A New Author’s Perspective on the Editing Process: An Interview With Sally Jane Smith
To succeed as an author, you need two things: A good story and the willingness to rewrite it until you uncover an even better story underneath it.
Meet Sally Jane Smith, a fellow writer who recently completed her debut work, Just One Step in Greece, a lighthearted memoir that explores self, family history, and the incomparable beauty of Greece.
Sally has a unique set of qualities that makes her the perfect storyteller: She’s well-traveled, introspective, and intrepid. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have fear, but rather that she pushes past that fear.
When we interviewed Sally, we asked about her experience with editing, which is an intimidating process for most authors. How did she approach the editing process and what can you learn from her experience? Let’s discuss.
Find an Editor That Fits
It can be difficult to find the right editor. Where do you go? What do you look for? How do you know if it’s the right fit?
These nagging questions ultimately lead Sally to reach out to NY Book Editors. Before deciding to work with us, Sally had received recommendations for editors from her Facebook writing groups and even Fivrr, but none of those options felt right.
She says, “They called themselves editors, but I wasn’t entirely sure if they were proofreaders or full-fledged editors.”
This is key. The internet has made it possible for anyone to position themselves as editors. But when you’re spending your hard-earned money on editing services, it’s important to feel confident in your choice. You must be sure that your financial investment will bring you the results that you’re after.
Because she was unsure of what she’d be getting for her money, Sally decided to go with our professional editing service.
“To find the right person is… it’s a needle in a haystack. There are so many people out there offering editing services but on one hand to find someone who has expertise in your genre and has a genuine interest in your manuscript is incredibly hard.” Sally goes on to say, “Without NY Book Editors, I don’t know how I would have possibly chosen somebody.”
But professional editing wasn’t the only benefit that Sally received from NY Book Editors. She also received the comprehensive support of an entire team that was invested in her success.
“Dan is amazing!” Sally exclaims. “Dan has held my hand through this process and has given so much information and encouragement that I really think he is one of the biggest assets.”
Editing can be a brutal process. You need support during this time. This is one of the benefits you’ll receive by trusting NY Book Editors with your manuscript.
Understand the Role That an Editor Plays
Sally was initially hesitant to work with an editor before getting representation because she thought it may be cheating. She was also afraid that the final outcome would not be her own but someone else’s work.
Spoiler alert: Sally pushed past her fear and discovered that the editing process helped to sharpen and refine her voice.
Editing, as Sally learned, does not erase your voice. Instead, editing forces you to find your voice.
As you go through the process (which is not for the faint at heart), you’ll be challenged. You’ll be confronted. You’ll figure out what you want to say and exactly how you’ll want to say it.
The right editor won’t simply re-write your story, but rather act as a guide. He or she will help you understand what’s not currently working in your story and will offer you ideas on how to fix it.
Before her first round of professional editing, Sally received feedback from other authors, but couldn’t make sense of their feedback. She found herself hitting a wall. “They were telling me how I was filtering the whole experience through my own viewpoint, and I didn’t understand how I could not do that if I was writing a memoir in first person.”
It was only through the editing process where Sally properly understood their feedback and was then able to fix the issue.
This is a common struggle for many authors. Feedback can be confusing. You need to work with a professional who can give you feedback and the reasons for that feedback. This is how you improve.
Here’s a list of nine things to check for when hiring a professional editing service. Subscribe to receive this extra resource.
Be Prepared for the Process
Editing can be a destructive process, not just for your manuscript, but also for your soul.
For Sally, the professional editing process elicited feelings of despair.
“I had thought that with all the work I’d done and all of drafting and redrafting, and the fact that I used to teach English at the primary school level, I’d considered myself a fairly good speaker,” Sally muses. “When I got [the editor’s] draft back and it was just a mess of red lines, I was devastated. I hadn’t realized how much work I still had to do… At the time when I saw it, I did just want to cry,” she says now with a laugh. “I may even have cried. It’s possible I cried a couple of times.”
However, Sally pushed through.
Sally shares, “It was a case of having to do the work and working through what [the editor] said. And learning from the labor of what she put into it.”
Getting your first edit is hard, and you may not feel good about it initially. It’s important to go into the editing process with the expectation that it will be uncomfortable. In fact, we call edits radioactive because it takes a few days before you acclimate to your feedback.
All writers go through this, and it’s never easy, but one major benefit to editing is that you’ll improve as a writer.
Understand the Timeline
How long does editing actually take?
Sally shares a timeline for her editing process: she signed up for a trial edit in December 2019 and the full editing process, including implementing all of the edits, took about a year.
