That was a time when I had to comb every line, weigh every adjective, verb, and preposition; changing just one word can have a dramatic ripple effect.
It was a month full of edits for Scroll and I’ve been very lucky to work with a fantastic editor who is so good at what she does (looking at you, Jess Shulman), which has me thinking about the whole process of giving and receiving feedback.
As an author, freelance substantive editor, and former literary agent, I have experience in getting and giving edits. Substantive editing was my favourite part about being an agent and I think it has made me a better writer. Or at least better at receiving feedback. Here's what I learned.
Tip #1: Go With Your Gut
Edits are supposed to make a book better, but what’s “better” can sometimes be discretionary. When receiving edits there are some you nod in agreement at, some you shrug at and other you vehemently shake your head at.
Tip #2: Let It Mellow
I usually make the changes I’m comfortable with first. Then, I go onto the easy fixes or ones I’m shrugging at. After that, I give myself some time to protest, to rebel, to wonder aloud at the preposterousness of the suggestion (this last one hasn't happened lately). I give it some time to simmer, to mellow.
Tip #3: If It's Not Worse, It's Better
Then I'll go back and see if it’s better with the changes. If I don’t think it’s any worse than the original, then it’s probably better. If, after some time, it still sticks out then go with your writer’s intuition, which you will begin to trust more and more as you gain experience.
You'll start to recognize your voice, your tone, what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Tip #4: Stay Open
Whengivingedits I always like to give the author a choice whenever possible. I also appreciate being given one.
Something about that lets me be more open to the editor's comments and remarks, which is a great thing for a writer to be.
People who are closed off or unwilling to see things from another perspective or take criticism, even in a constructive way, won’t grow as writers.
One of my clients, Pat Oliver, who was very gracious about receiving her substantive edits, took her novel from 140K words to under 100K.
Her book, THE GYNESAURS, was the only self-published book listed for The Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour Award, making it one of Canada’s top 10 funniest books in 2018. See? Listen to your editor. (Read the inspiring interview with Pat here).
Good editors are ghosts. They come, they fix, they are invisible on the page, leaving a writer with their voice intact, with plenty of respect for the writer’s fragile ego. Good writers trust the person who is taking the time and effort to make your work better.
Tip #5: Review It Again In Case Your Gut Was Wrong
My editor at KCP Loft, Kate Egan, (also, the editor of THE HUNGER GAMES, thank you very much) came back to me with a succinct page and a half of notes forSUMMER CONSTELLATIONS.
The copy editor came back with some inline changes. I accepted every edit except one line that I wanted to keep, and I'm happy I kept it. At the end of the day, it’s your story and only you know how you want it told.
As with my book covers, I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible editors. In this business, it really does take a village. A village filled with the best kinds of people, those who are passionate about and love books.
Thank you Kate Egan, Jess Shulman, Colleen McKie and Mandy Schoen, not to mention the agents and interns at The Rights Factory, who have all contributed to helping make my work the best it can be.
So to recap, remember:
Go with your gut.
Let it mellow.
If it doesn’t make it worse it probably makes it better.
Review it again in case your gut was wrong.
And now, back to editing...wish me luck!
Alisha Sevigny is the author of acclaimed YA novels SUMMER CONSTELLATIONS (CBC's Best Books for Kids and Teens 2018 and NERFA 2019 Finalist) and KISSING FROGS. Her anticipated debut middle grade series, SECRETS OF THE SANDS, launches January 2020 with THE LOST SCROLL OF THE PHYSICIAN. Alisha is a freelance editor, former literary agent and Executive Story Wizard at Best. Ever. Productions. Learn more about Alisha at alishasevigny.com.