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.