The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing

“What was it like working with Amazon Publishing?” “Did it bother you to lose control?” “Is it still the same story?” 

These are some of the questions I’ve received since my novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Since the editing process is complete, this is a good time to report on how it went.

When I published Go Away Home last July, it was as good as I could make it. I’d hired a professional for cover design, copyediting and proof reading. I felt good about my debut effort.

Editing to make it shine.

Editing to make it shine.

Even so, when Jodi Warshaw, senior acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing approached me, she talked about how another round of editing could make my story really shine.

I was not offended by the implication that the novel didn’t already shine. It attracted her attention, that was good enough for me. In fact, I was excited to to see what new eyes and additional professional editors would suggest. From my perspective, good can always be better. Warsaw assured me I’d be involved every step of the way and I was. Here’s how it worked.

Developmental Edit: “Trim” is such a gentle word. Much kinder, much easier to hear than “Cut,” “Slash” “Eviscerate.” My developmental editor Amara Holstein suggested “trimming” so often I found myself laughing. She suggested changes that tightened the writing in ways I’d never imagined possible. She challenged me when characters acted out of character, when I over-explained, when I didn’t give readers enough credit.

Amara and I spoke on the phone before she began her work. After she sent her comments to me, she remained available by phone and email to clarify, respond to my probes, and react to approaches I took in rewriting sections. She was encouraging, helpful, professional. I learned a ton that made this novel better and will improve my future writing.

Copyedit: While not near as intense or time-consuming as the developmental edit, the copyedit was equally valuable. Where the developmental edit looked at the big picture, my copy editor Kirsten Colton delved into details. Colloquial word use. Consistency of use. Transitions in and out of flashbacks. Use of em dashes. She discovered several words that were out of historical context – some by only a couple of years – words I never thought to question. This was a tad embarrassing since I thought I’d been so careful about being historically accurate. Again the importance of another set of eyes.

An amusing thing happened in the copyedit: where Amara trimmed with vigor, Kirsten encouraged fleshing out – more historical detail, more character description. Their suggestions were not inconsistent, simply focused on different things. Reviewers who mentioned wanting more historical detail will be happy with these additions.

Proofreading: This is the step of the process I’m most clear about since I’ve done proofreading myself as a magazine editor. A set of eyes looking at copy with a magnifying glass. Is everything absolutely perfect – spelling, grammar, punctuation, page layout.

Each of the editors had plenty to say, and I seldom disagreed with their suggestions. The editing process was not easy. At each stage, I had two weeks to make changes, write, re-write and return the manuscript for the next phase. I believe it was worth every minute of effort.

I was impressed with the team of editors that worked with me to ready Go Away Home for re-launch in July. Going in, I thought I would get push back from the developmental and copy editors on changes I made or didn’t make based on their comments. Quite the contrary. When I asked Warshaw if this was common, she said: “We want the author to be in favor of all changes and don’t want to change their vision or voice.” Errors excepted, of course.

The whole process made me think of a dedicated effort to get in shape physically. Trainers look at the big picture and what you want to accomplish. They recommend exercises to strengthen here, reduce there, tighten, trim. The person getting in shape is involved every step of the way and must do hard work to recognize the benefit. When you stick at it in the gym, you come out a better you.

Having been through the entire editing process, Go Away Home is stronger, tighter, a little shorter here, a little longer there. Is it the same story? Yes, only now it shines a little more.

How committed are you?

Many indie authors choose not to shell out for an editor. But the right relationship can make writing soar.

Not the tiniest piece of crap eluded her. She invariably landed squarely on what was wrong and left me to face it down, if I could.”Author Philip Roth speaking about his editor Veronica Geng

Authors who sign with a publishing house work with an editor. Beyond the requirement to work with an editor, they know they need an editor. Even authors like Philip Roth who is, according to a recent article in The New Yorker, “ruthlessly self-critical while he is writing.”

file000578415400

Offering the best chance to take off and soar.

A good editor can see flaws the author can’t and has a relationship with the author that allows for honest feedback and discussion. The result? A book worthy of the reader’s time and money.

From the beginning of my journey into writing historical fiction, I anticipated working with a professional editor. But, unlike authors who work with a publishing house, we indie authors go into our own pockets to hire editorial services.

More than once along the way, I wondered if it was worth the investment. After all, I had worked through my manuscript with my writing partner, two groups of beta readers, other historical fiction authors, and finally my own writing skills honed by years in the editor chair myself. Did I really need yet another set of eyes looking at things?

Whenever I wavered, I returned to my goal in writing my upcoming novel “Go Away Home” — to tell the best story I can and write it as well as I can. In my heart, I knew that included an editor.

As I prepared to choose an editor, serendipity lead me to Jenny Q, an editor who specializes in historical fiction. When all other things are equal, it made sense to have an editor attuned to questioning anachronisms and historical facts.

I hired Jenny Q  for copy editing and she delivered that. She smoothed out choppy and disjointed places, suggested more appropriate word choices, questioned and clarified when my meaning grew hazy. She also did more. While I had not hired her for a developmental edit, she pointed out several places where the story would benefit from slowing down and building more emotional depth into my main character. We talked through those places, batting ideas back and forth.

Instead of being discouraged to find I need to write several more scenes, Jenny’s willingness to talk through her thoughts and my reactions, plus her encouraging feedback, has me eager to get back to the keyboard to make my story soar. As I write these new sections, Jenny will continue as my partner, copy editing to ensure each new scene fits smoothly into the whole.

After working with the same editor for ten years, author Amy Tan‘s longtime reader, editor and friend died. For twelve years, she was without an editorial partner. When her new book “The Valley of Amazement” was an idea, she was ready for a new editor. “I don’t care what the money is, I want an editor. I want the best editor for myself,” she says in a Wall Street Journal article.

Now that I’ve worked with a good editor, I understand the value authors like Philip Roth and Amy Tan find in these relationships. Professional copy editing gives me confidence my book will be what I set out to write. Now I can’t imagine publishing a book without it.

How about it indie authors? What has your experience been with editors? Have you used one? Why or why not?