The Manuscript Returneth

Wendy Hornsby

Amazon offered a book for free on Kindle. I didn’t recognize the author, but the accompanying blurb promised something interesting. And free’s free, right? So I downloaded the book. The story premise was, indeed, intriguing. The author had a strong voice, and the writing was generally quite good. But overall, the book was a mess. The meandering plot lot was full of holes, the POV shifted randomly, and the protagonist was vaguely drawn. I soon wondered, where was the editor? Need I say that the book was self-published?

Yes, there are some amazing self-published books out there. Quite a few successful, traditionally published authors, like Tim Hallinan and Sue Ann Jaffarian for example, also self-publish some titles, but these are pros who would never make a book available unless it had been carefully edited. By edited, I don’t mean that your mom or your best friend read it, added some commas, and told you it was really, really great. Good editing requires skill, experience, a sharp pencil, and a ruthless, dispassionate eye. Without it, a book is unfinished.

In May, after the usual marathon sessions at the keyboard, I typed The End at the bottom of the last page of Disturbing the Dark, my twelfth book, and handed the manuscript to Meredith, my editor at Perseverance Press. Then I went off to visit family, plant a garden, run the vacuum cleaner, and wait for the copy-edited manuscript to come back so that I could finish my part of the work on the book to make it ready for publication.

Now, with the 4th of July approaching, the copy-edited manuscript has come back, liberally festooned with red pencil and pithy notes that need to be addressed. I always look forward to this part of the process. I haven’t looked at the book since I printed it and sent it on its way. As I read it again after a little time to give me some distance from it, some perspective, I can see where there need to be adjustments, some additions, certainly some cuts. I never met a comma I didn’t like. Or a semi-colon. The book is set in France and liberally salted with French expressions that make it clear that I have forgotten more of my college French than I thought I had. I have confused accents ague and grave to a faretheewell, and Meredith has fixed them. She has also showed me where story needs tightening, where pacing lags, and characters need definition.

I’ll finish my work on the copy-edited work, and it will go back to Meredith for another read through, and perhaps more changes. And then, and only then, will it be a finished, publishable book.

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5 Responses

  1. Meredith is a magnificent editor. Nice to have the best!

  2. Gosh, I’m blushing, Wendy and Shelly 😉 I’m only a good editor of already–excellent writing!

  3. She is indeed. I was lucky to have two great editors. Ruth Cavin, when she was at Walker, pruned 10,000 words from one of my novels. I didn’t want her to and she didn’t want to, but the publisher said it was tooooo long. The heck of it is, the book was better when she had taken her blue pencil to it.

  4. BTW I do know how to spell Shelley’s name. For some reason the E on my kyboard taks more pressur and is oftn skipped.

  5. I’ve been very lucky so far with editors. Sometimes the ego gets bruised, but I’d far rather take a few knocks from a good editor before a book is published than from a reviewer after.

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