The joy of editing a book

Allison Tait blog
Posted on August 3, 2011

Does anyone ever really tell you about the pain of editing a book?

I am working on the edits for my working mum book (out January 2012, did I tell you?). If anything could be described as painful, but necessary, edits are it.

As are visits to the dentist, but that’s another story.

When you send off a manuscript, you send off something that you believe is as good as it can be. And then it is edited by a professional editor, and the results sent back to you. At which point you realise just how far from ‘good as can be’ your original was.

There is nothing fun about it. There’s a lot of sighing and groaning and ‘why can’t they see what I meant there?’ going on.

But I soldier on with the implicit understanding that all of this hard work is making my book better. As good as it can be.

Having worked as both a sub-editor (line by line, comma by comma) and a features editor (overall flavour, tone, style), I have the deepest respect for editors of all types. For the most part, they are not out to get you (though there are exceptions to every rule). They want to help you make your book sing. Opera. In Italian, if necessary.

When I wrote my first full-length novel, I was advised to send the finished manuscript to a structural editor for feedback before I submitted it to publishers. I sent it off, full of confidence that it would come back with a note saying ‘perfect, don’t change a word’. It came back. I cried.

After I rewrote the book, I could see where I’d gone wrong. I learned so much, developed so much as a writer. So much so that my new novel, nearly complete, is absolutely perfect. Right up to the part where I send it off for a structural edit…

In the meantime, however, I am secretly pleased that the amount of ‘red pen’ on the working mum book is nowhere near what I might have expected. It doesn’t make the actual process any easier, but at least there won’t be blood on the pages this time.

And I know that, when I’m finished, the book will be as good as it can be.


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  1. Donna

    I’m trying to toughen my skin for the same treatment, when my time comes. Even now, when my husband, an editor, proofs some of my stuff, I end up teary. Need harden up, I know! But as for you, your writing really does sing – I predict amazing things ahead in Fibroland x

  2. Patrick

    I was just thinking about the writing process the other day, and I recalled a familiar phrase I always hated so much: “Kill your darlings.”

    Sometimes, you have to delete the little things that you were so convinced were clever. I always hated doing that, but that was the kind of thing that I’d see marked off in red any time someone edited something for me.

    We live and learn.

  3. artistsroad

    Great post! Writing really is in the revising, and it’s always painful when you think you’ve revised it to perfection and an editor shows you how far you have to go. I just went through that with my first MFA packet; I was so proud of what I had written, inspired by the MFA residency, and my instructor pointed out so many areas where I fell short. And now? I’m making sure I address those in my second packet, and will prepare myself for a new list of fall-shorts in that review!

  4. Jo

    Oh feeling the pain of tracked changes with you big time! Hurrah for seeing less red.(And bring on the book!)

  5. Kymmie

    Ugh. I don’t know how you do it. If writing a book wasn’t hard, re-writing the edits sure is. I regard you in the highest esteem. Bloody hard work this writing gig.

    Hang in there. And remember, no tissues needed. xx

  6. MummyK

    Do they still use red pens? My editor uses red font when editing my copies. Still hurts as much as a red pen but all for good growth.

  7. Madam Bipolar

    Congratulations to you. Bright things ahead.

  8. Lisa

    How exciting to even finish a manuscript ready for editing! All the best with the rest of the process.

  9. thepowmill

    I hope it doesn’t turn you off of that beautiful colour red . Hoping I will get the opportunity to read one of your books . Your blogs are always inciteful .

  10. Annieb25

    Your posts always make me want to keep writing. Thank you xx

  11. Catherine

    I know when you’re living it it can be dreary but as someone still in the dreaming stage it sounds wildly exciting! To even be able to use the words “working with an editor”- how wonderful.

  12. Melissa

    Is it terrible that I actually think I’d make a much better editor than I would a writer? I wish I could write. I wish I could come up with an idea for a story on my own. But it doesn’t seem to happen for me.

    Excited to see and hear more about your book!

  13. Veggie Mama

    Necessary but painful process. Hope it’s over soon x

  14. Rhonda

    I can’t wait to see your finished works sans red ink. I am sure they will be fabulous!

  15. InkPaperPen

    How exciting! Cant wait to see the finished product. I love the peak into the writing world we get on your blog. It’s a great place to learn about the reality of being a working writer


  16. Mum on the Run

    Looking forward to reading you!
    I have a dream of becoming an editor. One day I will do something about it.

  17. Ms Styling You

    I wish I still had an editor looking over my work. I’m great at finding the mistakes in others’ work; just skim over mine!

  18. ClaireyH

    I am so glad I am not a writer. So much work for so long for one book.

  19. Kelly Exeter

    Thanks for the insight Al … I am learning so much from reading your posts!

  20. MultipleMum

    Good luck Al. I hope you can stick with it and get the result you deserve x

  21. Jodi @ The Scribble Den

    I too have ultimate respect for editors, proofreaders, grammar experts. Such a hard and tedious job, but one that myself, as a writer, can learn so much about my writing and myself as a writer.
    Can’t wait for your books Al, they will be perfect I’m sure!

  22. Cate

    Having worked as an editor (science text books…yawn) I know how much easier it is to cull other people’s work. No sentimental attachment to the words and the loveingly crafted phrases. Just nope, nope, nope, too wordy, nope, gone, done.
    It takes a huge amount of trust to allow someone else to have even a little control over your baby. I know the finished product will be outstanding.

  23. Lady Estrogen

    Isn’t it only worth seeing in Italian? hehe.

    Ahhh, editors. I love the pretty red all over my pages. I think I like the colourful additions… then, I die a little on the inside. LOL

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