After a few weeks of back and forth, I am mostly done with my edits for A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Yay! This was a pretty quick process, due to the incredible thoroughness and promptness of my editor, Kathryn Moore, and also probably my general lack of preciousness about line-to-line stuff. One thing I have noticed about some of my writer friends is that they generally have no real idea what an editorial process entails. Sometimes they seem uncomfortable talking about it, like it’s secret cabal stuff which they really shouldn’t be exposed to. But what are editors? Why should we love them? Are editors witches?
No, well, not as a rule. But the comparison is worth making, mostly because of the weird medieval peasant attitude that a lot of writers have to editors. They seem to have this idea that they should go and see this person about fixing their gangrenous arm (manuscript) and that they are probably going to be better off afterwards, but the process might be painful and they aren’t really sure about the methods these witches (editors) will employ, such as satanic worship/track changes, and maybe their gangrenous arm is fine, it’s meant to smell like wet almonds?
In reality, unless you’re unlucky one of the very rare examples of bad editors, having an editor is a privilege that a writer should be endlessly thankful for. I’ve had several awesome relationships with editors or my shorter stuff, which has ranged from cutting the beating heart out of the obese flab of my story and placing the core of my story into a slick robot body from the future, to subtly pointing out that my story used the word ‘inexorable’ eight times. I’ve worked with editors who have helped me come up with the very beginnings of an idea and kept in close contact throughout the entire creative process, like with Justin Wolfers on my recent Alt-Txt series. I’ve had editors who after working with me once have championed my work and continually pushed me and offered me more opportunities and growth, like the wonderful Geoff Lemon. An editor is often the next person to be enthusiastic about your work after you, and much like in a relay, it involves you passing the baton over after you’re exhausted and sick of it and never want to think about it ever again, and then suddenly there they are, full of vim and vigour, ready to run the next mile.
Kaythryn and A Man Made Entirely of Bats was my first experience with a book-length project. The key things that Kathryn did for me was identify tone and voice in my stories and make sure they were consistent throughout them. Because a lot of my dialogue is ‘comedic’ in nature, I have a tendency to follow patterns and repeat words that are almost invisible to me, because that’s how my brain works.
I think writers feel like editors offer a kind of binary choice – like an editor says ‘your sentence where you liken a horse to a government-run skatepark was confusing at first, perhaps some kind of other park? Perhaps a jungle gym?’ The writer thinks he has two choices – go with what the editor says, or stick to his guns. Except the editor is a reader, first and foremost, and if they are confused by an image, it’s very likely that everyone will be. One confusing sentence can fuck everything up. But actually there are three options, and that secret invisible one is to say something like ‘I just really feel that a government run skatepark has a lot of humorous implications which I’m trying to explore – how about I shorten the sentence so there’s not so many confusing nouns, and follow it up’. If the editor feels that works, they’ll be like, yay! Great! Ps, that analogy I just used was so fucking torturous, I could really use an editor.
I think because of my theatre background, I’m very used to the notion of collaboration in art. For the majority of my plays, I had the very good fortune of writing my script, and then throwing it to my director and actors and other creative in Sexy Tales and getting their input. So much of this wasn’t simple ‘workshopping’ but important factors like ‘Patrick, we can’t have an actual bear on stage which breathes fire’ and then I would have to discover why I wanted that bear, and was it really necessary (no) and could I change it to a pair of creepy retail twins? In the theatre world, working as closely as I did with a director is a bit of an anomaly. It’s entirely likely that the writer would only see how their play had been translated onto stage on opening night. In a lot of ways, it’s the editors job to take the idea that the writer has written down and translate it into a book that people can read.
A lot of the debate around self-publishing focuses on the fact that an author has the potential to do a far more thorough and sincere and effective marketing and publicity campaign for themselves than a publishing house can in the long run. The vast majority don’t have the skills or background for this, but could learn and do a really great job at it. This is because of lots of reasons, and deserves a whole different article, but the essence is 1. marketing in the current climate is about facilitating genuine and sincere connections between author and reader, and an author doing that will tend to have more sincerity on their side, being actually the author and 2. An author is only working on their book, whereas a marketer/publicist is probably juggling around twenty books at any one time. What is often and generally disregarded in this conversation (and I almost did it again) is the role of the editorial process. A self-published book does not have the standard of editing put into it that a publishing house provides. This is often as basic as layout, format – but a poorly laid out ebook is a deal-breaker for me personally. It’s usually noticeable in punctuation and grammar, and I think the rule with novels anyway is not about this crazy idea of elaborate and painstakingly correct grammar that an editor enforces, but rather about making grammar as unnoticeable as possible. And that takes practice. But a good structural edit, which gets in there and restructures the order, examines motivation, gets rid of a surplus character – that’s impossible to replace. I didn’t really explain the editorial process. Does anyone want to know? I dunno. Ask me anything, I’m cool.
Anyway, editors are great. They rarely get thanked publicly either. Can you name who edited famous books? They’re like ninjas.