Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Praise be to editors - by Nicola Morgan

This won't be the first time an ABBA blogger has praised editors but it would be hard to praise them too often, so I'm going to do it again.

When I had my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog, I used to come across so many writers who had turned or were planning to turn their back on the idea of aiming for trade publication because "the editing process would suppress my voice" or some such twaddle. Because twaddle it is. A good editor is a bit like a good singing teacher: nurtures and nourishes your voice so that it can sound its best. A singing teacher would also be a critic, suggesting when you've got it wrong. And you might occasionally disagree with the teacher, and you might be right, but that wouldn't make them not a great teacher.

Stick with the voice analogy for a moment: you accept how when you sing or speak you are hearing your voice through your own head, reverberating differently so that it sounds different when it hits someone's ears? Well, a good editor is that other pair of ears and can show you how you might wish to tweak or polish your voice to sound best for other ears. Because what it sounds like in your own head isn't as important as how it sounds to others.

And I am not so arrogant that I don't want to listen to a trusted expert, a trusted expert who a) wants my book to be as good as possible and b) can help me make it so.

Here I have to mention the long-suffering, eagle-eyed, hyper-intelligent and just plain darn brilliant editors working on The Teenage Guide to Stress with* me. Caz Royds and Alice Horrocks are editors to die for. And this has been a BIG task. (Notice the "with", because this is the ultimate teamwork.)

Editing fiction is a tricky thing (and they do that, too) but editing non-fiction requires a different set of skills and tuning. Five levels of headings - and have we at last got the hierarchy of information right??? Is the order of material right? Is everything perfectly balanced and weighted? What do we do about the fact that the author is paranoid about leaving things out and yet perhaps it can't all go in? Have we got the voice just right for 12 year-olds and 18 year-olds and adults? Is it sufficiently serious and yet not too dark? How do you tackle blushing and self-harming, sweating and suicidal thoughts all in one book? How deep should the contents list go? Index? Wahhhh! Glossary or not? And then the design issues that come with non-fiction become part of the editorial process - and here a big mention for the so-patient and talented Beth Aves, who somehow manages to incorporate every text change or order switch without complaint.

The complications of this rather large book meant that we have gone to the wire, time-wise, with last-minute "ARGGGGH"s flying back and forth, and yet with humour, respect and mutual admiration all the time. We go to print on April 29th and I'm sending them fizz to celebrate. We may have to have a Skype party!

Next project: The Demented Writer's Guide to Self-Inflicted Stress. You can all contribute!

NOTE: For the chance to win a copy of The Teenage Guide to Stress, signed on or before publication day, visit my blog and leave a comment on any/all April/May posts with "Exam tips" in the title. Each comment = one entry to the random draw, so comment on each post if you wish!


Nicola Morgan's free Brain Sane newsletter is full of links and articles about the brain, reading, stress, positive psychology and mental health. Next issue is a special one on SLEEP, with gorgeous sleepy giveaways and books to be won. 


catdownunder said...

I'd love to have an editor because I cannot "read" my own work. I have no idea how people "self-edit". The idea that an editor might somehow "take over" also seems strange. Surely a good editor is, in part, someone who is tune with what you are trying to say?
As for editing non-fiction for teenagers...eeek. (But I have a copy of TTGtS on order - although the Senior Cat says he is reading it first!)

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this - the voice/singing teacher analogy is a good one!

Stroppy Author said...

Love the idea of the singing teacher - yes, that's exactly it! Congrats on finally finishing TTGtS x

Sue Bursztynski said...

A nice analogy! And yes, I have been very lucky in my editors. I believe a good editor's job is to make your book the very best it can be, I remember after the editing was done on my first book, the editor asked,"Hiw do you feel about it now?" and I admitted,"Actually, I'm rather proud." And think of the very different books they have to edit - it could be about anything and they still have to be able to help you polish it. But for my YA mediaeval fantasy novel, the publishers chose a lady who was familiar both with fantasy and history. She was terrific!

Here's a toast to editors!

John Dougherty said...

Yes indeed! I've found that the best editors I've worked with really inspire trust - so that even when I disagree with them, I have to take their comments seriously.

Heather Dyer said...

Hear! Hear!

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, all! x

Katherine Langrish said...

Great post. Having an editor is a privilege and I love the analogy of the voice coach. Congratulations on the forthcoming book!

Becca McCallum said...

Like everyone else has said - I like the analogy of the voice coach.

Lucy Coats said...

I've been an editor, and do self-edit as I go, but there comes a point (going with your 'voice coach' analogy) when I can't hear the book any more. That's the moment I bless my editor, who is a wonderful fresh eye, and picks up all the stupid stuff and plot pinholes/gaping abysses I haven't noticed. I do know that some writers find the process of being edited quite painful - but I'm not one of them. I find it's incredibly stimulating to have someone to bat ideas back and forth with - someone who cares about the book being the best it can be as much as I do. So yes, Nicola - YAY for editors.