Edit Early to Keep Your Writing Fresh
John Philip
Published on October 21, 2017
Writing & Speaking / Article Writing

The title may sound almost contradictory to many people. Let me explain.

Recently, I have been editing a children’s novel for a well-known author who likes someone independent to check her work before it goes to her agent and a publishing editor. This is the third time that I have helped her and we have gradually refined our method of working together to get a better outcome. These are not short books, but 80,000 word novels, with complex plots, rounded characters and some quite tricky emotional and social issues.

For convenience in writing as well as her confidentiality, let’s call the author Jane. (It’s as good a name as any.) We have reached a point now where Jane asks me to look at several specific issues:

  • Consistency – e.g. do the characters hold up through the entire narrative? Do events follow on? Are modes of speech maintained?
  • Pace – e.g. is the overall pace right? Does the pace change to give rhythm to the narrative? Would the pace improve with addition or deletion of some scenes?
  • Geography – e.g. does the virtual map make sense? Are travel times appropriate?
  • Complexity – Do the sub-plots improve the whole or distract the reader? Are the moral, social etc. issues okay from the intended audience? Are the grammar and vocabulary at the right level?
  • Spellings, punctuation, grammar, etc. (These, of course, are never finished. Every published book contains at least one typo!)

This is, of course, by no means a definitive list of ‘the role of the editor’. These are the issues for which Jane wants particular help and a different author might well seek alternative input. These are aspects that Jane thinks are especially important or about which she is concerned for some reason. Like any successful professional she knows her own strengths and plays to them, but also takes care that relative weaknesses (and I stress that they are only relative) are rectified.

One might expect an established author to work without the assistance of a freelance editor. After all, the agent and publisher will surely do all that is necessary, won’t they? Well, Jane reckons not. Both agent and publisher (and remember that most agents have come from a publishing house) always have an eye on the costs, the market, publicity etc. They are generally extremely competent, but cannot escape the commercial pressures. These, quite naturally and mostly very helpfully, influence their advice. What Jane wants is independent support first, so that there is less that needs the attention of those who are commercially influenced. This, she says, keeps her books fresh and original while some authors, more reliant on the publishing house for editing, become predictable and stale.

I suppose the message to all aspiring writers (and perhaps some experienced ones) is to get someone to edit your work earlier rather than later. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

John Philip has been a writer, editor and educator for over 30 years. He now provides consultancy and support to businesses, professions, authors and public services and continues to work for befirstgroup.com, which offers writing and editorial services.

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