Friday, July 24, 2009

Overwhelming Edits

Have you ever been just completely overwhelmed when you’ve received edits? Maybe you thought your story was in pretty good shape but an editor found some big holes in your plot or felt your characters were too dull or that your timeline was way off. It’s easy to get discouraged when trying to tackle a lengthy set of revision comments. It’s also easy to get frustrated with an editor if he/she simply misunderstood some elements of the story and the comments/questions don’t seem valid. So, I wanted to share some advice for tackling overwhelming edits:

Always consider each comment and question, even if it seems invalid or too picky. This doesn’t mean it will be necessary to make a change, but ask yourself a few questions before dismissing it:

  • Will other readers miss the same information or misunderstand in the same way?
  • Is there some way I can subtly clarify so that other readers don’t end up with these same questions/comments?
  • Is there some way I can improve my story in light of this?
  • Is there some way I can better develop a character in light of this?

Remember that sometimes things about your story or character can be crystal clear in your mind, but you didn't necessarily make them clear to the reader. Above all, approach your revisions with a good attitude knowing that your editors are on your team and simply want your book to be the very best it can be!


Mary Connealy said...

One thing I've learned working with editors is, even if something is clear to me, if the EDITOR misunderstands then there's a good chance the reader will too.

A good example of this is once the very lovely Rachel Overton, whom I love and made work VERY HARD for me on the last HP series, made a comment about a calf born in the summer. She said something like, "On page 21 you said, 'Cows calf in the spring.' Now you're having a calf in the summer."

Well, the thing is, BEEF cows calf in the spring and we were not dealing with a dairy cow. Okay, to me that was absolutely clear. But I realized that Rachel had made a very valid point.

So easy to correct, too. I had my hero say, "Why is she having a calf now? You told me on page 22 hat cows calf in the spring."

(okay the hero may not have mentioned PAGE 22 specifically)

To which the heroine responds, "Oh, that's beef cattle. Dairy cattle have their babies year round."

Simple to correct and while I suppose I wasn't technically wrong, I was in fact completely wrong when it comes to people who don't know the birthing habits of cattle...there are a LOT of people like that, can you imagine?


I love editors. And I'd like to go on record right now apologizing for making them all work so hard.

Erica Vetsch said...

Most of the wincing I do when I get edits is because I was such a RUBE to cause some of those editorial comments.

I'd rather have a tough edit before the book goes to press rather than have a cursory edit and have a manuscript riddled with flaws get out to readers.

Thank you to Rachel and Aaron for fine-combing my manuscripts. And, like Mary said, I'm sorry for making you work so hard!

Rachel Overton said...

Well, thank you for those kind words, but let's be honest. If you guys didn't miss things once in awhile, I wouldn't have a job, so...go ahead. Mess up. But just a little. LOL. (I think I heard JoAnne scream...!)

I do hope everyone understands that when I question something in a review, it's exactly like Mary said--I'm questioning it from my own limited life experience and knowledge. I usually try to say "I don't know much about this, but I THINK..." If I forget that little disclaimer before I comment, can this serve as a blanket disclaimer for all future reviews?! :-)

I'll tell you, I'm honored to work with a bunch of people who ARE malleable, who DO want to learn/grow their skills, and who understand I'm here to help, not hurt. I love seeing your finished, polished work and knowing I had a tiny part in it. That's so cool!

Pepper Basham said...

What a great post! I've been learnign so much lately I keep going back to my WIP and revising over and over again. Your questions were great to take to heart.
Recently I received a pretty intense revision of a chapter and had to realize - wait, she's trying to HELP me be a better writer. So, I've taken the same mindset that I took at school: I'm a student - constantly learning AND since I have the misled belief that all people MEAN well, it's easier to take criticism :-)

Aaron McCarver said...

As an editor, I can say that our job is to help, but since I am a writer, too, I try to understand that I am messing with people's "babies." I confess that the writer in me still struggles with that, too. I so appreciate Barbour's approach to editing--to only edit as needed and not change the authors' tone or plot or vision, etc. unless necessary. It is great to work with the wonderful and talented authors at Barbour. (Thanks, Erica and Mary-from previous post-for your kind comments.) It is also great to work with Barbour's wonderful editors. (Thanks JoAnne, Rachel, and Becky Fish.) And of course, I love working for Becky Germany and JoAnne! It works as everyone wants the same, a work that first glorifies God! And, Mary, I'll send you my bill for that extra hard work you give me! :)

Cara Putman said...

JoAnne, this is great advice on edits. There are rare occasions I get to share what I've learned through research, but most of the time my editors are right on. Especially when it comes to character ARC and story flow. A great editing relationship is worth its wait...ur...weight in gold. :-)

And I love that Becky Fish loves my timeperiod as much as I do. She catches the places I do mess up the details or pushes me to get it completely right.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL--since I recently turned in revisions after one of Rachel's wonderful content edits, I could almost imagine this post directed straight at me! I sure hope I've been "malleable," and I do so appreciate Rachel's keen eye for details.

As Mary said, if something isn't clear to the editor, probably a high percentage of readers won't get it either. Sometimes even our critique partners are too close to our stories to catch certain details.

It may not be fun to have your story's problems areas pointed out, but I'd rather face it in the editing phase than wait for the bad reviews to come in from disgruntled readers!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hmm, I wonder if JoAnne is trying to warn me about my content edit. I look forward to working with an editor and see it as a learning opportunity that will make me a better writer. Then maybe my next content edit won't be so overwhelming. I can dream anyway.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter