I love my editors
11 March 2019
I was so nervous when I received the first editorial report on my book that I asked my husband to read it to me (he’s great at filtering the crushing comments and feeding the positives first). It was a mid-way review, carried out by Writers and Artists and it was probably too soon as the book wasn’t finished. But I was eager for feedback. The report wasn’t sugarcoated. I learnt exactly where I was going wrong. Crucially for me, I also discovered what I was doing well. A chronic self-doubter, I need objective feedback to help me reach a balanced view of my writing ability. This early review anchored me.
The second report was the result of a full editorial review by Blue Pencil Agency, following the completion of my first draft. If the first review was too soon, this time I wished I’d done it sooner as it would have provided a detailed framework for the entire revision process. I had already begun submitting and had attracted the interest of a couple of agents. I thought I could do the revisions to the book at the same time. I was wrong.
For a start, I was too caught up in the detail to take an overview. I’d lost perspective and the more I changed it, the more muddled it became in my head it. One such mistake was moving an early scene, introducing a key character, to a later point in the book, which simply didn’t work. It took a frustrating couple of months before I realised that I was tinkering with my manuscript when what it actually needed was a complete structural review. I decided to stop and seek help.
The full editorial report by Blue Pencil Agency was insightful, clear and honest. It included feedback on story and structure, writing style and character arcs. This was the first time anyone, other than myself, had read the whole book through. I was amazed at how the editor was able to see straight into the heart of it. Better than myself at this point. I felt she’d ‘got me’. There were some surprises – weaknesses in my writing I hadn’t noticed before – but for the most part the comments reflected what I had already sensed. A key criticism was that I had too many threads to my narrative. I needed to commit to one and follow it through. It was worth paying for an editorial report for this insight alone! Once I made the relationship between the two sisters the main focus of the book, the story aligned in a much stronger way. Even though it meant a substantial rewrite.
The word rewrite used to terrify me. I thought it meant throwing everything up in the air and starting again. I was more comfortable with the term revisions, which sounded a much less alarming prospect. It explains why I faffed about making the small tweaks to my manuscript that, in the end, proved so ineffectual. I now have a fuller understanding of what a rewrite actually entails. Yes it might mean taking your story in a new direction, creating new scenes and, horror of horrors, ditching those that don’t add anything but I though were great. But it also means building on what is already there.
I commissioned both editorial reports. There was a cost to this but I felt it was a worthwhile investment. For one thing, agents expect to receive a polished manuscript. Having someone cast a professional eye over my body of work was a step towards achieving this. I gained a lot from the individually tailored feedback I received. The biggest benefit, however, was on a more personal note. The editorial reviews were sandwiched between two bereavements. At a time when I found it difficult to write anything, they helped me pick myself back up and go forward with real purpose.