Congratulations! You’ve spent months, maybe years, crafting a thing of beauty and resonance out of your own imagination, and now a publisher has finally agreed to print it. The hard part is out of the way.
Now comes the even harder part—editing.
- A Specialized Team. A small horde of people is going to descend on your manuscript like a beauty team from The Hunger Games. They will spiff and shine, polish and proofread, until your story is ready for the brutal battlefield of modern publishing. One to five editors will be assigned to your project—a main editor, the one to whom all bucks are passed and all questions eventually defer, and up to four assistant editors. The main editor is usually the person who decided to take your work on in the first place, but you may end up dealing with their assistants on a more day-to-day basis. Learn everyone’s names, learn their hierarchy, and most importantly of all, learn your schedule. The more information you have, the less the editing process will feel like an extended series of surprise visits from your mother-in-law—awkward, nit-picky, and confrontational.
- The Copy Editor—Your New Best Frenemy. There comes a time when we all want to murder our copy editors. Your copy editor knows this, and she does her job anyway. The copy editor is there to make sure not only that you know what the heck you’re talking about, but so do your readers. Whether it’s continuity details like where Mrs. Babble left her car after the double homicide, or checking to make sure the Fair Isle ferry actually runs on Sundays, your copy editor is on the case. You will likely feel that she is on your case, but try to step back and take this stage even less personally than the rest of them. And in the end, thank your copy editor for all the troll-spawned “inaccuracy police” emails you did not.
- The Final Pass. If you’re lucky, you will be given the chance to read your manuscript for a final time before it goes to print. Many writers are so sick of looking at their own words by this point, they just give up and say, “sure, fine, whatever.” Stick it out. A talented team has been working on this project for months, but you are your manuscript’s creator and it’s last, best hope. Ever read a book and wonder how the editor missed that glaring typo on page 17? Now’s your chance to spot it yourself. This is certainly not the time for major changes, but most editing teams are not averse to fixing spelling, syntax, or punctuation—and those details can turn a book into the best version of itself.
There are many important details to keep in mind throughout the editing process—schedules, perspective, the location of the nearest wine bar—but the one to cross-stitch on a sampler and hang above your desk is this: It’s still your story. You may feel that by signing a contract, you’ve relinquished all control and no longer have the right to stand up for your work. This is most emphatically not true. All the editors you will encounter are there because they believe in your story, and your story could not have been written by anyone else but you. Yield to their expertise, stick fast to your artistic vision, and always remember that your editors are (sometimes secretly) on your side. The specialized team has only one goal—they are here to help you win.
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