02 October 2010

Con report day 4: part 2

"Editing the novel" with Simon Spanton, Zoe Walton, Jean Johnson and Ginjer Buchanan.

Buchanan said that Jack [I'm thinking Dann, but it wasn't specified, or if so I didn't record it] once turned in an 800-page book, and she told him to cut it because it was 200 pages too long, which he did, but when he tells the story he says that she said there's no 800-page book that wouldn't be better as a 600-page book. She couldn't remember saying that, but it seemed she still agreed with it.

Spanton said he had one book he was editing that was too long and so he took two lines off every page and made further suggestions for cutting and returned it to the author, and the second draft came back 10,000 words longer than the first. [I'm glad I'm not the only writer who is capable of that!] He reminded us editors in the audience that he never has a better suggestion for fixing a problem than the author's -- that editors are not there to be creative alongside an author but to shift an author's creativity. I've never quite thought of it that way.

Johnson had a similar story of an author lengthening a book they were supposed to be cutting, whereas Walton said as a YA editor she was often looking for ways to make a book chunkier.

Buchanan talked about the other ways to finesse length: smaller typeface, adding lines to page lengths, running-in chapters etc. She has one author who always writes over but doesn't like rewriting, but rather than leaning on the author, she tells the agent that that's fine but the paperback will cost so much extra. The agent will then say they can't have that and will get the author to make the changes. Sneaky! But good.

Spanton talked about using big margins to make a book fatter. He said this can be advantageous because readers feel like they're getting through it more quickly, and therefore it must have flowed well and been a good read. [And I was sitting there thinking: and that may be so, but I always feel ripped off!] Buchanan added that editors aren't doing authors a favour in saying the book needs another 10,000 to 20,000 words if the story doesn't need it.

Spanton discussed how different parts of the market have different requirements -- he'd given a writer a brief for a book with economically drawn characters in a complex plot that really shifts, but some reviewers said not enough happened, there wasn't enough worldbuilding, so he let the writer fill out the later books, which didn't actually feel longer.

He also talked about there being no ideal book or style of writing and the need to wear different editing hats for different books in terms of what you're looking for. Buchanan commented on the advantages for continuity of having the same editor across a series, especially in terms of deciding what information needs to be imparted again: that not all readers will have read all books. [This is tricky, isn't it. It isn't something I've had to face as an editor, but I have had to face as a writer -- but I think there might be enough material in that for another post.]

Johnson said that as writers, you want five people to edit your books before you sent them out, and you should be specific about what you want them to look for.

There was some discussion about how people edit, and all do their editing onscreen, which surprised me. I have certainly done some of my editing wholly onscreen, sometimes using Track Changes, but when I did Cranium that was done in Filemaker Pro, and involved copying and pasting -- I was never allowed to touch the original text. I still prefer to edit on paper though, especially if I'm working on fiction. Johnson did add, however, that she edits short stories on paper, and that she does pick up more errors on paper than on screen. I second that. She also reminded everyone that editors need to read through for comprehension as well as errors. She has had authors who will just write "stet" against the whole manuscript, but the readership always complains.

Spanton, who is a structural editor, can't resist copyediting as he goes. Oh, I understand him completely! He uses a different method for each author: for some, all they need is a half-hour phone conversation; others need five to ten notes on every page. He does most of his editing at home because he doesn't have time at work. [Bit like all that workshopping and marking that we writing teachers do. But writers should take note of that -- imagine someone who puts in all this unpaid time trying to improve your manuscript: they've certainly earned the right to have every change considered. Not necessarily agreed with or accepted, but considered.]

He doesn't mind that he takes the extra time to copyedit, because it's hard to get good copyeditors and there's not enough time to spend on manuscripts anymore. [Or really enough money to pay someone to spend enough time to copyedit properly.] He said [and I like this] the copyeditor's job is to make the structural editor look stupid, and the proofreader's job is to make the copyeditor look stupid, but sometimes readers make them all look stupid. [Of course, I didn't like that end bit quite so much!]

Walton said she never wants authors to agree with all of her changes, but she hopes they will say we don't agree because ... and be able to suggest something else. Spanton also talked about how it is the author's work so although he may suggest strongly for changes it is the author's call, and everyone will live with the consequences. An unhappy author may hide resentment, but it if it's there it will come out.

Buchanan said that authors you've been working with for years need very little, and this gives you more time to work with other writers.

Johnson had three rules for writing:
(i) start your book
(ii) finish your book
(iii) know how much editing is enough and then let it go -- put it out there.

Another long report, so I'll leave it there for now.