRAYNELORE (published by HarperVoyager in paperback and ebook).