Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thrilling Journey by Shelley Kenigsberg

It's a thrilling journey — the author–editor relationship.

You’re working with an editor? Great. Having an editor can mean an interesting (even exciting) collaboration is on its way. A journey with a professional who can help a writer make their story the best it can be.

A good editor knows how to ‘do the needful’ and do no harm.

Those delightful three words were the instruction, in my early days of editing, from an Indian writer who’d submitted an article to a biochemistry journal. He was well-published, so this wasn’t an expression of his lack of confidence; rather, his trust that I would do precisely what was needed. That, as well as his charming expression, was a filip to this beginning editor and has been my guide ever since. Over the many genres and years, and through an array of writers at different stages of their careers (or confidence in their writing) it never fails to be just the right guidance.

If a writer’s lucky, they will have a few edits — the big picture edit (structural or substantive) where an editor might find the third chapter really should be the first and the beginning is not that well begun. Here, we pick up inconsistencies and plot holes or problems with point of view… It’s here an editor sees that sentences and words are beautifully located. Then, the line edit (copy editing or micro-editing) is the fine detail process: standardising spelling and punctuation and style.

There are some who think editors are sensorious, nit-pickers and deserve the label ‘punisher and straightener’ (Paul Keating, for one). Nobody wants that. Least of all the editor who, very often, is cajoling the next version of a manuscript from a writer. And while editors are going to change words and phrases, it is always to make the author's meaning as clear as possible; to save readers from editorial inconsistencies that, at best, distract them from the content and, at worst, cloud the author's meaning.

Good editors don't make gratuitous changes.

But by being close to the manuscript, editors pick up many things. And they can point to sound reasons for every change they make. By reading widely, we understand and feel the genre of the manuscript. And by reading deeply and closely, so we find the gems in the manuscript we’re engaged in and identify the ‘not-so-sparkly’.

Often, when suggesting changes, we’re the ‘ahem’ in the margin, asking that the writer look again at what didn’t quite work. And, when that nudge helps a writer find an even better solution than they first thought possible, that’s a thrill. A good editor respects the writer's voice and role and knows  ‘the work belongs to the author’.

Good editors know that writing books, like Olin Miller said, is the second hardest occupation in the world. The first? Wrestling crocodiles.

A good editor will understand the pains a book takes to come into being and — here the metaphors go all ‘midwifey’ — help birth it. (It often does take nine months from manuscript to published book.)

So, what else do editors know?

Editing is as complex and fascinating as creating a garden. ‘Without the weeding, and removing of fallen branches, or planting of exquisite seeds to flower, the garden lies as a tribute to potential, but not much else.’

So, if your journey in writing means working with an editor, I hope you get to work with a great one. Someone who can make that phase fun, a creative time where two people recognise and exploit (in the best sense) the other’s talent.

While an edit is tough and can be testing at times, a good edit is always worthwhile.

About the Author

Shelley Kenigsberg loves working as an editor, writes and teaches editing and writing. She runs editing and writing workshops in paradisiacal settings: 

Shelley’s worked in publishing for 25 years.  As proprietor of S K Publishing, in Sydney — a freelance editing and publishing business, Shelley works as editing and writing mentor, and project manager for a diverse and fascinating list of books and written projects.  Lately, Shelley has been a co-writer/ghostwriter on memoir projects. 

Before going freelance, she worked in-house with Harcourt Brace, John Wiley, Harper Collins and Macquarie University. She has been Head of Macleay College’s Editing Diploma for the past 21 years and led long and short courses for editors, writers, language institutes, private corporations and literary festivals in Australia, Indonesia, Japan and South Africa.

Hmm, children's books I like... I adore anything by Russell Hoban... the Frances series is amazing and the one for older children, The Mouse and his Child... Then, there's A Crock of Gold by James Stephens; there's... Neverending Story by Michael Ende... there's Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster... there's one I've just read that I adore by Susanne Gervay, Ships in the Field... and... oh my... Isaac Campion by Janni Howker... and...and...

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Shelley. First, I need to say that I am responsible for any editing errors that may remain in Shelley's post! Shelley did point out a few in the preview I sent her but was otherwise a generous and helpful guest author. I expect that she'd be a fantastic editor - able to immediately identify the things that really matter and sort them out before they turn into mountains. I can see from even this small experience that I could learn A LOT from working with an editor.

    I think also, in these days where self-publishing is increasingly common, the impartial eye of an editor could be invaluable to authors. Knowledge, experience and fresh eyes - so important.