Editing is Fun, Honest by Bryony Pearce
My first published novel, Angel’s Fury, was written in first draft in about nine months, but it was two years from contract to publication. My friends and family could not understand it. What was taking so long?
Well, among all the obvious things, like sales and marketing, cover design and so on there was the issue of editing.
Some readers imagine that an author writes a book, sells it and moves on to the next one. In fact the process is a lot more complex than that, involving many late nights, cups of tea and frantic revisions.
Angel’s Fury was my debut novel, I still had a lot to learn and so my editor, Philippa, and I had some hard graft ahead of us to turn my first draft into a readable final form.
Editing is a process of increments. The first set of edits will address large structural problems – this character needs removing, this other one needs fleshing out, this chapter is redundant, this problem isn’t explained enough, the whole second half isn’t working as it should and so on.
Each following round of edits addresses closer in issues, getting more and more detailed until what you think is your finished work, gets sent to the copy editor.
Copy editors are, I’m sure of it, people even geekier than I am. They are the geniuses who logic check everything – this character is wearing a blue jumper in chapter two, but in chapter five it’s red, did you realise that this technical term doesn’t mean what you think it means? Did you know that you can’t see those stars from that hemisphere at this time of year? And so on.
Then, once you’ve addressed all those issues and think you’re done, the book goes to a line editor, who will be looking to correct all those grammatical and punctuation errors the 3am writing stint had allowed to slip by.
By the time all that editing is done, an author has probably read and rewritten his or her book five or six times and a whole year has flown by with people wondering why your book isn’t in the shops and if you made the whole ‘book deal’ thing up in the first place.
As experience accrues the editing process does speed up a bit. Phoenix Rising, my next novel which is coming out on the 1st June took me about five months to write and the editing process has been a lot quicker, mainly because I now know more about writing and what to avoid, or do (in my case ease up on the florid language and detailed descriptions, get right into the action and stop using the word ‘leaped’ so much – my characters can be like demented frogs, constantly leaping about and biting their lips. One of the first ‘self edits’ that I do on finishing a draft now is look for every instance of lip biting and leaping and delete 99% of them).
As Phoenix Rising is book one of a series, I was in the interesting position of editing Phoenix Rising while writing book two, Phoenix Burning. It was very strange experience.
Just when you think one book is done with and you put it to the back of your mind to focus on the next, you get an email from your editor which means you have to unearth it, get back into the mindset of the book and revise it again. More confusingly, because the two books were about the same characters (having different adventures) I quickly started to get the two storylines confused – had I said this in book one or two? Could I delete this sentence, or was it something I followed up on in the second book?
Phoenix Rising has gone to print so I’m pretty sure that the editing process for that book is over. The first draft of Phoenix Burning is written and I am now waiting to see how much editing it will require, while thinking about the next in the series.
I’ll be honest, for me the most difficult bit about editing is this bit I’m in right now, simply waiting to see if Ruth, my editor actually likes the book I have written and how much she will want to change. But in general terms I love editing – it is one of my favourite parts about writing.
Most writers, if honest, will generally hold their hands up and say that they knew a particular scene or part of the book wasn’t working but weren’t sure how to fix it. A good editor will make a suggestion that is like pulling a blackout curtain aside on a sunny day. Light shines on the chapter and suddenly it all becomes clear. I love that moment of revelation when, working as a team with your editor, you suddenly realise what exactly needs to be done to make that part of the book, that wasn’t quite right, shine.
I love the feeling of turning my rough draft into a polished final novel, that sense that you are finally producing something really good that both you and your editor can be proud of.
Although it can be two years from contract to publication (more commonly a year to eighteen months) that time does fly when edits are being done. Sometimes it seems like there will never be enough time to get that novel into a state that you will be happy to release into the world. That is where your editor comes in, reminding you why you loved the book in the first place, shining light on the parts that have gone awry, cheering on the bits that you have nailed, helping you when you get stuck, making insightful suggestions, offering support and, if need be, a good telling off (luckily I haven’t needed one of those yet).
Once the first draft of a novel is written the work has only just begun. But so has the fun.
Bryony Pearce lives in a village on the edge of the Peak District and is a full time mum to her two small children, husband and cat. She is vegetarian and loves chocolate, wine and writing. People are often surprised at how dark her writing is and since the publication, by Egmont, of the award-winning Angel’s Fury, have started looking at her as though worried she might start serial killing in her spare time.
She enjoys doing school visits, festivals and events, when the children let her out of the house. The Weight of Souls was published by Strange Chemistry on 1st August 2013. Her new book, Phoenix Rising, will be published by Stripes on 1st June 2015. For more information on Bryony, please visit her website www.bryonypearce.co.uk follow her on Twitter @BryonyPearce or like her FaceBook author page BryonyPearceAuthor.