On the first day of Christmas my editor gave to me…

Happy December everyone! It is getting cold where I live and I’m drinking lots of cups of tea to keep warm while I write. I also just like tea. In my last post, I mentioned I was in the middle of revising Alice Jones and the Invisible Scientist for Chicken House. I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit about how much editing goes into a book once you sign a contract with a publisher.

disclaimer- this is all based on my experience working with Chicken House. Things may vary with other publishers, but I think the general idea is universal.

1. Major Revisions/Developmental Edit

The first thing that happens when a publisher is interested in your book (after you dance around your living room like a muppet and scare your cat) is a discussion about the changes they would like you to make. It sounds a little strange, doesn’t it?

Publisher- We love your book!

Writer- (squee!)

Publisher- But we want you to make some changes…

Writer-(say what?)

The thing is, writing is not something you can do all by yourself, which sounds weird. But having other people read your writing and give you feedback is so important if you want to get better. I write a draft, get help from my writing group. Write another draft, get help from my agent. So getting help from an editor is just the next step up the ladder.

This rewrite is for large issues, things that you can’t just fix by adding a new paragraph on page 11. Maybe your bad guy isn’t bad enough. Maybe your secondary character needs to play a stronger role. Maybe you need to add more description (or cut a whole bunch out).*

In my case, Chicken House asked me to come in for a meeting to talk about the changes they would like (this happened both times, the first time I was ridiculously nervous, the second time was a lot more fun). I actually really enjoy this process. Those editors are smart and have a lot of great ideas and a very good understanding of their target audience. I know some writers worry about having someone else ‘change’ their work, but in my experience, all the editor will do is point out where they see a problem. It’s up to you, the writer, to come up with how to fix it.

*yes, these are all things I have had to do for my own books (plus a few more too)

2. Line Edits

Once your big changes get approved, it’s time to look at the book scene-by-scene, sentence-by-sentence. Your editor will do a close reading, making comments on scenes that need more action or emotion, sentences that read a bit funky and anything else that catches his or her eye. These are changes that can be fixed by adding a paragraph on page 11, problems on a writing level instead of a structural level.

I imagine this used to be a lot harder when everything had to be handwritten and sent back and forth by post. Now that there is email and track-changes, it goes pretty quickly.

3. Copy Editing/Proof Reading/Fact Checking

Bad grammar beware, the copy editor is coming to get you. This stage is usually pretty straightforward. Sometimes writers use incorrect grammar on purpose, and generally if you can make your case you can keep your ‘mistakes.’

During this stage you also get something called a Style Sheet. The Style Sheet is a master list of how specific words in your book will be spelled, the names of places, companies and organizations and any non-standard usage that needs to be used throughout the book. You can see a copy of my Style Sheet from Dreamer Ballerina here.*

You may also go through some fact checking in this round. Chicken House sent Dreamer Ballerina to a reader in New York to make sure I hadn’t dropped any clangers when I was writing the city. (I had, the worst was sticking Casey’s friend Andrea in a 20 storey walk-up, apparently 6 was much more realistic.) They also double checked the names of the dance schools in the book and the dates I used. I’m not sure Alice Jones and the Invisible Scientist will get the same level of fact checking since it isn’t historical fiction, but we shall see.

*this version of the Style Sheet came before I argued that even though Dumpster is a trademark, it’s entered into general usage and shouldn’t be capitalized (they let me win on that one).

4. Page Proofs/Galleys

And this is the most exciting stage of all. Once all of the editing is done, the rewrites, the line edits, the copy edits and fact checking, your publisher will send you your page proofs. These are basically an unbound copy of what your book will look like in print. This is your last chance to catch any typos or misspellings before it goes to print. You go over it with a fine tooth comb and hope that you don’t find anything.

So that is editing with a publisher in a very big nutshell. I’m sure there are a ton of things I’ve left out (or just don’t know about because I only see things from the author’s perspective). It’s a lot of work, but it can be a lot of fun too. And when you get fun emails about bits and bobs like cover designs (so exciting) thrown into the mix, it’s just fabulous!

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6 thoughts on “On the first day of Christmas my editor gave to me…

  1. I love learning about the process like this. So much I didn’t know. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished book when it comes out!

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  2. I’ve been following your writing journey. Yor do have a way with words. Interesting blog! I’ve always felt more humility than ego characterized the writing experience when writing for publication and your post confirms that.

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  3. I can’t wait to use this with my grade 6 writers! We’re really trying to push the idea that revision is less judgement and more of a chance to “play” with your writing, a way to have more fun. Sarah–your comments on the process are so important–how it’s a process requiring feedback, expanding each and every important scene, and a final edit. All of these steps mirror our process and it will be so fun to share your experience (that of an alum) with the students. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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