How Much Editing Does a Contracted Book Need?

I'm in the process editing The Doctor’s Lady (releasing in September). Technically, it’s the fifth edit. Here’s a brief over-view of the editing process I’ve gone through with this book:

Edit #1: I self-edited the book (Using the three stages of self-editing).

Edit #2: I sent the book to two different talented writers for critiques. I evaluated their response and made changes accordingly.

Edit #3: I turned in the book to my publisher. They had a committee of editors read the book. Based on their collaborative feedback, they required me to do a major overhaul on several key points within the book (involving character arc’s and major plot threads).

Edit #4: My two in-house editors read the book again. This time they had 8 pages of “smaller” requested changes (things like clarifying setting, fleshing out a couple of minor characters, tightening some pacing, etc).

Edit #5: After getting the input of additional readers (professional editors and my agent), my editors felt like the book was “almost ready.” But they gave me a few more suggestions (approximately 2 pages) based on input from the readers.

Once I turn in the book, it'll be out of my hands. First it will go on to line-editing. One of my in-house editors will consult me as she combs through the manuscript. She’ll look for word flow issues, repetitions, historical accuracy of details, etc.

Then the book will go to copy-editing where a different editor will check for minute details (commas, periods, spelling, etc.). Lastly, I’ll get my galleys. That will be the final time I can make any minor changes.

But what does all that editing really mean? I’ll attempt to answer a few questions.

1. Wow, you might be saying. That’s a LOT of editing. Does every book need so much?

No. Not every book or every publisher will require the same amount of editing. It varies from publisher to publisher and book to book.

On the other hand, yes, every book going down the traditional publication pipeline gets edited. Most publishers will ask the author to do at least one substantial edit, and then go on to give the book a line and copy edit.

2. If a book needs extensive editing, why do publishers agree to publish it? Especially with so many other books out there that might not need as much work?

First, publishers (like agents) can spot when an author’s writing skills and story-telling ability are of publishable quality. And they can also spot novels that fit the needs of their target readers, even if there are some parts of it that may need adjusting to give it broader appeal.

Second, no writer anywhere is perfect. Published or not, we can’t produce a perfect first draft. We’ll never be too good for objective feedback. We’ll always be too enmeshed in our stories to see the bigger picture. Thus, even well-told stories and talented authors undergo editing, sometimes even extensive editing.

Finally, most publishers want to invest in authors and not just a book. Each additional book has the potential to expand the author’s readership. Therefore publishers are willing to stick with their authors and work with them.

3. Is it hard to let go of your story and bend it to the will of others?

Yes and no. Yes, it’s never easy to plan a character arc or plot line and then have someone tell you “your readers won’t like this,” and then have to go back through the entire book and weave in something else. It’s downright hard and painful.

But, I’m also realizing I can trust my publisher’s judgment. They know what their fans like. They have an intimate pulse on what sells. They eat, sleep, and breathe the historical romance genre. And really, in the end, they only want my book to succeed as much as I do.

With traditional publication, writers have to be willing to shape their stories so that they’re commercially viable. If a writer won’t make changes to her story (for whatever reason), then a small press may be a better publication option.

4. How much “say” do you have in the process?

I’ve had an incredible amount of dialog back and forth with my editors. I’ve also conversed with my agent since she read my latest draft. While I haven’t felt the need to challenge my publisher on any of the requested changes, if I ever did, I know I’d have an advocate in my agent.

What do you think? Did you realize the collaborative effort that goes into editing a contracted book? How much of your story are you willing to change—is it hard for you to let go? And how much “say” do you need in the process?

*Photo from flickr.

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