Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What is the Editing Process Like with a Traditional Publishing House?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I have many writers ask me about edits or tell me their fears. Some of the things I've heard time and again are:

"What's the process like?"
"I don't want anyone telling me how my story should be."
"I'm worried they'll ruin it."
"What if you disagree with their changes?"
"I'd rather self-publish. Then I will have final say on everything."
"Do you have to change everything they say? Can you disagree?"

I can't speak for every editor at every publishing house out there. I can only tell you my experience. And in my experience, the editors I've worked with were never seeking to rewrite my book. They were attempting to partner with me to make my book the best it could be. Every editor I've had said the same thing. "This is your book. If you don't like my suggestion, feel free to change them back."

That said, there were certain things that they probably would have fought me on, had I fought them. For example, in Captives, I wrote a scene with Omar and Belbeline that ended up getting cut. I had two editors on that book. Jeff Gerke commented something like. "This is great, but is it okay for the Zondervan audience?" And Jacque Alberta commented back, "Yeah, not so much. Can we show this another way?"

They were right, of course, and I cut the scene and wrote another one.

Once you are multi-published and have the opportunity to sell books off proposals, you might not have time to have beta readers help you with your first drafts. It's just you and your story for a really long time... and then your editor(s) read it. Talk about scary! Still, it's so important and helpful to have people on your side who can help you with every aspect of storytelling.

Since Rebels (book three in the Safe Lands trilogy) just released *happy dance*, I thought it might be helpful to let you see the progression of page one through each level of edits that I received.



Some publishers will do more edits on a book. With Captives, I also got an overall content edit at the start, and I rewrote the ENTIRE book--which really needed to happen. But Rebels was the end of the story, and I had my world and characters figured out by then, so these edits were not so intense.

I've posted each image below. Some of the comments might be a little hard to read, so let me know if you have any questions.

This is the manuscript I turned in. Here's how that worked. I had a deadline written into my contract. Book three is due on this date. And so I worked on that book, finished it, and rewrote it as much as I could, right up to that deadline. Then I sent it in to my editor. Here is page one from that draft.




Then I wait, usually several months. And one day, out of the blue, my edits show up attached to an email. Here is the first page of my first round of edits. All of the changes and comments were made by my editor. It's my job to go through and accept or reject or rewrite things--and comment back to explain if I disagree with something.




Whenever I get edits, the first thing I do is scroll through the entire manuscript and read all the comments. Then I take the rest of that day to think--and sometimes cry. What's most stressful here is that the editor usually wants these edits back in two weeks. So I have to move fast. There are usually some major changes needed, at least somewhere, and I need to brainstorm how I'm going to fix them. Still, that day of thinking is important--I've sometimes taken two days. Once I've let things settle and reminded myself that these are all good things--not the end of the world--and that I am capable of fixing all this and it will make the book better, I'm ready to work.

First I go through and accept everything I totally agree with. That makes the document look much cleaner. Then I go chapter by chapter and do the rewriting. I skip major problems until the end. With Rebels, Jacque wanted some more work on the ending. This resulted in me adding two new chapters and was one of the last things I did during my edits. When I'm done, I read the whole book again and tweak. Then I spell check and send it back to my editor.

Here is my first page after I've gone through all the edits. I left on Track Changes, so all the edits you now see are my changes. Sometimes I will also add comments to explain something to my editor. This way my editor can see what I deleted and added.




Once this round of edits has been turned in, more waiting comes. I turned in this round of edits on March 2 and I didn't get the line edits until July 28.

The line edits are the final stage of editing. If my editor hadn't been happy with my changes, she might have re-editing some things (and maybe any new material I'd written) and gone back and forth with me another time or two. But like I said, this was book three, and things were fairly smooth at this point and my next edit was the final line edit.

In this case, my line edits were done by a different editor. Here are her edits for page one.




I chose to agree with all of her suggestions on page one. But there were some I disagreed with in the story. And I caught more things on my own as I read the book again, so I made additional changes (with Track Changes on so the editors could see what I had changed).

Here is my first page after going through her edits. And this is the final version that appears in the book.




So that's how it works. And even though the process can be stressful, I'm so thankful that I have had the help of editors. Without a doubt their help has made my stories better. And I've never felt like they forced me to ruin my story. In fact, even when I self-publish, I hire an editor to do this process with me. It's important to get a professionally trained editor to help me see things I can't see myself. I would never self-publish fiction without one.

Any questions?


34 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post Jill! Very interesting.
    Do you write the whole manuscript, go over it several times, then go over it with your critique group, then send it in for edits?

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    1. I wish! I don't have time for that anymore. If I can get a few beta readers to read the full book before I send it in, I'm lucky. Usually, the deadline is too close. But I like to. The more feedback I can get, the better.

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  2. What do you do while you are waiting for the edits to come back? Do you start a new book?

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    1. I'm not Jill, but my experience has been that I'm working on a first draft of another book when edits show up. So you have to set it aside for a few weeks to get the edits turned in on time. And that gets REALLY stressful if it's a book that's under contract and due soon.

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    2. Yeah, what Steph said. I work on a new book while I wait for the edits, but when the edits come, I have to put that new book aside.

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  3. Jill, my experiences have been similar. You hear horror stories about editors who are really frustrated writers and who try to turn your book into their book, but that hasn't been my experience at all. Instead, my editor helped me to clarify my voice ad the story, and made the books more like what I wanted them to be.

