Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Manuscript's Editing Process

A few days ago, I posted a blog announcing that Out of the Shadows: Book II of the Elysian Chronicles was officially in editing. One of my friends posted a great comment on my MySpace, asking what the editing process was--as in, was it just a person running spell check or was there more surgery involved and how long would it take. (His question sounded much more intelligent than the way I just worded it, by the way.)

I thought it was a great question, mainly because of the answer:

It depends on the publishing house.

He he he. :)

They're all different, so I'll tell you how mine operates...

1) I toil and slave over my manuscript, and I turn it into my editor before whenever my deadline is. Then it sits behind all the other manuscripts my editor has to edit, until finally, the "Ah" choir sings and my editor takes my manuscript off the shelf and goes to work.

2) The editor gives the manuscript a complete read through and makes a whole bunch of comments to himself. Then he either: a) sends it back to me with a list of things he thinks I should change. The correct response is <saluting> "Sir, yes sir. When would you like it?" (That's not always the author's response, however.) Or, he b) continues the editing process because the manuscript doesn't need any major revisions.

This has not happened to me yet, but here are some real examples of why an editor might ask for revisions:

  • One of my author friends had an editor send her manuscript back and ask her to redo the last third because he felt some of her character's "travels" were redundant.
  • Another one of my author friends had an editor tell him to rewrite the whole manuscript in 1st person instead of 3rd person. (i.e. turn it into "I and me" instead of "he and they.")
  • Even though I have never had an editor send a manuscript back for revisions, I did turn a revised manuscript of Out of the Shadows in to my editor right before Thanksgiving (after the first manuscript I turned in August 31) because my advance readers told me they really didn't care what happened to Tommy--that they weren't rooting for him. (That's a really bad thing to have your advance readers say.) I rewrote about one third of Out of the Shadows (so I could make Tommy a more sympathetic character) in 3 months!

3) If the editor decides not to send the manuscript back to the author, he or she will make a whole bunch of changes:

  • A few small plot changes. Example: You know the prologue in A Prophecy Forgotten? That didn't exist in my original manuscript. My editor decided I needed to introduce my main characters first, so he took the dream sequence that Gabriella had in the middle of the book and moved it to the beginning. No, he didn't ask my permission. Yes, I was thrilled. It was the missing link to everything, I believe.
  • Grammar changes. Each publishing house has their own standards, such as italics for shouting instead of ALL CAPS. The editor fixes all those little things. My poor editor had to take all of my ALL CAPS and change them into italics.
  • Word changes and sentence structure adjustments. The editor will change words here and there and realign sentences. Remember that I as the author know exactly what I'm trying to say, and sometimes, I think that I have communicated appropriately when I really haven't. My editor's job is to fix that. The editor will also be the one to make sure I don't use the words "crossed his arms and glared" every third page. Yes, I have done that, but my advance readers catch it for me before I send the manuscript to the editor. (I love you, advance readers!)
  • Sometimes they just add stuff. You know the part during the climax where Eric falls to his knees, then keels over, then his body "twitches" before he dies? Oh, yeah my editor's fingers are all over that scene. He later told me he was mad at me for not making Eric die a worse death, so he did it for me. He...won't have that problem with Out of the Shadows...
  • They check out and remove "legal" issues. You know Heyden the hawk? His name was originally Hudson--yes, as in the Bruce Willis movie Hudson Hawk. (I couldn't think of another name, so I went with it.) My editor caught it immediately and changed it. (The brat!) So now, I'm playing a little game with my editor. I've got a couple movie names "enbedded" in the Out of the Shadows manuscript that I'm trying sneak past my editor's watchful eye.
  • Obviously, they catch spelling errors, etc., but please--you've all got spell check. The only problems you should have are with the there, their, and they're words.

4) Once the editor finishes, he passes the manuscript on to the copy editor. The copy editor's job is to catch all the spelling and grammar errors. Now, here is the problem. The better and more engaging a book is, the harder it is to catch errors because the reader is too involved in the story. Proof? Most of the errors that slipped past all of us in A Prophecy Forgotten are in the climax. A copy editor will often read a manuscript backwards to keep from getting to involved in the story.

5) Once the copy editor finishes, the manuscript is formatted to "book" form. Someone chooses a font, decides on the font size, the margin size, and all the stuff that makes the book look like a book on the pages. You know that little tree-picture-thing at the beginning of each chapter in A Prophecy Forgotten? That's done during this part of the process.

Once they make it look like a book, my editor sends me the document. We call it the gallies. I have no idea why. Now, before I go on, let me point out that ArcheBooks (my publisher) has entered what we call the twenty-first century. That means that this whole process is digital, and the changes the editor makes are sent to the copy editor. If I make changes to the gallies (next paragraph), they are changed directly in the digital document. I have heard of authors with New York Huge publishing houses making corrections in the gallies only to find a whole host of new errors in the final set of stuff? Why? Lack of twenty-first century technology. Some houses take the edited work and have a typist type it into a different program...

6) When I get the gallies, I grab a few crusts of dried bread and water, shut my door, print the whole thing out, and find the last bit of grammar errors and make any changes that I think need to be made. This is my last chance to change anything, so I take it seriously. I actually "stockpile" my changes while I'm waiting for the gallies so I'm ready to go once I receive them. I went about 48 hours without sleep when I got A Prophecy Forgotten's gallies, I took a brief nap, and then I finished them the next day. (I'm slightly impatient.) Out of the Shadows is a bit longer, so I will probably take a few more...naps...when I get the gallies. Remember, my goal is to get Out of the Shadows into your hands as quickly as possible!

So that's the process. Once I get the corrected gallies back to my editor, Out of the Shadows will be available in about 2 weeks.

How long does it take? It depends on a couple of factors:

  • Manuscript length. The longer the manuscript, the longer it takes to edit. This is why publishing houses like shorter manuscripts from first-time writers.
  • How clean the manuscript is to begin with. A manuscript with a lot of errors and plot loopholes takes longer to edit.
  • Distractions in the editor's life. A Prophecy Forgotten's original editor left the manuscript on the shelf for a month because her mother got cancer. I certainly did not begrudge her any of her time. Those things happen, and her time with her mother was more important than working on my manuscript.

I hope that gives you an idea of what is going on with Out of the Shadows right now.

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