I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Every book needs a good editor. And writing a book can be compared to building a house. I’ve posted on this before, but it bears repeating, maybe in a new way with a new emphasis.
Note: For those of you who may be new to the site, let me be clear right up front. If you have never written and *finished* a book, you are not ready to attempt to sell one. While one of the writers here at MW, David B Coe, did sell his first book unfinished, actually unwritten, that is not the usual way to find publication. Normally, an unpublished writer must have a finished novel for an agent to shop around. And that agent will have already suggested a rewrite that you have encorporated into the book he is trying to sell for you. Once published, a writer has proven he can do it (complete a novel to an editor’s satisfaction) and future novels may be sold on the basis of a proposal, outline, synopsis and a few pages (most often 30, though some editors want more).
For most of November, I was deeply into the first rewrite of the WIP. I usually do a rewrite at this stage just for me, but this time the rewrite was nudged by the suggestions from my editor. I’ve worked in different ways with different editors, at Warner, Pocket, Mira, and ROC, in the US and a company in the UK. Some editors give a lot of leeway in the rough/first draft. Those editors’ textual rewrite letters tend to be more difficult, usually involving structural changes as well as changes in character development, pacing, etc.. My editor at ROC does a point-by-point, line-by-line rewrite of the synopsis/outline, which helps me to focus on things she perceives as important, and helps me to see any holes I’ve made in the manuscript early on. I don’t usually get the rewrite letter until I am a hundred pages in, which means I’ve already seen some things that aren’t working like I thought they would and I am ready to stop moving forward and take a look at the structure. Doing a rewrite at this stage slows progressive page count drastically, but output improves once the changes are made.
For me, working with editors who do not suggest changes in the synopsis phase makes writing a book a lot like constructing a house for spec. The blueprint/plan is the proposal, a concept on paper. Then the building begins. The foundation and plumbing go in first (outline/plot, concept conflict), then the outer walls (rough draft), wallboard (my rewrites along the way to clarify structure and form), plumbing fixtures, and hanging of light fixtures (the first rewrite I do when I done with the first draft).
Next I stand back and take and look at the whole product. I may move a wall, or widen a doorway, maybe close in a window or add on a deck ( polish, rearrange clues, add in a character). Then I paint and put in carpet, flooring, electrical plates for light switches (one more rewrite to polish it all up to my satisfaction ).
Finally, it goes on the market. And the new owners, (pub house / editor) take a look at the plans and suggest changes, do a walk through and see things that don’t work (really needed a window here. You know, the one I took out) and the paint in this room is too thin, I can see brush strokes and primer through it. And hey, where is the water heater? I like the inline kind. Let’s swap out and change it. (And the textual rewrite begins, which starts at the beginning and goes all the way through.)
Working with an editor who does make changes at this 100-page-in-point is very different. Not so much building a house for spec as building custom house, a product that has the new owner’s thoughts and hopes and dreams built right in. It can make things so much easier to have input form get-go.
Why share all this again? Two reasons. I just put downa book that needed an editor. Badly. Really really badly. And, I have a pal who thought every word, concept, thought, plot arc, character action, and development was all mine. When I explained the depth of an editor’s involvement, she was stunned. But I have learned over the years that an editor can take an okay or good book and transform it into something sooo much better. We’ve said it here often, but it bears saying again. I *need* an editor. And a writer who thinks his work is good enough without one, is making a mistake. In my most humble opinion.