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.





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6 Responses to Editing

  1. Jane says:

    Is editing a separate course in itself or part of Journalism studies? When Amy did VCE they had “Compulsory Assessment Tasks” known as “CATs” in each subject. If they were not a specific number of words the assessors would stop reading them at the limit. I sat up with Amy many times trying to help reduce her word count and it would take a lot of time and effort. When Tom did VCE they had gone back to exams. Congratulations on the new book, kind regards, Jane.

  2. susan says:

    Hi Jane,
    I’m not sure about journalism – I know a few people who’ve done the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT; you can concentrate on one or other strand. It is hard when you have to keep to a word limit. Writing picture story books is particularly skillful, I think – I’ve done two and I’m not a natural at all – much too wordy – but when you find a perfect one, you can see it’s like poetry – only the perfect word will do, and the pictures have to open out the text not just accompany it. At the bookshop where I work we have lots of new picture story books come and go, but there are a few old favourites that keep selling – like ‘Peepo’, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’…
    I just got my advance copy of my book which is very exciting. It looks just like a real book!!! (After years of A4 pages with scribbles all over them, it’s quite a revelation to see it paged up).
    All the best, Susan

  3. Hi Susan,
    how are you? Congrats on Verity!!!!
    I’ve worked with Mary Verney, isn’t she great? Please say hi next time you’re speaking to her 🙂
    Looking forward to catching up at SheKilda 🙂

    • susan says:

      Thanks for getting in touch, Katherine. Yes, I do sing the praises of the lovely Mary: editing ‘Verity’, she was skillful, helpful and so very NICE about it, too.
      And I’m looking forward to seeing you, too. Not sure what to expect as a children’s writer at a crime writing convention!

  4. Lynn Ward says:

    Hi Susan,
    Congratulations on the new book. I am working with Mary Verney at the moment on a picture book and she has been great. As you said, she is very enthusiastic and appreciative of the manuscript and has given me great advice whilst leaving the creative input up to me. She is helping me mould my story into what I want it to be. I’m very lucky to be working with her.
    Kind regards

    • susan says:

      Thanks Lynn. As I said, I’m inclined to sing Mary’s praises! It has been a really important part of my ‘writer’s education’ to have such clear, focused, sensitive but sensible editing. I am in the middle of revising an adult novel at the moment, and I am using all sorts of skills gained from the Verity experience. All the best for your book, too! Susan

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