This is the exhausted and euphoric face of a post-edits author (it's also our wedding anniversary, in Hobart, which is also exactly two years to the day after Penguin emailed me their publishing offer, in a very satisfying piece of serendipity.)
I’d signed as an author with one of the major publishing houses. I had my dream agent, who was 100% behind me and my work. My years of hard work had paid off, crossing the right desk at the right time. All I had to do now was wait for the champagne hangover to subside. Right?
Of course, wrong. Sure, that heady moment must be celebrated with all the ferocity of a lifetime of waiting, and rightly so. It's a momentous achievement. But the real work is just beginning. It’s time to meet your editor and commence The Edits.
Oh, the edits.
Edits might be the bane of many an authorly life but make no mistake - they’re a vital, indispensable part of making a book as good as it can be. Editors don’t write a single word of your book, but they cut and hone and polish. They slice away the blurriness around your words and make them sing. They are MAGIC.
They’re also taskmasters. They crack that whip with the sweetest of smiles and you find yourself scurrying to do their bidding, even as your heart sinks at all that red. Because they’re right, dammit, they’re RIGHT. I agreed with 99% of their suggestions and even as you throw your hands up you know that they’ve hit so many nails on the head that they could sideline as carpenters.
There are three broad stages of editing a novel. I think of it as a camera starting far out and looking at the whole panorama, and gradually zooming in until you’re scrutinising each and every word on the page.
First up, the structural edits. These are the big, chunky ones that look at the overall story structure, the narrative arc, events being in the place they should be, where to start and finish the story. At this stage, your editor stands back and takes a long view. For me, these edits are the most exciting and also the most galling. This is where the darlings get decapitated by the dozen, but it’s also the stage where you have a kind of story doctor looking over your shoulder with a critical eye. THIS is your big chance to fix the weak links and make those sections not quite working as they should really sing.
My book was merrily chopped up in this process; several chapters were banished to the care of Book 2 and my ending was a couple of chapters earlier than I’d thought. I’d also written one exhausting day that never seemed to end, covering an unfeasible amount of activity between sunrise and sunset, so I had to introduce an additional nightfall so everyone could rest! Some sections - like the prologue - remained untouched, which was gratifying, but it was both exhilarating and terrifying to watch an expert editor slice and dice your precious novel with the almost rough deftness of a midwife flipping a newborn over to examine it.
The structural edits require some big thinking as they often involve re-shuffling of scenes and even characters, which means that the whole story has to settle into a new shape. I went for lots of long, pondering walks at this time (a lot of this part was in lockdown, so there wasn’t much else to do anyway.) It took a couple of passes, but the end result was a gratifying improvement.
Next up, the copy edits. These zoom in to sentence level - phrasing, repetition, writing tics you didn’t know you had (if my characters shake or nod their heads any more they’ll need a chiropractor); consistency in clothes, where they are in the room, that sort of thing. Amy, my genius editor, returned the copy edits in a marked-up Word document with detailed comments. It was my job to go through and accept or reject each of the suggested changes. I accepted nearly all of them and made a few of my own - it’s a huge job, painstakingly combing through the work line by line and polishing it to the highest gleam possible. Hard work, but also immensely satisfying.
Once we had a version we were happy with it was time for the next stage - proofreading. The proofreader combs through for final spelling mistakes, punctuation boo boos, grammatical errors, etc. While she was doing this, Amy sent me a master pdf of the typeset pages to check through. The typeset pages look like the actual book, complete with little lantern chapter headings and page numbers. It was so strange seeing it like that, as if my messy baby had suddenly grown up and put on a fancy suit. It was also extraordinary how you saw it anew - I spotted typos and things that needed changing immediately, as if for the first time, even though we’d all read these words over and over again.
A day or so later the proofreader sent through her set of edits. My job now was to go through the changes and check I was happy with them all. The proofreader, Vanessa, was brilliant - she’d had many years of experience, which made her comments even more gratifying: Please find attached the proofread PDF for When Days Tilt. This is such a fabulous read, and absolutely gorgeous writing - so many of the descriptions utterly floored me, the text is exquisite!
(I was so grateful to Amy for sending me that email - I’d been getting very nervous about launching my baby into the world and those words shored me up.)
Again, I accepted pretty much all the edits and sent them back.
Very quickly - the speed of this part of the process kept taking me by surprise, as it had been so slow and lumbering up until now - Amy sent me a clean, final typeset version, looking as it would in the final book. Seeing it laid out like that was an almost visceral shock, as if the whole process until this point had been a rehearsal and now here was the star with a full face of make-up.
A nanosecond later, Amy told me the files had been uploaded to the printers.
I felt a real lurch of panic. There was no going back. My long laboured-over book was about to head out into the world in its beautiful cover.
It was done.
The time had come to let go and hand book baby to to its future readers, who are the point of it all, after all.
I took a deep breath to quell the butterflies, remembered the importance of celebrating each and every milestone, and opened another bottle of champagne.