Monday, June 10, 2013

The Skill of an Editor

I've recently gone through a round of edits on my soon-to-be-released novel, Autumn Fire.  It was my first time being professionally edited and it was an interesting experience.

I had thought, rather naively, that my manuscript was pretty solid and polished, ready to be converted into eBook form put up on the Carnal Passions webstore.  But when I received the file from my editor and opened it, there was probably more red on the screen than any other colour.

My editor used the track changes feature in Word, so every change made on the page is printed in red and accompanied by a red speech bubble with details of the change in the right hand margin.  Seriously, it was like a solid wall of red.

After opening this file for the first time and seeing this unexpected assault on my precious work, I immediately closed it and focussed on things like Twitter and Tumblr.  It was too much to deal with.

A while later, I opened it up again.  I took a look at the specific edits -- 99% of them were just the removal of extraneous words, combining sentences and separating others, and a general tightening of the prose.  There were few comments more serious than "this sentence needs work."

The weird thing is that these edits sound very minor and insubstantial -- after all, it's just little tiny edits (though, admittedly, hundreds or thousands of them) -- but together they transformed what I thought was a really good manuscript into a very smooth and professional one.  The pace is much quicker, the sentences flow much better, and (considering this is erotic m/m romance) the sex is much hotter.

I'm finding I'm picking up invaluable advice and an insight into my writing style in this process.  I have a particularly bad habit of using "had," "was," and "that," which are often common in passive voice.  (Interestingly, I use them far less frequently in dialogue and steamy scenes.)  I get overly wordy quite often.  And sometimes what's in my mind's eye doesn't translate well to the page.  But at the core of it, I'm learning that yes, I can actually write a book that other people will enjoy.  It's both a humbling and an energizing experience.


Cameron D James is the author of the upcoming m/m erotic romance, Autumn Fire, to be published this July by Carnal Passions.  Find out more at


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good for you. The first time with the "blood bath" is a shocker, but it's necessary. After a while we welcome the help, and hear the editor in our heads on the way to committing the sins of unprofessionalism.

Big Mike said...

Yeah, it can be a shocker the first time, but if ya go back and read word for word you'll find it flows much better. Here's a hint from one that's had 18 stories edited:

- if ya go back and compare story 1 to story 4 or story 5 to story 10 you'll be amazed at what you've learned from your editors

- when you're assigned a new editor the learning process will begin again cause they have their own list of no no's but its all good for ya

I doubt I'd have gotten all the 4 and 5 star reviews over the years if not for the guidance of my editors.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Nikki said...

Ah, music to this editor's ears! There is no need to fear us or our red pencils, truly. All we want to do is take that raw gem you've prised out of the deep recesses of your mind, trim off the less-than-perfect bits and polish the rest so the heart of it gleams and the facets dazzle.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

And the metaphors shine, right, Nikki?

linda_rettstatt said...

We're too close to our own work to see the flaws. I've been blessed with great editors who have polished my rough work into a gem and have taught me a lot along the way. Every next book in it submission copy should be better than the last if we listen to our editors. I had the experience once of critiquing another writer's work and pointing out the same simple mistake--over and over and over. Shouldn't happen. It's great when you and your editor gel and the working together is smooth.

Annabel Aidan said...

I always tell my students to read the editing notes and then let them percolate for three days. By then, you've let go of your ego, and you can actually focus on the insight in the notes.

Congrats -- working well with a good editor is one of the gifts of being a writer!