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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Authors and Editors: Collaboration, not confrontation

Yesterday, my copy of the Society of Authors' magazine, The Author arrived in the post. It is often a curate's egg as the SOA is open to all genres of published authors from learned academics to sci-fi. From international best sellers to writers who sell only handful of copies.
The articles therefore cover a wide range of interests.
This month there is an article about working with editors and making the process less confrontational. Basically because of the scope, many of the tips and/or problems do not pertain to me or anyone published with Harlequin. One of the biggest flash points is when the author is a senior academic and objects to having their words -- dumbed down. Or if the project manager is perhaps inexperienced.
Two tips do pertain and I shall pass them on as they tally with my experience. Problems can really arise when authors are unused to the editorial process.
1. If you are new to being edited, ASK the editor to explain the process. Editors are quite willing to share what stages the manuscript will go through and when for example you can expect to see it back. Or when you might have to answer various questions. Once they buy your book, and it is put into the schedule, the timing is relatively set. Every book goes through certain stages. So if you don't know, don't suffer in silence. ASK.

2. And this is perhaps KEY. DO NOT refer back to your earlier copies when you are presented with a typeset document. Comparing and contrasting will result in more fights and much heart ache. Read through the clean copy and see IF it makes sense. Mark up things that don't sound right or jump out at you. What you are looking for is -- does the book flow? Does it make sense?
If it makes no sense or gives the wrong sense, then change it, or at the very least query why -- and suggest what you think is right. Editors will explain if something is House Style and their reasoning behind it.
Remember it is the Line Editor's job to decide whether or not to take the copy editor's suggestions. Part of an Editor's job is that make sure the script fits with the individual publishing house's style aand preference for punctuation, length of paragraph and preference for active or passive voice. If you ask, editors are quite happy to tell you which style manuals they use.

Only working from the latest clean copy also makes doing the final proof reading much easier.

I know some people who say that they want to learn from their mistakes, so that they won't make them again. Therefore, they have to compare and contrast. Nonsense! It is a recipe for disaster.
If you are truly serious about perfecting your stylistic skills, take a course in grammar or read a book on grammar. There are a number of them about. Some are more interesting than others. I prefer Strunk and White, and do occasionally look back at it as one falls into bad habits. I forget which one Harlequin Mills and Boon uses, but they do use a specific style book. Learn from that book, and use your knowledge to craft the next story.

After all, at that point, the book has been bought -- mistakes and all.

It is the STORY that editors buy, not perfect punctuation or spelling. Punctuation can be fixed and it does not require talent or imagination or creativity. These are all part of the WRITER's province.

I was pleased to see my view echoed. And it is a point I feel strongly about. And I do realise that other people feel differently. But for me at this point, it is all about delivering the best possible read for the ultimate reader.
Once a book has been accepted for publication, it is a collaboration between the editor and the writer as we both want the same thing. Quality editing is NEVER a threat to my integrity as a writer. It enhances it. And it is really all about Quality Editing. (We won't mention the other sort...)

6 comments:

India said...

This is great, Michelle. I feel slightly ashamed that with 3 books under my belt I didn't know most of what you say. Which just proves the value of your first point.... ASK!

Michelle Styles said...

Yes, the key point is to ASK. Editors are always willing to take the time and trouble to explain the process. It makes it easier to relax about things.
Also,HM&B is a very reputable house and has very clear systems and guidlines for editors. They also have an excellent editor training programme. Editors are not simply turned loose on scripts...
And the single most likely cause of disputes is when the author compares and contrasts with the work she turned in. She needs to trust her editor and to only read the clean copy. It is all about FLOW and readability.

Donna Alward said...

The ONLY time I've ever pulled out an ms was with my last set of AA's. I read a part and knew I hadn't written it. But then I thought...maybe I did. So I checked, and I hadn't. It was a good bit though I just thought it was in the wrong place. I actually moved it to the next page. LOL.

But I know that my editor won't make huge changes to the ms, it's about cleaning it up, essentially. I have very few changes and most of those are a word or a typographical error.

But then you know the whole editorial process is my favourite. :-)

Michelle Styles said...

Donna --

The whole point with your story is that you did not start off by comparing but only went to the original when something really pulled you out and the prose seemed odd or off somehow.
If the flow doesn't feel right to you, it is perfectly fine to go back and check.
BUT there are some people who compare and contrast each page of the AAs with the ms they sent in. It is a recipe for difficulty because to certain extent when you start doing that, your prose has hardened to the consistency of cement.
You need to trust your eye to pick up when things don't look right.THEN you make the necessary adjustments.

Kate Walker said...

What an interesting and useful post Michelle. I got a lot from it - just goes to show we can all still learn something more about this business, no matter how long we're in it

Kate

Michelle Styles said...

Kate

One of the lovely tantalizing mysteries of the medium is that there is ALWAYS something new to learn. It can never be fully mastered.

I am indeed honoured that you learnt something new.