Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Editing

A wise man (let's call him 'Peter') once asked me about the editing process. Or, as he put it, 'so what's it like having someone else tattoo your baby?'

It's a good question, so I thought it might be interesting to run through what actually happens.

It works like this : you might have spent months/years/decades working on your manuscript. By now, you are far too close to it to see what faults it might have.  You are probably blind to its good points as well. It needs a professional to look at it to decide what works well, and what needs a bit of tightening up. And so your publisher assigns an editor to work with you in order to turn a publishable book into a good or - dare we hope -  a really good one.

It's important that your editor understands what type of book you're trying to write. It's even better if you get on well together. And I'm very fortunate on both counts. He's a frequent visitor to Venice, speaks good Italian and understands exactly what type of book it's supposed to be.

So in February I flew back to London for a meeting. We talked over lunch about what things worked and what things could be made better, and agreed (and this is crucial - nobody is going to force you to change anything) on a list of changes. Nothing too major, but this is a flavour of them :-

- Drop the prologue. Or rather, you don't have to drop it altogether, but just work it in as back story later in the book. But get straight into the plot.

- Chapter <x> is too long. It moves the character on, but not the plot. Trim this back a bit.

- There are one too many scenes in the same bar. Drop one of them. (A shame. I really liked the bar. But when I re-read it I had to confess that this particular scene was obvious word-spinning).

- Could you change character <y>? Not very much, but just a bit? And this was the most interesting part of the whole process. I really liked character <y> the way I'd written him. Maybe a bit too much. So how to change him? It involved rethinking the way he looked in my mind. And then it involved rethinking the way he spoke. Nothing too much but - originally - he would rarely use contractions. The revised character does. Little things like that ended up making a difference. And, I have to admit, the new character does work better.

I trimmed away some scenes which - in retrospect - seemed like obvious padding, and added a couple of new ones which I'm very pleased with. And at the end of this process, I had a book which - surprisingly - was slightly longer in terms of word count yet felt a lot tighter. A bit more thriller-y, shall we say.

The next step is the copy-edit; where your editor goes through the revised manuscript and formats everything according to the publisher's in-house standards (dates, italicisation, punctuation, spellings etc.) and marks up those occasional passages which might have clumsy or repetitious language or where something isn't quite clear (for example : "at the start of Chapter <n> you say the protagonist is not at work...and yet five pages later he refers to finishing work for the day").

Once you've approved the copy-edit; you move on to the first proof. This is your last chance to make any minor changes but - by this stage - they really do need to be minor. At the same time, a professional proof-reader is working on the copy. When you've both finished, the changes are collated and reviewed in-house.

And at this point, your work - as author - is done. Step back from the keyboard. If you suddenly think that scene <a> misses something, that character <b> is too weak or that scene <c> goes on too long - it's too late. And, chances are, you're wrong anyway and your editor would have picked it up.

Here's a picture of a present from two dear friends (let's call one "Peter" and the other "Lou") that they gave me on the very day that I received the news about publication.


It travels everywhere with me. By now it contains over 100 pages of almost-legible scribbled plot notes, character descriptions, fragments of dialogue and things that I just thought might come in useful at some point in the future.

Time now to crack on with the next book...

10 comments:

  1. I think I'm going to cry!
    We wish you all the best with your first novel Phil. You are so talented and we just can't wait to get our hands on your book...... Xxx

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  2. Pass the tissues, Lou. Aren't we lucky to know this man (and his lovely wife, not to mention that cute cat).

    Phil, I hope I can ask you to sign my copy of your book next year. Do you have a publication date?

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    1. Awww...thank you both. Publication date will be around the first week of March. I do hope you'll be here.

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  3. Your blog is called "The Venice Project" not the mechanics of book editing. I am very disappointed that your postings in 2016 do not describe your life in Venice as they did in previous years. I now find them extremely boring. I do, however, wish you well with the publication of your book which I hope is set in Venice.

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    1. Hi there. Sorry if you're finding the blog boring these days but,in all honesty, it is an accurate reflection of my daily life in Venice; and inevitably after 4/5 years there is less to be said. And so the blog is now less about the great project of trying to make a new life, and more about daily life that just happens to be in an extraordinary city. Most people's lives are probably a bit dull, but they're interesting to those that live them; and sometimes I just feel the need to write a little bit about it.


      Regarding this particular entry - quite simply a number of readers had asked me to describe the editing process and so I thought I'd put it on the blog. The novel, "The Venetian Game", is a contemporary thriller set in Venice and so I didn't think it was a million miles away from the subject of this blog. Anyway, thanks for your good wishes and I do hope you enjoy the book when it comes out next year.

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    2. Wow. Amazed that someone felt the need to type that out.
      If you want more about the day to day struggles of living in Venice, why not re-read the book? or go and do it yourself*? or if you're really bored, stop reading.

      I'm just really glad you're still blogging Phil, always pleased to see a new entry. And looking forward to the new book too.

      (* something I desperately hope to do myself in the near future, but need a confidence kick to go and get started - might re-read The Venice Project again for some momentum :o) )

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  4. This blog IS NOT BORING! Please don't stop. There is so much more for you and my lovely friend Caroline and we love that you share it ......with your ever increasing readership!

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  5. Thanks all. I'd like to blog more, but there really isn't time at the moment. Hopefully at some point in the future. If there's time I might have a look at reworking the site, or even setting up a new one; stressing the fact that it's "Writing *in* Venice" instead of purely "Writing *about* Venice". We'll see...it's a project for the future anyway.

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  6. I was a bit slow to pick up your latest blog entry, but very interesting to read about the editing process and will be looking forward to obtaining a copy of your book - physically, or electronically (if available). Just realised that when the above reply was written on the 4th August at 16:16, we were just settling in to our top floor apartment overlooking Campo San Bartolomeo, which was to be our home for the next 7 days. Little did we know that later on that evening, two Russian boys would start playing their violins to various backing tracks down int he campo - not a problem in its own right (although it did get a bit repetitive by night 7!!), however, our neighbour, an elderly chap, decided to counter the boys by placing his radio on his window ledge and playing a wide variety of musical styles at full blast to the people passing through, only stopping around midnight! Anyway, to get back to my point, we had a copy of your book with us (I'd already read it, my wife was doing so whilst we were there) and it made it all the better for her to be reading it in the city it was about. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Rob - glad you enjoyed the book! And hope you had a great holiday, despite the music!

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