    I wince all the way through the edits, though. Mostly because I'm thinking, "Ugh! Why didn't I realize that?!"

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    1. Yes, that happens to me too, sometimes. I love when I get a great editor who gives suggestions that makes the story stronger. It's the best.

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  4. Thanks for the post, Jill! It's interesting to see the process of the editing.

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  5. Wow. This was super helpful--I've never been inside the editing process of an actual novel before. Thanks, Jill!

    walking in the air.

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  6. This was really great to see and read, thank you for those insights Jill. Would you have any suggestions on how to look for professional editors when you are not at that stage of "having your own editiors"?

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    1. Do you mean to hire an editor, Arlette? I can recommend some to you, if you're looking for one. I use Rebecca Miller. Here is a link to her site. And she lists other editors on her site as well. So on this page you will see her information, but if you scroll down, on the right, she lists some other freelance editors. http://rewriterewordrework.wordpress.com/services-and-rates/

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    2. Great, thank you Jill. I'm not quite yet at the stage of hiring an editor, but I'm getting closer and wanted to have a look around already to see what kind of services and rates there are.

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  7. Thanks for the post, Jill! Really great to hear your take on traditional publishing.

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  8. Thanks for this, Jill. I must admit I was wondering some of these questions myself. Now it doesn't look as scary as I thought it might be :)

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    1. Naw... it's pretty helpful. Though I've have pages that were covered in edits before too, so... LOL

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  9. I'm definitely one of those people that wondered this. Thanks so much for showing us! Sounds like a lot of work, especially after already revising everything yourself so much. But hey, writing's work, and anyone who disagrees obviously isn't a writer. :)

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    1. Indeed. Writing is a lot of work. I'm glad I was able to show you what this looks like, Amanda.

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  10. Thanks for this inside look into the traditional publishing editing process. It seems like a lot of work, but I think that if I signed with a publisher I would love to have professional editors helping me with the process because they could probably catch a lot of things that I wouldn't catch. I only just finished my first novel about a week ago, so I have at least five more weeks before I can edit it. It seems like a very daunting process, but I think the best approach is to take it one step at a time. A lot of times I look at the big picture of a huge project and it makes me so overwhelmed that I can't even start working on it. However, if I take it a step at a time it gets a lot easier.

    Do you have any tips for finding critique partners and beta readers? I could ask my friends, but I think that it would be good to also get feedback from people that don't know me personally.

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    1. They do catch a lot of things. And, yes. One step at a time is how I handle it too. As for finding critique partners, you could ask on the Facebook group. Are you a part of that? If not, maybe on the Yahoo Go Teen Writers email loop.

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    2. Hi Ana :-)
      About critiquing partners, I'm a member of the Critique Circle, which is an online workshop. I really learned a lot from the critiques I've received there.

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  11. Thanks for posting this, Jill! Must agree with your editors on Omar and Belbeline. I'm a sensitive reader in that area, so some of the scenes with them were already uncomfortable for me (though I appreciated how they added to his character arc).

    It's rather reassuring to read this since I'm the process of self-editing and hiring editors. I've been giving myself two to two-and-a-half weeks for edits and wondering if that was cutting it to tight. Knowing that's how long you get in the traditional process makes me happier.

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    1. Yes, for regular edits it's usually 2-3 weeks. If a book needs a full rewrite, though, that's different. That happened with Captives. Originally, Jemma was my female POV character in Captives. Jeff gave me an editorial review which consisted of pages of notes, not the Track Changes. And from that, I rewrote the book. When I turned in that second version, it went through this process as mentioned above. Not ever book needs a full rewrite. Captives did, mostly because I had written it so fast without any feedback. In that instance, Jeff almost acted like a critique partner.

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    2. I think I got two-ish months to rewrite Captives.

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  12. I just finished reading Outcasts last night. :) (my reaction was basically, "WHAT?!?!"-- in a good way!)Thanks for taking us through the editing process!

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    1. Hee hee. *evil laugh* Those dratted book two cliffhangers, anyway! And you're welcome for the post! :-)

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  13. If you get traditionally published, do you have to have an editor from that publishing house, or can the editor be not connected to the house at all?

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    1. Usually the editor works for that publishing house. But sometimes you can get the house to hire a freelance editor of your choice, but that's pretty rare. You usually get who you get.

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  14. Thanks so much for the article, Jill. I've never been professionally edited, I mean, I just had a few pages edited that way, not an entire manuscript, but still I think professional editing is awsome.
    When I reached my online workshop, the first thing I had to learn was trusting other people's impression of my 'baby'. It was hard, especially at the beginning, but once I learned to listen, it was amazing. It still is. So I always think, if exchanging critiques with peers is so helpful, I can't wait to receive a professional critique. I'm happy to hear from you it's going to be a forming experience. That's what I've always hoped for.

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    1. That's a great perspective to have! I'm glad you've learned to listen for what's helpful.

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  15. I have a question! When you edited with an editor for the very first time...how did you know what to do? (Like putting your edits back in with track changes etc.) Did they tell you how to do it, or was it learn by trial-and-error?

    I've done several rounds of edits with my agent and they look pretty much like this. I'm still so freakishly new at it all that all her advice seems brilliant to me and I probably use like 98% of it. It's really exciting. :)

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    1. If the editor doesn't specify, it would be fine to ask him/her. ("Would you like me to use Track Changes or do you have another way that you prefer I edit the document?") They'll appreciate that you ask. But in my experience, they tell you how they want the changes made.

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