I was on my way out the door last week and got a text from my editor. She’s also my publisher – The Cuba Press is a small but very cool Wellington firm. “Can you zoom?” she asked.
Yes. Always. That’s the answer you give when your editor asks if you are free. Because when it comes to a book, your editor is your best friend.
Mary and I have zoomed a lot over the last month as my book, Jerningham, got reader-ready. Before that it was a year of emails and calls, with Word docs going backward and forwards and intense conversations about character and journey and context and everything else that goes into a book to make it work. And there is a lot. Blistering hours of it.
The big structural stuff comes first. I didn’t have to kill off any characters but we shuffled the start around many times, tightened the middle, worked on the ending. The hard editing work comes with line editing but if, like me, you like playing with words, it is just the best fun. My manuscript came back in chunks with thousands of comments and suggestions: do this with dialogue; this is awkward; slow this down; speed this up; too many adjectives; trust your readers–show them a dilemma and let them work it out for themselves.
Trust your readers. Great advice from an editor.
After the structural and the line editing comes the nitty gritty of proof-reading: grammar, punctuation, consistency, macrons and finally the manuscript goes to design where it is massaged onto the page. Not an orphan or widow (dangling single word lines at the top or bottom) to be seen. And then edited again.
For me, the editing process was the best part of the whole experience of birthing a book. I probably said that about the research and the writing and the workshopping and the after-class-pub-sessions but I’ve forgotten all that now because the editing was just so much fun. It’s like having a right gossip with a bunch of really smart people about a world you’ve invented.
So last week when Mary asked me to zoom, I was there. I found her dancing around the office with the first copy of my first book in her hand and waving it at me. That’s another thing an editor does: gets as excited about your book as you are (or maybe I’m just very lucky there). The editing process had taken my scrappy manuscript apart, knocked all the rough edges off, and rebuilt it and polished it into something of which I am very proud.
That’s what an editor does. Makes you look better.
Pictured are the team from the Cuba Press: Paul Stewart, Mary McCallum, Roger Wheelan and Sarah Bolland. That’s me in the middle with the book.
Jerningham will be published by the Cuba Press in June 2020.