Making Survival First: Part 6 - Professional Editing
After three years inside the dark cave of my mind I submitted my manuscript.
It was the biggest moment in my idea-baby's journey thus far. I had something I wasn't embarrassed to hand off to a professional editor. Soon I would find out if I had something good, or if I was attempting to give birth to a verbal monstrosity. It was time to find out.
But little ol' me was naïve to the ways of the book publishing world. It turns out I wasn't going to an editor. I was going to have four. Mind you, this wouldn't be four different editors doing the same thing through the same lens. Rather, it would be four different people looking at my manuscript from four different perspectives with four different goals.
I thought this was nuts. Wasn't editing....just editing? How can there be so many different types?
Turns out, there are, and each is critically important for different reasons. In this section I'm going to explain each editing step and how they brought my manuscript to full completion.
Phase 1: Developmental Editing
First is the Developmental edit. This is the stage Scribe refers to as the Hurt Your Feelings edit. Basically, this step looks at the manuscript from the big picture. I would either get the green light to continue on, or find out I was a terrible person and should go hide in a corner and cry. Best to crush my delusions sooner rather than later.
A few days after handing off my manuscript, Mark Chait, my developmental editor had his commentary ready.
His first line floors me. This is really well done, great job.
This was the first time somebody, let alone a professional, read my manuscript. And he liked it...a lot. Mark describes what he likes, and more importantly, what needs improvement. There focuses on issues with formatting, chapter length, story, and resolving inconsistencies.
Overall Mark’s feedback was a bright green light. I wasn't just on the right path - I might have something good. Mark doesn’t actually change anything in the manuscript. Instead he prescribes a plan of attack for the next phase linked here.
Now it was time for Phase 2.
Phase 2: Structural Editing
Developmental editing was the appetizer. Phase 2, the Structural edit, was the main course. This would be the most intense, longest, and consequential of all the editing stages. If I could make it past this one then I would have cleared the biggest hurdle to having a professionally completed manuscript.
Rebecca Pillsbury, my structural editor, took Mark's feedback and spent about a week on the manuscript. It felt like leaving my house for the weekend and giving the keys to a sledgehammer wielding home-improvement junkie. What on earth would I come back to?
I soon found out. Linked here is her feedback.
Rebecca mirrored much of Mark's praise and critiques.
The major difference was that now the manuscript was loaded with Rebecca's red lines and commentary. Since I was self-publishing, I had full control over the manuscript. I could accept or reject whatever she suggested. I wound up accepting almost everything. Some edits, like formatting and sentence arrangements were quick and easy to process.
Rebecca made changes I never would have thought of, but which seemed obvious once she did it. She combined two chapters, cut sentences, rearranged and deleting paragraphs, pointing out inconsistences and detailed where ideas needed more fleshing out.
Other problems needed more heavy lifting. Part 1 of the book specifically, was heavy on ideas, but light on stories. I had to find ways to bring those ideas to life. There was a major structural issue when it came to the RDEE risk formula and how that played out in the book.
It took a long time and brain power to reconcile these larger problems. I found amazing stories to flesh out core ideas and re-wrote the conclusion. I even overhauled chapters that didn't have much commentary once I found better ways to approach them. Time gave my background brain space to find deeper nuance in ideas I still hadn't fully untangled.
It took nearly four months to complete this phase. Interestingly, contrary to what I imagine happens in most editing stages, my manuscript grew by around 10%. By now it was obvious the manuscript was orders of magnitude better than when I first submitted it to Mark. My awkwardly charming Google doc was blossoming into into a handsomely crafted manuscript.
After handing Rebecca back the manuscript with my changes she confirmed I was ready for the next phase. This was a huge deal. The biggest hurdle was complete. For the first time in this whole journey I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Phase 3: Copy/Line Edit
As I was going from Phase 2 to Phase 3, Scribe nearly collapsed and laid off most of their team. Instead of being assigned my next editor, I had to find one myself.
Luckily, Rebecca knew the perfect person to be my Copy-Line editor, AJ Hendrickson. AJ would be combine two different types of editing - copy editing and line editing into one stage.
Broadly speaking, where structural editing is about bigger-picture stuff, copy and line editing are much more detailed. Line editing is about making each sentence is the best sentence possible which involves word choice and sentence construction. Copy editing is more concerned with things like formatting, grammar, and punctuation. I began calling this stage the OCD English Teacher edit.
AJ gets her hands on the manuscript and gets to work. After a week AJ gets back to me with more feedback, linked here.
Structural edits numbered in the dozens. Copy-line edits numbered in the hundreds. There were tons of tiny changes from proper citations standards, commas, dashes, italics, quotations, word choice, and sentence structure.
Going through these changes was much easier. I was able to get through the vast majority of AJ’s changes in under two days. AJ also recognized some bigger picture structural-editing type issues.
She highlighted Part 1's lack of introduction, and other minor inconsistencies with ideas. I got back to work. I added a new part to the conclusion which bow-tied an important part of the book, and made some amusing, yet practical adjustments to Part 1. All in all this phase only took two weeks - one for AJ's work and another for mine.
I hand AJ the updated manuscript and we hop on a zoom call.
It was the first time I saw her in person. AJ was ecstatic. It's fantastic! I LOVE the changes you made! This manuscript has it all. I can hear you. I can sense your voice. That is the hardest thing for authors to do, and you NAILED it!
She was freaking out. I was freaking out.
I think....you're done. AJ says.
I was speechless. It took three years of thinking, writing, tinkering, and countless passthroughs to hand in my self-edited manuscript. It took another six months of more writing, tinkering, editing, and more passthroughs to get here.
Now I had a professionally edited, allegedly fantastic and now locked book manuscript.
Phase 4: Manuscript to Book
The manuscript was done, but the book wasn't. All I really had was a word document (albeit, a gloriously crafted one). Turning that into a real life book would require a whole series of concurrent steps.
One of those is the final-final editing stage - proofreading. Proofreading is the final passthrough once the word document is uploaded into book-formatting software. I'm not there yet as of this writing.
What I had was a manuscript - the most important part of this whole journey.
What I didn’t have was a name.
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