I wrote a blogpost about editing right after I turned in my full book manuscript last November. I wondered at the time if I would have anything new to say once I got further into the process. Now that I have passed (nearly) 3 more phases of editing, finally receiving the somewhat ominous words in an e-mail: “This will be your last opportunity to review the pages before they go to press,” I find that indeed there is more to say. There have been multiple layers to this editing task, each requiring a different focus from me.
Feedback from my publisher’s editor
There’s an emotional discipline required for that first round of editing by a professional editor, a requisite humility about one’s content, and a commitment to detachment for the sake of the book that made me scribble “editing as spiritual discipline” on a scrap of paper sometime in March. Even if we think of ourselves as ruthless self-editors, it turns out we cannot evaluate what we cannot see. And I could not see which parts did not fit with the whole, because I could never approach it with fresh eyes. Every time I read a section, it already made sense to me because I knew what I meant to say or why I thought it should be in there. So I vowed to tackle my editor’s edits at least a chapter at a time. She returned the first half of the chapters to me in one batch with a note that Chapter 4 was the one she found to be most “disjointed.” Gulp.
I am not much of a procrastinator, as any former roommate could tell you, so I set to work right away and was delighted by how quickly I zipped through the first chapter. There were very minor punctuation or grammatical corrections (I sometimes have an excess of commas, and “Jesus’s” for the possessive still trips me up). That chapter, I did remind myself at the time, was always my most polished, as it had been part of the book proposal and had been reviewed by multiple friends. Chapters 2 & 3 had a little more editing for me to chew on, but not too bad. Then I stopped. I did other things, because kids and a congregation and a pandemic suddenly breaking out were all really valid other directions to focus while avoiding the mess I feared awaited me in that Chapter 4 file.
A little while later, my editor sent the second half of the chapters, and started going through and responding to my changes/questions/comments on the first three chapters which I had returned to her. When she responded to one of my comments, she ended the e-mail by saying, “Thanks for the work you’ve continued to do on the manuscript. It’s a book to be proud of.” I did not realize how much I had needed that affirmation in the midst of the ego burden that is editing, but that released my fear enough to open up chapter 4. She liked my book and my writing, despite the fact that she felt this chapter needed work. My editor and I had conversations in the “comment” boxes in the document then, and more back-and-forth on that chapter than any of the others, but it didn’t kill me. “My intention is to make your message as clear as possible, not to change what you are saying” she wrote (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing). My editor used a split screen, she told me, to put my version next to hers and make sure the final version was the one I wanted.
Then the manuscript was handed off to a new person or two (there were 2 different colors) for copy editing, still keeping “track changes” on in the files we sent back and forth, highlighted in different colors for whomever made various adjustments. That phase felt easier, more technical, like there was less at stake, and it was still all on the computer screen in a typical Word document font. I got that one done quickly, because the less emotionally-fraught technical corrections I will allow myself to do in the evening once the kids have gone to sleep and I’m tired, or even while they are making noise in another room during the day. “Did you learn anything about yourself from that phase of editing?” asked one of my writing partners named Jen over the phone last week. I thought for a moment then replied, “I probably hyphenate too much.” The copy editor was not a fan of my creating-my-own-adjectives-by-stringing-words-together approach. I suppose that’s how I try to write in my own vernacular, how I might tell a story in person. It works on a blog, but maybe not so much in a book?
It is a brave new world of editing once the manuscript actually looks like a book. First the production manager e-mailed me a pdf for reference, promising to print and mail an actual copy on paper. I loved the font! It is reminiscent of the font on the cover art, which is so striking. And there was my name, plain as day, on pages with corners to indicate the size of the book. Astonishing. Then my editor was back in touch looking for a few suggestions of people to ask for endorsements for the back cover of the book. I’d been thinking about this, and had a wish list of women clergy and authors with some “reach” whom I admire largely from afar. She replied almost immediately that it was a great list and one of those was a CPI author, so she’d begin inviting them as soon as possible. I heard from one of them the next day that she’d been asked and is honored to write an endorsement.
A few days later, when the kids and I returned from riding bikes, I opened the screen door and there was a package. Inside was my book, the “proofs.” According to my five-year-old daughter I squealed and jumped up and down. It’s kind of a big deal, you know? I’m three chapters into this last chance to edit: marking clearly in dark ink, then mailing only the pages with changes. My publisher has also sent it to a freelance proofreader at the same time, with the deadline for both of us only 2 weeks away. My husband just said to me that he thinks he would be paralyzed by the need to make it perfect, so might never get it done, if he were in my shoes. But I take on only one chapter per day, and I already got one done today, so I’m pausing to write a blogpost. I’ve made 9 notes so far. I can see the ending, and am starting to feel the excitement.