Ramona Richards

Ramona Richards started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. Twenty-five years later, she’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books, she’s now the fiction editor for Abingdon Press. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.

Yes, You Will Be Edited - Part 2

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft."
                                                                                                    —H. G. Wells

You’ve sold! Congratulations! Ready for hard part?

Uh . . . no. You’re not finished with your manuscript just because you sold it. Now comes the first of many rounds of editing. Just remember that writing is solitary. Editing is solitary. But publishing—the blending of the two—is a partnership.

But, first, a pause for a few definitions.

Over the past thirty years, I’ve worked on staff or as a freelance editor for about two dozen publishers. All take a fiction manuscript through similar stages, although the stages may have different names and those names may overlap. But they usually flow like this:

1) The “big picture” edit (also called the macro, content, substantive, or structure edit) takes a look at character arcs, plot structure (and the resulting holes), house or line conventions (such as HEAs, conversions, timelines, faith elements, or endgame weddings). This is when such comments arise as:

Is the dark moment a true abyss or just a wrong turn?
Why didn’t you finish subplot A?
Too much backstory in chapter 1, and your first plot point arrives way too soon.
Why did Sally disappear after page 240?
There’s too much sexual chemistry between your heroine and the hero’s sidekick.
Why is your heroine’s sister pregnant for eighteen months? (Yes, it happens)

2) The “detail” edit (also called the line, content, substantive, or copyedit) is when the manuscript is read for details such as changing eye color, fact versus fiction details, corrections made after the “big picture, etc. This is when you’ll get such comments as:

Chevrolet didn’t make a Corvette that year, and never with a two-cylinder engine.
My guess is that Jeff won’t really be able to pick up a piece of granite the size of a car engine without a little help.
I’m not sure any coastal area of Louisiana could be considered “arid.”
The “west coast” of Florida is a local description that doesn’t include the panhandle. It’s different from “the Gulf Coast,” and they aren’t interchangeable.
Why is your heroine’s sister still pregnant for eighteen months?

3) The “picky” edit (also called the line, copy, or content edit) is when such things as pacing, grammar, passive voice, etc., are addressed. This is when the manuscript may look like a truck ran over it, and you’ll wonder if you forgot how to write or why they bought the nasty thing in the first place.

Once these are complete, your manuscript will be sent to typesetting, and the proofreading stages begin. Some publishers combine 1 and 2; some combine 2 and 3. Some add a fourth, just to be sure, especially if your heroine’s sister hasn’t had that baby yet.

Take a breath. Maybe a cold drink. And don’t give up.

A good fiction editor will be your friend and ally. Her job (yes, I know some editors are male, but it’s not called a “pink collar” profession for nothing) is to work with you to make your book the best it can be. To make your book in your voice soar higher and farther for the readers than you had ever hoped. She’s trained to see the “big picture” that you, the author, may not be able to because of either lack of experience or unfamiliarity with a publisher’s line and house style. (And, no, serial commas are not universal.)

Try to remember that the number of good fiction editors in the U.S. is very small. In terms of other professions, even editorial professions, it’s extremely small. There might be 250 to 300 of us. Maybe. Especially those who can handle a “big picture” edit. And I can count on one hand the number of “picky” editors I trust with a novel.

We do this not just because we love books and words but because we love fiction. And want yours to fly.

Unless they’re trained in the field or are published novelists, English teachers don’t usually make good fiction editors. The same with nonfiction editors or proofreaders who work for the local paper. They cannot make your book “perfect.” In fact, I had to learn the hard way that excellent nonfiction editors can, in fact, be detrimental to a novel—I’ve been known to strip a manuscript of all edits after such an event and start from scratch.

So . . . yes, you will be edited, probably more than you expected. But also don’t be afraid to question changes that you feel go too far. The key is to remember who your readers are. Will the edit help you reach them and keep you from tripping them out of the story? Does it make your book better or just different?

It’s give-and-take. Partner with your editor. Then go on to write the next book. After all, she’s waiting for it.