Monday, February 26, 2007

On Being Edited

Hours before flying off (or at least sitting on the runway at Gatwick Airport) I emailed in my edits for my John Scott Haldane biography Suffer and Survive.

My editor at Simon and Schuster UK, Andrew Gordon, gave me five pages of notes. My first step was simply to accept them all. The notes were delivered in a kindly manner, following on from a heap of praise on the first draft and a clear delineation of why he felt the book was working well. Knowing he had seen into my book, seeing his critique was in accord with what I was hoping to achieve, the notes were easy to accept. They were moving my book along the lines it was already heading, were knowledgeable as well as sympathetic, designed by an expert to make the book even better.

The notes gave areas to change or develop, sometimes just to consider, but weren't strong on how to do it. That for me is helpful. It's good to be shown where and possibly why a book is not fully conjuring the clear experience in a reader that was intended. My job is then to mend that. Mending might happen in some other area of the book ... for example, the editor wondered about more of an authorial overview at the ending. I liked the current editing, so brought that authorial overview in at an earlier stage, setting up the ending I already had in a way that made it work better. So the editor flags what's not working, and you address it in your own way.

The book grew by 5,000 words in the process. Usually for me editing means shrinking a book, but I had already done much of that paring down. I like lean books and writing on the whole. I had kept back some details just to deliver close to my 100,000 word deadline ... but the editor's seeking details to personalize the story still further, and include some 21st century perspective, gave me license to grow the book.

I actually enjoy good editing, engagement with an expert mind who, wondrously, has focused on my work. I learn from the process. Sometimes I've had such editing from editors, and more often not. A couple of books I've wondered whether the editor has read it at all - some tossed out comments suggested skimmed reading at best. I'm glad Suffer and Survive is in secure hands.

Copyediting next ... that's a process that can intrigue me, and more often drives me mental. We'll see which the coin drops.

The picture is of John Scott Haldane using his breathing apparatus down a coalmine.


Blogger Maxine said...

Interesting post -- is your subject J B S Haldane? I have not known him referred to as John Scott Haldane before.
I have read the Ronald Clark biography a few years ago.
I should also admit that I'm a science editor-- not of books but of scientific journal articles. So it is interesting to read what it is like from the other side of the fence.
Anyway, back to JBS Haldane, if it is the same one, he was indeed a fascinating scientist, and I bet you've had a great time being his biographer.
PS do you know you have your blog settings organised so that people can only comment if they have a google account? My blog is on Typepad so I can't provide the url in my signoff because of this: it is
If you want people who don't have google accounts to comment on your posts, you will have to change your blog settings.
all best

8:43 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks for yours Maxine ... I didn't know about those settings, they were sprung on me somehow, I mean this to be as open as possible ... I'll have a go at changing it

JBS Haldane was the son, John Scott (JS) was the father ... this is the first story of him. He's a vterrific man ... JBS was a chip off the old block

9:43 PM  
Blogger Cailleach said...

This sounds like a good biography - I look forward to it when it comes out!

Referred here from View from the Pundy House

9:42 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

'looking forward to it coming out' - hooray and thanks. That's the spirit!

I'm looking forward to it with some sort of bright enthusiasm myself, I think for the fun of introducing Haldane's extraordinary life and story to the new cetury.

5:47 PM  

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