There are days when editing challenges my patience, my intellectual capacity, my energy levels and the collection of skills I’ve acquired during my years of experience in the field. These are the days when I realise the manuscript I’m working on is a ‘sow’s ear’ and everything I bring to it can only make it a well-dressed sow’s ear. Or the occasions when I’m forced to accept that an author is adamant about sticking to expressions or structures that really aren’t working well. Thankfully, these days come along only rarely.
Most of the time, book editing is a dynamic collaboration between author and editor, and deeply satisfying regardless (and sometimes because) of whatever challenges occur along the way. These can relate to subject matter, the author’s wobbly grip on grammar, or a writer’s exuberant disregard for cohesion and structure. But in the end, working together, we achieve a polished, coherent manuscript that’s ready to be published as a good book.
Once in a while, though, a real gem comes along. Today, for example, I’ve sent a beautiful opal of a manuscript back to the author for a check of the final polish. This manuscript is a wonderful example of an edit evoking more from the author than I could have hoped for or imagined possible: a sweet dynamic that takes the process more into the realms of mentoring than simple editing.
I was commissioned by a publisher some weeks ago to provide a structural report on the manuscript of this novel, which I did. In my report I made some suggestions for radical reworking: specifically, shifting point of view from third to first person in several chapters, and converting narrative to dialogue wherever possible in order to bring readers closer to the action. I also suggested a review of the chronology of the work.
A few days after the author read my report, she phoned, excited, to tell me she had sat down on that first afternoon to do a little bit of reworking and become so engrossed that she cancelled her evening engagement and worked well into the night. I gather she kept working for several days on the rewriting of the manuscript until the job was done. As she spoke, I could hear the depth of her immersion in the process and the material, and looked forward to seeing what she’d achieved.
And still I was astonished. Not only had she undertaken – to great effect – the revisions I suggested, but she had meticulously worked her way through every sentence, adding a word here, deleting a phrase there, finessing and tweaking punctuation and paragraphing until the fabric of the story was tightly woven and the elements beautifully balanced. An absolute delight.
It’s rare that a writer takes an edit and uses it as a catalyst for raising the entire manuscript to a markedly higher level than the original submission. And it’s thrilling for the editor when this happens.
Editor–author collaboration at its creative best.