As a first time author, you spend weeks, months, even years crafting your novel and when you write the final words, The End, you feel such a sense of accomplishment that you want to run out the door and show it to the world. And too often that is what we do and wonder why the agents don’t get back to us.
Realising that it may need a tweak or two and admitting that the word count is perhaps a little too high, you get out the butcher knife and start to hack and chop off the fat, removing whole swaths of prose at a time. Then you make the BIG decision to give your baby to a friend or two to read, who gush with praise, pointing out a few weak spots which you gratefully thank them for. Pulling out the utility and paring knives, you start to slice and extract more fat from your work, wondering how on earth you ever thought you were finished, with so many rough and ragged edges, so you end up tweaking a sentence here, a word there, heck whole paragraphs get rewritten.
Then you look at the word count and realize that you have in fact accomplished very little, that it is time for a professional to get their hands on your toddler. After what can be a frustrating search, you finally land an editor, who whisks your novel away and pulling out their precision instruments, attack your manuscript with laser like precision, slashing whole sections, cutting away sentences, snipping away single words.
You take your battered work back, trying to see what is left behind the sea of red, trying to be grateful for the intervention. It is only as you get to work that you appreciate the amount of work done in cutting out the redundancies, pointing out the weaknesses in style, plugging the holes in the plot and most importantly, in trimming the insidious fat. As with any weight loss program, it is extremely gratifying to see that word count steadily shrink day by day, to see your manuscript tighten and slim as the fat slips away.
I will not lie, it was not a painless exercise and there were a few minor skirmishes, though for the most part, the editor was right in their evaluation and suggestions, once I had calmed down enough to realize it. I did stand my ground when I felt it was important to do so, realizing that the confusion was more often than not my own fault due to poor explanation, knowing that with a shuffle here and a nudge there, I could improve my presentation.
I know that many newbie writers hesitate to hand their work over to an editor, fearing that they will lose ownership of their work, that it will become someone else’s baby but I can assure you, this is not the case. A good editor will suggest changes but never rewrite, which is more the domain of a ghost writer. They will hone and craft your novel to something you will be proud to show to the world. Interestingly enough, the editing process was never as taxing as I thought it would be when a weakness was pointed out. I would initially panic and think a major plot rewrite was in order but that never proved to be the case. A word change here or there, a paragraph of explanation added in or taken out and the story became the stronger for it.
In this age of do it yourself, it appears that agents and publishers are not as interested in finding a diamond in the rough, more attracted by a shiny, sparkling stone which just needs a bit of spit and polish. As writers, we need to adapt and present a piece of work that is as near to complete as we can make it. Publishers will of course have their own ideas of what sells and may suggest changes based on that, but for the most part they want a refined product.
My baby is now in kindergarten for a round of copy editing and hopefully after that process, I will be ready to approach the agents and publishers once again with a groomed and spruced story.