Friday, November 20, 2009

Story finished? Now it's time to edit!

A few weeks ago, I read a letter in an advice column from a woman who had written a novel a few years before. When she finished the story, she sent out a few copies to publishers but never really expected anything to come of it. Lo and behold a few years later, she is offered a contract but her publisher wanted her to do some fairly substantial edits, and the author--since it had been some time since she wrote the book and was no longer as dedicated to the story--really did not want to do them.

I was baffled.

"Why would you send out a manuscript to publishers if you weren't willing to do edits?!" I thought to myself (and aloud...loudly). Because editing is a major part of the writing process, and is something any author who seriously wants to get their book published has to be willing and able to do. Many, many times.

I know writing a story is a lot of work. Trust me. A number of us interns came to the publishing industry after realizing that authorhood just was not in our futures. Coming up with an idea, plotting it all out, and then forcing yourself to sit down at your computer and type the entire thing... it's a long and tiring process. And when that first draft is finished, by all means help yourself to some champagne and take a few days off to celebrate.

But there's a reason it's called the first draft--because it isn't meant to be the last. At the very least, you're going to have some typos, but that is usually not the extent of the problems. Maybe you decided to change a character's name and your manuscript still uses both the old and the new name. Maybe it seemed like a really good idea when you were watching that documentary about typewriters to include a 10 page interlude about the history of the typewriter in the middle of chapter 12. Maybe you hit some writer's block half-way through and what you wrote in that section works, but it could be better. No story is 100% perfect the first time around.

Before you send a story to an agent, most authors have edited their stories a few times--they edited it themselves, they had a friend read it and give suggestions so they could edit it again, and then they edited it a few more times.

And then there is still work to be done, because your agent is probably going to want you to do edits too. And guess what? If you get a publishing contract, your editor is likely going to ask for some edits as well. Months/years after you "finish" that draft and have your glass of champagne, you will still be working on the same story.

Of course, many of you already know this. This is just part of the job description, and you know what you're getting into when you start drafting those query letters. But a lot of first-time authors (hello, NaNoWriMo participants!) don't realize that a story is never going to be finished in 30 days (NaNoWriYear?).

And trust me: we can tell if you just wrote "The End," printed off a few copies, and stuffed them into some envelopes without a second thought. This makes the interns cry, because really great ideas can turn into horrible stories without proper love and attention from their authors. And we'll cry some more if we can't sell a story we absolutely fell in love with because the author refuses to fix the gaping plot hole in chapter 7.

If you won't do it for the story, at least do it for the interns. We look pitiful when we cry.



Karen Denise said...

Dang it, I just typed "The End" and was about to click print. Oh, well, I guess I'll sit on the ms for a while-lol.

Great post! Any writer who doesn't want to consider edits (of their own, from an agent or an editor) is doing themselves a disservice. I love when I read over something I've written and know exactly how to make it better. All part of the writing process.

Anonymous said...

Are you expecting a deluge of queries as a result of NaNo? Hard to believe writers would actually do that, as many times as they've been told that a ms must be polished until it squeaks before even thinking of submitting!

Damien Walters said...

This is a wonderful post. I think many times writers view their work as children and no one wants to hear their 'babies' need a bit more work. In my opinion, editing is like adding spices to a dish. Said dish might be quite fine on its own, but add a dash of this and a sprinkle of that, and it becomes so much more.