Working With An Editor
By Author Donna Jean McDunn
If you are a traditionally published author or a self published author who hired an editor to look over your manuscript, then you have worked with an editor. You know that feeling of seeing the email come in with your work attached after the editor has gone over it. Part of you is excited and can’t wait to open it and learn what she thinks of all your hard work, but then there’s the other part of you that’s scared to death. What if she hated it and has changed her mind or wants you to rewrite the entire book.
That’s how I felt anyway as I stared at the email with my manuscript, Nightmares in the subject line, for five minutes. I couldn’t bring myself to open it, so instead of facing it right then, I washed the dishes, sorted the laundry, fed the cats, cleaned the cat pans and finally worked up enough courage to see what she had to say.
The first thing I saw in the body of the e-mail, after the greeting of, Hi Donna, were these words: “Okay, I’ve gone through the first four chapters. Now is the moment where you take a breath and relax. When you open the attachment you will see many, many things. Don’t panic. Have no fear. :o)”
Let me tell you, the happy face at the end did nothing to squelch the growing panic in my stomach. I literally had to close my eyes, afraid to read any further. My first rational thought a few minutes later: Was my story really that bad? My second: Is she going to make me rewrite the entire first four chapters of my book as I had feared earlier? My third and final thought: What are my choices?
I could delete the whole thing and pretend I never received it and never see my book published or I could keep reading and find out exactly what she wanted.
I chose to continue reading and my fear began to subside as I read. She didn’t want to be my ghostwriter; all she wanted to do was spruce up my words a little. She wrote that she had made a few adjustments and offered suggestions, all of which I had the choice of accepting or rejecting or simply changing to something I thought might work better.
Then she went on to explain how to accept or reject the edited material and how to add my own comments, plus she recommended a course on sentence structure and longer sentences, put out by www.thegreatcourses.com and is called Building Great Sentences. This was exciting; I’m always open to learning more about writing, but then I realized this was her way of introducing her first big complaint and she thought most of my sentences were too short.
I’ll admit it irked me a little, because I had also read that a variety of sentence lengths are important and I’ve read where other big name authors have recommended short sentences because it kept a story moving along and young adult readers liked it that way.
So what do you do? I believe mostly it’s a matter of preference and because she’s the editor, I’m not going to argue. As long as it doesn’t damage the content or change the message of what I want the reader to get from the sentence, I’ll do my best to revise it to her liking.
My editor’s other complaint was about repetitive words, which is pretty much universal with everyone. Even I get annoyed when I read books that continually use the same words or phrases multiple times and especially in the same paragraph.
A few months ago, I read this great young adult novel series that I loved. I can’t wait for the next and final book to be published, but there was one thing that started to bug me. The author used the phrase: “He shuddered” or “She shuddered” all the time and in all four of her books and multiple times on the same page. It started to wear pretty thin, but not enough to keep me from finishing the series, yet some people may not be as forgiving as I am about repeats.
The problem is, when it’s your own work; it is SO much harder to catch. I realized when I read my own manuscript silently to myself or out loud, I still couldn’t see or hear all the repeated words, but believe me, an editor will and your manuscript will come back to you with a bunch of highlighted words all over the place.
The way I have solved that problem, okay solved might not be the correct usage, but I have managed to find so many more duplicates by going over each line in a paragraph and comparing it to all of the other sentences, deliberately looking for one word at a time to see how often I had used it.
The first time I wrote the paragraph above, I had repeated at least two or three times the following words; book, catch, repeat, repeated and duplicate. I corrected the problem by thinking of synonyms. Example: Book, replaced with manuscript, catch, replaced with find, repeated, replaced with duplicates so that in the end I used each word and the synonym only once.
So do yourself a favor and look for duplicate words in all of your work before you submit the manuscript to any publishers or agents. The publisher will still have their editor look over the manuscript and there will be changes, it’s inevitable because much of writing is subjective, but in the end you’ll be glad you did.
What do you think, do repetitive words bother you? And which do you prefer, short sentences, long ones or a verity of lengths? Do you believe much of writing is subjective?
Here’s a link for anyone interested in a contest for young adults. It closes October 31, 2012 so get your story in soon. It pays $500 for 1st prize. Check it out: http://www.thechildrenswriter.com/af627/
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It’s been said that writing is a lonely business and that’s true, but if we writers and readers continue to support one another, then we are no longer alone.