Jane Sullivan’s column in the March 26th Saturday Age was called ‘Solving the mystery of what editors do’. She’d read an article from the Toronto Globe and Mail, which talked about the way the economic downturn has forced many publishers to lay off editors. In what she calls ‘an intriguing and somewhat disturbing trend’, some authors are actually hiring an editor before they submit their manuscripts. She says ‘this calls into question the whole business of what an editor does. Apart from the authors and editors themselves, nobody seem to know – or care – what editors do.’
Well, I know. And care. This week at last my new children’s novel The Truth About Verity Sparks went off to the printer’s, and it’s quite different (and a lot better) than the manuscript that was accepted by Walker Books in the middle of last year. It’s a lot better because I had the very good luck to have a wonderful editor at Walker; her name is Mary Verney and I’ve thanked her in the acknowledgments because she combined fantastic attention to detail PLUS genuine enthusiasm. I felt as if she loved my story and my characters and really wanted the book to be the best it could be. All that is very warm and fuzzy – and I do feel very warmly grateful and appreciative – but the cold, hard facts of the editing process is that it’s lots and lots of very hard work. And I couldn’t have done it by myself. It took someone else to see that I had too many characters; that the story didn’t need one particular chapter; that the readers needed to know what my little heroine was thinking and feeling at certain points; that I needed to cull my exclamation points, look for alternatives for the word ‘look’ (both so so hard!) and change certain too-often repeated sentence structures.
Jane Sullivan quotes Mandy Brett, an editor at Text Publishing; ‘Your job is to make something perfect… It is not possible.’
Well, my editor and I had a very good go at it. Even on the very last day before it went to the printer’s, we were weeding out repetitions and even a few continuity failures (timelines, anyone?). I felt like we could have gone on forever, and I am very glad we didn’t! (Oops, another exclamation. It’s a hard habit to break). I learned so much from working with Mary that really, it was like an extended workshop. I’m grateful that the people at Walker saw the possibilities in the manuscript and were prepared to invest the time and money into the editing.
Jane Sullivan concludes that ‘writers are beginning to break the silence around editing, acquiring the confidence and humility to admit that thought their books are all their own work, the extra work an editor prompts may make a huge difference’.
Indeed. And I hope that Australian publishers will not follow their Canadian counterparts any time soon.