Professional editing of the completed manuscript is a process that most published authors have to endure.  I say ‘endure’ because it involves work on the author’s part and because it involves at least some implied criticism of the author’s work.  However, when it is completed, the process should have added value to the work, making it a better experience for the reader.

I am presently ‘enduring’ the editing of my third novel, and it has been a bit painful.  More on that later.  My first novel, Fishing in Foreign Seas,was edited by a professional, freelance editor to whom I was referred by a company I contacted on the internet.  She returned my manuscript to me via e-mail with the proposed changes tracked in red.  Ninety-nine percent of her proposed changes were perfectly fine.  They included a few spelling errors (where the spell checker let me down), punctuation changes, and some grammatical changes (I have a tendency to use ‘which’ instead of  ‘that’), and a few syntax changes.   She also inserted questions or comments for me to consider in order to improve the clarity for the reader.  Most of her proposed changes were eliminating the second space I like to put at the end of a sentence.  (I think it makes the text easier to read, but editors and publishers don’t like a second space.)  Going through her proposed changes was actually an enjoyable piece of work.  I felt that she had improved what I had written.  So, I accepted 99% of the changes and sent the revised manuscript to my publisher.  The publisher (bless his heart) sent the revised manuscript to another professional editor, who produced about fifty new changes.  Many of these new changes were incorrect, and most of the rest were inappropriate.  So, having conceded on a handful of additional changes, I reminded the publisher that the manuscript had already been edited and that enough was enough.

In the case of my second novel, Sin & Contrition, I decided to use the editor which the publisher recommended in order to avoid the double editing.  The way this process worked was different in the sense that I was expected to make a list of the proposed changes with which I disagreed, but I was advised not to alter the marked up manuscript.  So, I sent the publisher a list of well over one hundred items I didn’t agree with.  A few weeks later I got the manuscript back with all but about ten of my items suitably addressed.  A few weeks after that, the last items were addressed.

The moral I take away from this story is that publishers (or at least my publisher) likes to be in control of the editing process.  It would be a lot simpler if the publisher could bring himself to trust an editor and the author to work together to produce a final manuscript.  After all, the author and the publisher have a common objective: producing a novel which is well and correctly written, and in this process, the editor is a kind of technical adviser.

My third experience with Efraim’s Eye is much more frustrating.  The original manuscript was written mostly in Arial font, but I changed to Lucinda Calligraphy whenever a character is speaking or thinking in Arabic.  The reason for this is to remind the reader not only of the change in language, but to remind him/her of differences in culture and values.  I also like to put characters’  thoughts in italics to distinguish them from the spoke words.  This serves to highlight the dichotomy when a character’s thoughts and his words are in conflict.  It’s also useful to see a character’s reaction to a situation immediately without the need to include “She thought . . .”

Well, the publisher likes to see their books in Times New Roman, which is prefectly OK with me, except to get there, the entire manuscript was converted to Times New Roman before it  went out for editing.  So, at a later stage, I’ll have to go back and check, page-by-page, where Lucinda Calligraphy should be inserted.  Moreover, the editor didn’t like my use of italics in thoughts, so all of that has been put back to plain text.  More page-by-page work to re-instate the italics.

But what I find most frustrating is interference in the author’s creative perogative – as well as lack of professional competence.  For example:

  • making arbitrary changes to a word or phrase which has nothing to do with spelling, grammar, punctuation, or logic, but which the editor happens to prefer.  I tend to write very deliberately; arbitrary changes are seldom improvements
  • deleting descriptive passages which the editor thought were extraneous
  • putting what was intentionally broken English into correct English.  Some of my characters don’t speak good English
  • not listening to the voice of a character: e.g. adding “pm” to a sentence which reads: He said, “I’ll see you at about four.”
  • editorial errors: for example: substituting “where” for “which”, using the plural of a verb when the singular is called for, punctuation errors, failing to capitalise titles and proper nouns
  • inconsistency

There!  I’ve had my rant.  I’ll get over my frustration, and the good side of the editing experience is that the author can learn quite a lot about his craft, his novel and himself.

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