EDITING: Basic to the Sublime


It is astonishing to me how I can still find things to edit in my manuscript after 2 years of what I call the “final draft” and multiple editors. Through this process I’ve learned there are different editors for different things.  

Ten years ago, I hired an editor who lived in California.  We corresponded via email and telephone. Beth Leiberman was very helpful pointing out the flaws in the story and encouraging my writing.  Then my sister-in-law, Jeanne Bertke, was enormously helpful in shaping and tightening the story. I felt in good hands with her as she had a long career as a successful magazine editor and did wonders for the manuscript. When I decided to self-publish, my dog-walking friend Liz suggested her mother as an editor.  Frances had been a school teacher and was a stickler for details, as was my own (now deceased) mother. Frances scoured the book for grammar and accuracy, checking all my facts and challenging me on a few. That was great and, according to a published friend, very hard to find someone who will fact check.   

Right now, as I give the chapters a final polish before sending them onto the book designer,  I wanted a proof editor to double-check my finished work, as it’s so easy to miss the most obvious of things when re-reading it again and again. So I asked my published friend, Diana, if she would read it through.  She’s English and I know she’d be very thorough. But she couldn’t because she was leaving for a trip.  However, she suggested our mutual dog-walking friend, Gerry, who had been a newspaper copy editor for a long time, at the WSJ I believe.  So I asked Gerry and he said he’d take a look at the first chapter (which I’d combed through 9 times in preparation for the final final version.)  

Honestly, I didn’t see how he’d find anything to change (cheeky girl that I can be) but he returned the first chapter with red marks right from the git go.

Red marks can be frightening.  The stomach plunges, the heart cringes, the mind protests. Despite those feelings, I scrolled down and saw, on the whole, the edits were minor. But when I looked closer I saw how major they were!  Gerry had made really fine edits in word choice, removal of a dash, addition of an exclamation point, pointing out confusing and conflicting bits and pieces – which all brought crispness to the copy.  I was very, very pleased and felt I’d struck pay dirt.

I tried to copy and paste a sample of his sublime edits but the color didn’t translate. But here are a few of his word edits:

Mine: the crescent shaped rock–          Gerry’s: the crescent of rock —

Mine: Gamma’s jaw opened.                    Gerry’s: Gamma’s jaw dropped.

Mine: “I’ll not have it mar her chance -” Gerry’s “I’ll not have it rob her chance -”

Simple changes with big impact and I’m excited to have Gerry on my side, with his finesse.

How to pay him?  Well, I’ve not a lot of money so I offered $10 per chapter or wine.  He chose wine.  I think that’s a fair swap.  Here’s what he had to say about the barter:

Hi Laura.
I’m glad and relieved that you liked my edits. I was afraid you’d see the red marks (in the first sentence, no less!) and balk. It really was very minor stuff; your writing is so strong and engaging. Still, I think such little edits are the difference between a very good product an an excellent one.
I want to do this project. For several reasons. First and foremost the aforementioned: Your writing is very, very good, and I have just enough ego to think I could add that infinitesimal nudge that tips it over into excellence. Second, I’ve always believed my editing skills, honed in the quotidian world of newspapers, are really best suited for “literature,” where finesse is as important as precision, yet I’ve never edited a book. So when yours becomes a huge hit, I can claim it on my editing resume, and who knows where that might lead? Third, I’m hoping to learn a thing or three from you about the process of e-publishing, as I have a half-finished book of my own and a book I’m editing (more like rewriting than copy editing, actually), for an old friend who is a newspaper photographer, and I think digital is the way to go for us both.   
That said, let’s get it on!

And on we are getting. Looks like a wine-win for all and I’m mighty happy about that!

How about you?

  • Have you had a lot of editors look at your project?
  • Are you hungry for a good editor?
  • Have you had difficulty finding a perfect editor for your work?
  • Where have you looked for an editor and what did you find?

xo Laura



Filed under EDITING

11 responses to “EDITING: Basic to the Sublime

  1. Laura –
    When’s the next the post coming? 😀

  2. I’m preparing an out of print backlist title for Kindle, and even though I had a great editor at my publishing house, plus two proofreaders, I’m finding mistakes in the published copy. I don’t think there’s such a thinkgas a “perfect” copy.

