This is the first in a series of posts about the editing process, with subsequent entries to reflect on revisions suggested by my literary agent and editors, never mind that these fine people currently exist purely in the hypothetical.
I like to think of these imaginary friends as stretch goals in a fundraising campaign:
- 10,000 Readability Points – A literary agent will agree to represent my manuscript! (Provided I make the revisions she suggests, that is.)
- 20,000 Readability Points – A publisher will agree to buy my manuscript! (Provided I make the revisions their editors suggest, that is.)
- 25,000 Readability Points – Editors and proofreaders will cheerfully eviscerate my manuscript!
Then at 50,000 Readability Points, my manuscript becomes a book that people pay good money to read—and the beauty part is, by that point it’s too late for me to do any additional revisions.
So who are these different editors? I’m qualified to answer that question: not only can I draw on the experience of my nom-de-real-life, who has already forgotten everything about the editing process with that reference book she wrote years ago, but I can speak with authority because I googled this exact topic before dinner and skimmed through the first two results. Though that first link was mainly just ads but anyway.
Literary agents try to convince publishers to buy your manuscript. Different agents have different strengths, but they will identify areas that need improvement to make the story more attractive to editors. They perform this service with enthusiasm, because they don’t earn any money until the book sells.
Then the literary agents send the manuscript to acquisitions editors at publishing houses. When the acquisitions editors see a manuscript they like, then try to convince their marketing team and other stakeholders to invest in it.
Once the book sells, there are EVEN MOAR editors:
- The developmental editor looks at the big picture (“Hey chapters four through eleven are pretty boring, probably that needs to change”)
- The copyeditor looks for continuity errors, factual errors, structural problems, tone, pacing, and lots of other stylistic points. They may or may not additionally serve as…
- The line-editor. This is the type of editing I personally excel at, and if this fiction writing gig doesn’t pan out, I might start moonlighting with the line-edits. Whereas developmental editing takes a holistic view, line editing works at the micro level. Does this sentence flow nicely by itself? How about in the context of this paragraph? I see you used “vertiginous” on page 320, but I remember you used it on page 91 and that’s probably too much for one book. And there are too many prepositional phrases in this sentence. And three of these six paragraphs start with “But”—it’s a little jarring.
- Finally the manuscript goes to a proofreader. This is not editing per se, but rather the final close reading to make sure there are no typos or errant punctuation marks or missing words.
Once all of these folks have savaged your intellectual property (but, you know, for the best of reasons), you either follow their advice or, in some cases, you stick to your guns. If you disagree with an editor’s change, you write “stet.”
“Stet” is an abbreviation for “Stetson hat.” As an alternative to writing “stet,” you may draw a picture of a snake eating an elephant in the margins, as demonstrated here by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in an early draft of The Little Prince.
Please study carefully the roles of these various book midwives. In the next post in this series, we will explore some of the revisions that have been made to my unpublished novel.