Hi, folks! My name’s Dane Cobain, and I’m the author of a supernatural thriller called No Rest for the Wicked and a book of poetry called Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home, as well as an upcoming literary fiction novel called Former.ly.
Today, I’m here to talk to you about the bane of every author’s life – the editing stage. Editing was famously compared to murdering your babies, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that – if you’re working with a good editor, it’s more like sending them to secondary school.
But it can get tough – sometimes you disagree with your editor, and have heated debates about comma placements and whether the word ‘internet’ should be capitalised. For the record, I don’t think it should be; Pam Harris, my editor, disagrees, but she let me get away with it because I was able to back it up. The BBC doesn’t capitalise it, and neither does the majority of the tech press.
So today, I thought it’d be interesting to take you behind the scenes and to talk about some of the unexpected things that Pam picked up on when she was working on Former.ly.
To begin with, I expected the main problem would be Anglicisation – I’m British and she’s American, and so we both have a slightly different approach to spelling and punctuation. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for her to pick up on some of the accidental Briticisms that I scattered throughout my work – the word ‘answerphone’, for example, makes sense to British people, but Americans know it as ‘voicemail’. Voicemail also makes sense to the Brits, and so the tweak was made to make the manuscript as accessible as possible.
A good editor will also pick up on characters’ behaviour, and Pam was pretty good at making me reconsider whether my characters were doing things because that’s who they were and how they would’ve reacted, or whether they were doing things because I needed them to do them for the sake of the story line. Thanks to Pam, I also removed a bunch of unnecessary subplots that just muddied the waters and made it harder for readers to focus on what I wanted them to focus on.
And then there’s other stuff, like whether ‘no-one’ should include a hyphen or not. I usually hyphenate it, but Pam convinced me that it’s best practice not to, and she backed it up with a number of industry style guides. That’s one of the interesting things about the English language – in some places, it’s ambiguous, and it’s also constantly evolving. Style guides exist to make sure that people from all walks of life are able to publish consistently, which makes it even more important for you to adhere to them if you want your manuscript to be on par with the professionals.
All in all, an editor has their work cut out from them, and I’m glad that I’ve found someone like Pam – she writes books herself, and so she can look at my manuscripts as both a writer and an editor, and she has an incredible eye for detail.
Editing is important. As both a reader and a writer, I find it easy to tell whether a book has been professionally edited, and badly edited books usually score a low rating from me if I even manage to finish them at all. But done well, the editing process is like polishing and varnishing a wood floor – not the most fun while you’re doing it, but it makes a huge difference to the final product.