Emma Rathbone: On Being Edited

It seems that there are many different ways the editing process can go after the contract is signed. I’d actually talked to my editor on the phone before he’d even made an offer. I believe this is a common practice in publishing: interested editors will call the author, discuss the manuscript, and make sure that you’re both fairly in sync with regard to possible changes. Thankfully, my editor didn’t want me to enact any huge, gouging overhauls. It was more along the lines of cutting some scenes, expanding here and there, and reconsidering some sentence level stuff. No problem, I thought. I would say it was about 80 percent harder than I thought it was going to be.

Because it’s frustrating when your editor strikes down a line you’ve been wringing your hands over for years, and feel like you finally nailed. Even though a part of you admits that perhaps you worked on the line, or passage, too much, and in doing obscured what it was originally supposed to be…

And then there are lines you actually really do think are still worthy of being in there. That’s the tricky thing about editing—when you can feel the alchemy of a certain sentence, and your editor can’t—who’s right? Probably your editor. Because he can’t see the backlog of intentions you had when writing that line, what you meant for it to convey. He can only see the trapeze act you’re straining to pull off.

There are, for better or for worse, a few lines in my book that I refused to take out. That’s a funny aspect of the process—try listening to two very nice, well-intentioned, exceedingly polite people who don’t know each other very well talk on the phone, skirting an argument in which neither of them are going to budge.

So after that’s all done, it’s on to copyediting. This is rather painstaking and tedious and doesn’t really have to do with the story, or the prose. It has to do with inconsistencies, grammar, facts. Here’s where you learn that your timeline doesn’t make sense. Or that someone changed hair color halfway through the book. Or that you said something was happening in the summer but then so why are all the trees changing color?

Also, my copy editor added a bunch of commas, messing with the whole tempo of the thing. So I struggled with that—does this comma make the rhythm of the sentence more satisfying? Or does it steal something from the style in which this character thinks or speaks?

Eventually there comes the day when you can’t make any changes anymore. When it is, for all intents and purposes, set in stone. That day was a relief but I had mixed feelings about it, too. I knew that after all the work me and my amazingly canny editor had done, the manuscript was much better. But I had a hard time letting go—because despite the fact that at some point you have to stop tweaking and fine tuning, and just let the book be what it’s going to be, you always feel like you could do more.

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