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!
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