We’ve been having a discussion in the office about how we edit our clients’ work and, not surprisingly, we all have different techniques.
Since I just recently sent a 17-page revision letter to a client (yes, Jessica gasped as well) let me start by explaining how I edit manuscripts. I really like reading on my Kindle. It’s easy and I don’t have to print any pages out, but more important, it gives me a book-like reading experience, which I find is helpful to editing. The experience keeps me in a place where I read for pleasure, but with an editorial eye. In other words, I tend not to cross that line into forgetting the pleasure part and simply reading for editorial mistakes.
So typically I sit either at my desk on the couch, or wherever I happen to be, and read on the Kindle, but with my computer by my side. This way I can take notes as I go along. I typically take the notes right in the body of an email, and really, it’s a giant editorial vomit. My clients will attest to this. As I’m reading, I jot down every thought I have and I send every thought to the author. The thoughts could be major, “This prologue is really just confusing and I don’t think it’s needed,” to minor, “What if she actually wears the necklace in this scene?” They can be things like, “Check your commas, they seem a little scattered,” to “Don’t forget to build the world more, I think it will make this stronger.” They can be simple like, “I love this chapter” to “I really think this character is useless and could go.”
And I expand on things. In other words, you won’t just get “I think this character can go.” You’ll get my thoughts on why the character isn’t working and how she doesn’t add anything to the story. You’ll also get my own suggestions for how you can change or strengthen the story. In other words, could you make someone else the killer, or what if character Jack and character Frank are really one and the same? And as far as I’m concerned you can run with my suggestions or you can ignore them altogether and go off in your own way. I don’t care how you want to fix the problems I see, I just care that when I read it the next time those problems/my concerns are gone.
For me anyway, and for my authors, I find that jotting down every thought helps my clients see not just what I’m thinking, but why I’m thinking what I’m thinking. I also find that it helps us, hopefully, solve any major problems the book might have as well as smaller ones, and that by building both at the same time we’re creating, overall, a stronger book. And keep in mind that in 17 pages you might hear me repeat myself a lot. In other words, if I think a certain character isn’t working I might repeat over and over each time that character appears why that character isn’t working for me in that particular scene. Because, as you know, it’s an editorial vomit.
This year alone I’ve sent two massive revision letters like that and I’m happy to report both authors embraced them. I think, unless they lied to me, they saw much of what I was saying and enjoyed the back-and-forth the letter created. At least I hope they did.