Agent on board. Publishing contracts signed. Nothing left for the writer to do but debate the odd semi-colon here, give opinions on the cover artwork and select the canapes for the book launch parties.
Over to the professionals!
Is that what you thought? Think again. This is the point that editing starts in earnest!
Writing is re-writing.
A few tweaks
In mid September 2017, I knocked at the door of Oneworld in Bloomsbury, London for my first meeting with editor, Jenny Parrot. We met in the boardroom, overlooked by Booker Prize winner photos (A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James, The Sellout – Paul Beatty), and I was momentarily tongue tied. Was this the moment I’d be found out? Cue imposter syndrome panic. But as Jenny talked about my book, the characters and stories came to life again. So smart and charming and friendly is my new editor, that it wasn’t until I was on the train back up to Teesside glancing through my scrawled notes that it hit me; I had a tonne of work still to do.
As Jenny explained it to me, the agent’s job is to get the book to appeal to as many publishers as possible. But once it’s bought by a publisher, a new sort of editing starts, one which is much more specific: to get the book into a publishable form for that particular press.
The advice Jenny gave me, for which I am incredibly grateful, was not to touch the manuscript again for a while and to spend at least two months reading. She even gave me a list for starters: Ian Rankin, Emma Kline, Sarah Waters, Anita Shreve, Michael Faber, Lee Child, James Lee Burk, Emma Donahue, Melissa Scrivener Love, Oliver Harris, Will Dean.
Jenny made it all sound very easy. Skeleton is good, we’re talking about a few fine tweaks. Read a dozen novels, then print out and read your manuscript in one sitting, making notes without changing a word. Find the scenes you love, that move you, that feel true, where the characters live and breathe. Pin them up for inspiration and then make all the rest as good. Grow the good and be the best you can be.
Trouble was, when I went back to my words, after reading some much better ones, I saw how much work I still had to do. She looks so innocent, that editor of mine, but she’s devilishly clever.
With a full-time job to juggle, I was given until the end of the following January 2018 to send the revised manuscript back. By that time I’d lost another 10,000 words and added 20,000 new ones.
We met again in February, together with Harriet Wade, and both were super encouraging. Nothing much to do: a few more books to read – then just a little trembling recalibration.
Not so little, as it turned out – the second set of edits took until the end of March. And we weren’t finished yet.
Another meeting in April, this one focussing on character. And. Short. Sentences. And for the first time some notes and comments on the actual manuscript.
Finally after the third edit, in May 2018, Jenny said.
Yippeeeeeeeee!!!! Let’s send for copy-editing.
Photo CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=630491