MF 236 : The ideal book editor workflow
Part 1: Happy 35th!
This past weekend was the 35th anniversary of the orginal Karate Kid film. If you were on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, over the weekend you may have seen a lot of loving posts about the film. Recently, I’ve talked about the hit series Cobra Kai on a few episodes and I believe the longevity and timelessness of the original film is a big reason why the sequel series is doing so well. I missed the original film when it first came out in theaters but once I caught it on home video it quickly a staple of my childhood. I lost count but I believe the best estimate I can give you is somewhere in high double digits as to how many times I watched the original film and the first two sequels.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s 35 years old. Sure, the film itself is set in the 80s and captures the era perfectly like an old photo album. But it’s the simple yet poignant story, the genuine characters, and the beautiful cinematography and thematic score that gives it a timeless quality. I’d love to know what some of your classic films, shows, or books are from your childhood that still play as if time hasn’t passed at all.
Part 2: The ideal editor workflow
I didn’t intend for book editing to become a mini-series within a mini-series but I’ve gotten such a great response and so many questions on this topic that I wanted to carry on the discussion from the past two weeks. Today, let’s take a look at the ideal editor workflow. I’ll share how Andy and I worked with Megan, our editor, to get Making Fake Star Trek from sloppy manuscript to published book.
A good editor is a project manager
I alluded to this last week but I believe that a good editor should be a good project manager. For Making Fake Star Trek, a book about two fans who got to act in a Star Trek fan film, we saw Megan as the “director” and us as “actors” within a play. The editor’s job is to see the big picture while also being an eagle eye with details.
For our book, we worked close to real-time with Megan going through approximately 5-7 chapters per week for a 47 chapter book. Some weeks it was more, others it was less but that was the average.
Megan handled both line and content editing, doing double duty. For line editing, she came up with her own highlighting system:
Blue: the sentence or paragraph has too much passive voice and should be rewritten or rephrased so it is more direct and succinct.
Red: consider cutting. This is something you should get used to. When you write, you’ll often come up with a sentence or paragraph that you think is literary gold. A good editor won’t be afraid to tell you that it’s got to go. While this can feel a bit heartbreaking at times (I say that half tongue in cheek), take the feedback seriously. Even if it feels painful to let go of one of your literary gems, it’s all in the service of making your book as good as it can be.
Green: Megan also let us know what worked. Andy and I would sometimes have friendly competitions for green marks, like two school kids beaming over a badge. Once you’ve had a sea of blues and reds, a green highlight can be the uplift that will make your day.
Megan had other color codes for other quirks such as removing parens or ellipsis, a habit we fell into a little too often. If your editor uses color code highlighting make sure to memorize what each color means or put a legend on a sticky note so you know immediately what each color means and by all means take it seriously.
Margin notes were a critical part of Megan’s editing process. In addition to or sometimes separate from the highlights, Megan would leave us detailed notes asking for clarification or telling us if something didn’t work. Scrivener and Word both have this function as do many word processors.
A good editor will not rewrite your work. Megan was very careful to give us guidance and suggestions, sometimes with examples, but she never rewrote our work. That is your job as the writer. The editor’s job is to give you feedback and it’s up to you to take those notes or critiques and reshape it or rework it. Or, as the case may be, ignore it. It’s your choice but if your editor is worth his or her salt, you shouldn’t be ignoring a suggestion or critique very often. If you do, address it with your editor with a note or in your debrief.
The most valuable part of the editing experience for us was the weekly check-in calls. We scheduled these calls every Friday after work, when the three of us were available, to debrief; starting with a round robin of progress and status updates, followed by Q&A and conversations about edits. Not all editors do this but truth be told, I’m now spoiled. I wouldn’t hire an editor that wouldn’t have some form of this as part of their service.
As you speak with and vet potential editors to work with, find out what his or her workflow is. How accessible are they? What is their project management style and will it work for you and your book? What kind of value are you getting by placing your dollars and trust in this person?
For those of you interested in working with Megan (and I highly recommend you do), she is now taking on additional clients. You can find out more information at her website: www.meganprikhodko.com.
Part 3: What I’m reading
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (*****) a sweeping story set in Korea during the early 1900s. A young woman becomes pregnant and is abandoned by her lover who happens to be married. She ends up marrying a minister who takes her to Japan. The story spans several generations, detailing a turbulent era filled with war, racial and cultural strife and complex family and intergenerational dynamics. Its sweeping narrative is reminiscent of books like Alex Haley’s Roots or The Godfather. Although it’s not my usual genre, the book kept my rapt attention with its gorgeous prose, which can only be described as a verbal painting, and its dramatic flourishes that keep you on the edge of your seat without becoming cliched or predictable. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly recommend.
Scrivener (available for Mac, Win, IOS) is a book writing program that auto formats for self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP and other platforms. It’s a great tool with rich features that allow co-writers to collaborate through Dropbox. Scrivener has a bit of a learning curve but I’ve been a fan since 2017 and have talked to many authors who use it as their go-to. If you’re interested in Scrivener, you can use the coupon code MOVINGFORWARD to get 20% off your purchase (for Mac or Win). It’s a one-time license fee and available for Mac, Win, IOS.
Note: this section contains affiliate links and coupon codes for which the author may receive some compensation.
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