  3. It sounds like a wonderful book.

    I’ve been working on my first book for seven years now (had four people help edit it), and my second book for three years. Isn’t it crazy how something can always use more polishing LOL!


    • It’s astonishing how one can look at something and think it’s just right and then see new things you never saw before. Honestly, it seems neverending. Jean Auel (Earth’s Children Series) just had an interview on Good Reads where she said: once it’s published, I say it’s done. Then she said she wanted to re-read the first in the series (clan of the cave bear). I’ll bet she sees a ton of desired edits – but you know what? We got the jist (and loved it) anyway. Thanks for your comment! Keep on Keeping on !

  4. Laura,
    I think this is an excellent and valuable post. I appreciate that you have several editors. I’m not sure everyone gets this.
    Regarding your comment above, I too am just needing to move forward. I’d love traditional but I have a good friend who found an agent and still nothing happened. So I’m moving forward.
    Regarding editors, this is my experience. I’ve had one reader since the beginning. Not only does she know my characters intimately, she’s a killer detail person. She can watch a movie once and give you a list of editing flaws: hairstyle not consistent; blouse buttoned differently; day-light; period-costume errors. You name it, she’ll notice it. It’s incredible and so I find myself not resting on her prowess but trying to give her such clean edits she can’t find anything!
    I have another reader who is the most prolific reader I know. She was my boss at the library and is the guru on book suggestions. My novel type isn’t her usual cup of tea but she’s engaged and honest.
    My grammar tech is the mother of a dear friend. Both women are brutally honest and killer with grammar. If you can’t handle it, don’t ask them!
    However, I won’t let them see my novel until I’ve had my final reader, another writer who is also brutally honest, finish reading. I’ve paid none of these amazing people but I like the idea of sending them bottles of wine for their assistance.

    • Ellen – I think we have the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Send me a private message – http://www.lauramatsonhahn@gmail.com and tell me where you are located. Lots of symmetry here. THANKS for connecting. xo

    • Ellen: Let them see it. Let their response guide your edits. Let it lessen your work load. Editing is a joy to me. But my biggest joy is the creating — the characters, the situations, the details, the aha’s, the slitherings from one situation to the next. Let your best editing friends take care of nuts and bolts as you go along because you gig is the design. Does that make sense? xo

      • Laura,
        Thank you. You’re right. I need to let go a little and let the information come back to me. I’ve agreed to a ‘hands off’ date with my main reader. I’m constantly editing while she’s reading and she wants me to bugger off.
        You know, I’m sure I’m fussing so I don’t have to really dig into something else. This novel is so familiar, so comfortable that I LIKE finding that sentence that I can polish yet again.

  5. jennymilch

    What a great vote of confidence, Laura, in addition to a final jolt for your work. It sounds like you’re doing everything right. This is something I’ve thought a lot about, because for years now as I’ve been aiming at the majors, I’ve been lucky enough to have agents and then editors help me hone my novel(s). If I strike off into the brave new world of a less traditional route, how will I recreate that? I have my agent, luckily–can’t imagine sending off a book without her. But it sounds like you’ve hop-scotched your way to a really stellar group of “trustys”. Best of luck with your release–I will look for it!

    • Let’s talk, Jenny. You have an agent! That’s huge! I’m taking this route because I just didn’t want to wait any longer. I really want to write the second book in the sequence, so I’m making the first one to get it out of my hair. I would love to go the tradtional route – but Fiction isn’t easy to market in this current marketplace so publishers aren’t jumping through hoops. I figure if I build up an audience and have two books in hand, maybe I’ll be in the right place when the market turns upward again – which I believe it will. OR, by then, maybe I’ll be just fine doing my own thing. It’s all a guess so in the meantime – I’m dancing as fast as I can. Thanks for checking in. BTW – always looking for a good agent recommendation if you think it might be a good fit. That’s key! Thanks. Laura

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