Editing 01/24/21

I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to edit a book that’s already pretty good. There’s a sense of rising dread once you cross the midpoint, into the back third of the book, and the thing is largely hanging together. You begin to wonder: am I providing a service that’s worth what they’re paying?

This butts up against the fact that I simply refuse to edit or change things because I’m supposed to. This current edit, with about 15k words to go out of 100k, has about 2,800 revisions. I have “big picture” ideas as well, characters to turn the volume down on, characters to turn up, scenes to excise. But compared to the average editing job, it’s been a cakewalk.

And that makes me nervous. Like I missed something.

I once did an edit on an even larger novel, about 300k words. The author got a good agent, who had him send the novel to a professional professional. A guy who’d worked on a Harry Potter novel, if I remember correctly. He showed me the edit. There were about three corrections/suggestions per line. Makes sense. I edited the thing for 3k, this guy got 20k. You read that right.

As I looked through the line edits, however, I had this overwhelming urge to tell my client that most of these edits were nonsense. In effect, this new editor had a completely different vision for what the book should be. He had the credentials to back up his position: he has worked on bestsellers, I so far have not (although one or two have done very well, movies in development, etc.). He knows what “sells.”

I approach every book differently. There’s a “sinking in” process, where I get used to the author’s voice. Throughout, I’m trying to get a feel for what they’re trying to do, what kind of trick they’re trying to pull. And I edit accordingly. I never think of the book as needing to be my version of the book, but the best version of their book. As such, you won’t find three suggestions per line, unless it’s a mess (it happens).

In Zero Saints, for example, a lot of Gabino’s voice was developed and in place. The plot, however, needed a slight overhaul. We pulled a bit that happened close to the end up to the front, developed some character interactions, fixed some minor mistakes. But Gabino was ready for the main stage at that point. He had (and has) the stuff.

With a Cody Goodfellow book, however, it’s more a matter of making sure that everything makes sense spatially. Same goes for Stephen Graham Jones. The edits on those look minor, and maybe they are, but they’re that little extra oomph that pushes it over the edge. Gravesend was a similar project. We only had to take one backstory out of that, if I remember correctly (it’s been almost eight years!).

In the case of this current project, there’s plenty for me to suggest and fix. It’s not quite ready to play in the big leagues, but it’s damn close. And it came to me damn close. The job shifts: instead of gutting it and rebuilding from the ground up, it just needs nudges, a fix here, a fix there. The author should be proud of that.

I think this one has legs. It’s got a little too much body fat, and bits of its body are overdeveloped while others are underdeveloped. But it’s good. Absolutely a difficult project for an editor.

As I get closer and closer to considering myself a “professional” (seven years into it, lol), I feel up to the challenge.

I really enjoy my job.

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