As Sally explains, her manuscript went through multiple passes.
“I received the trial edit on the 3rd of January. I had a call with Elisabeth [the editor] on the 11th of January and at the same time uploaded a manuscript for evaluation to find out what was needed,” she said.
“I got that evaluation back on the 15th of January, but all that time, I’d been very conflicted about whether to do it or not. I ended up sending that comparison document to my sisters on the 21st of January and, on the 26th of January, I let Dan know I was going to go ahead. I also had to re-think my timeline quite a lot because I hadn’t realized how long an edit would take. That was a factor in my decision… because, at that stage, I just wanted closure. I had been working on my manuscript for three years and I wanted to finish it, and I realized with the edit, I was adding effectively another year onto my timeline,” she said.
Sally details how long she actually spent in dedicated editing mode.
“I spent 36 days on the first pass, 20 days on the second, and 24 days on the third... That does not include the days that I went to my paying job.”
Each edit is called a pass.
Sally continues, “It took me from the 11th of April to the 30th of August. I had no idea how much work it would take. You have to be ready to make that commitment.”
Trust the Editing Process
Sally learned surprising things during the process and ultimately completed three rounds of edits.
During the first round, she went through line by line what Elisabeth wrote. Sally was surprised to see inconsistencies in the text. “I couldn’t believe [the inconsistencies] had survived that many rereads that I’d done.”
During the second round, magic happened.
“It really felt like something magical had happened and I’d learned how to write for the first time… I’ve started to make the words not just tell what happened but have some life inside them.”
Authors come to us with the goal of improving their manuscript, but what they need is to improve their craft. The professional editing process will help authors learn to become better writers. This is the hidden benefit of the edit, and it’s only achieved by going through this challenging process.
For Elisabeth, editing is collaborative. She enjoys when authors push back during the editing process. She shares, “I don't want my authors to just accept every change I make because that means they're not learning. They're not experimenting. They're not finding their truest voice and their truest story.
“The authors like Sally who really struggle through the editing process and question everything—both themselves and me—are the ones who get the most out of the editing process and come away better writers for it. That's when I feel like I am making the greatest contribution I can to an author's writing.”
Force yourself to become better by questioning everything. Editing can only be transformative when you identify what resonates and what to refuse.
Discover Your Unique Voice
Editing should lead you to find your voice.
“I thought I would just be going through a track changes document and going, accept, accept, reject, reject… with a lot more accepting than rejecting, but I didn’t find that possible. I was very conflicted when I received Elisabeth’s trial edit. I had this feeling that I couldn’t just take on what she said verbatim because it didn’t sound like me telling the story anymore.”
Sally took her original version and compared it against Elisabeth’s edited version. Because Elisabeth’s version sounded foreign to her, she knew that she couldn’t blindly accept changes. But Sally also knew that all of those changes meant that she needed to re-work and refine her prose.
“I went through it line by line. And where I couldn’t just simply accept or reject, which was the majority of cases, I just fought with that sentence. I thought, Something’s wrong with it… I have faith in [Elisabeth’s] viewpoint. But I have to write it a third way. Elisabeth’s way doesn’t work for me. My original way doesn’t work for her.”
Elisabeth shares, “I am very clear with authors that when I make an edit, it's because something in the original wasn't working. Maybe it was unclear. Maybe it was vague. Maybe it was confusing. Maybe it just felt weak. I let authors know that if they don't like my edits, they can and should feel free to reject them. But, they should also realize that something about the original wasn't working. Then, they can rewrite it to sound more the way they'd like it to sound, but hopefully stronger.”
And that’s exactly what Sally did. She rewrote it with Elisabeth’s edits in the forefront of her mind. After writing it the third way, Sally then shared both her original and revised versions with her trusted friends and family.
“All of them wrote back to me and said, ‘It’s so much more powerful now.’ And that was just after the trial edit where I hadn’t learned as much as I have now.”
While you don’t have to accept all of the editor’s changes, you should always know why the editor is suggesting those changes. This is what will help you develop as a writer.
Elisabeth goes on to share, “Sally was particularly adept at this because she had a very clear notion of how she wanted her writing to sound, yet couldn't quite get there. With that ideal voice as her North Star, she was able to compare my edits against her original very critically and find what was and wasn't working.”
Advice for Fellow Authors
What advice would Sally give to other authors?
First, find a book editing service that you can trust.
“There’s something in being able to trust the company that you’re with. I was able to trust NY Book Editors in terms of what I would get and when I would get it and what the follow-up would be. It was all spelled out very clearly in a proposal and it all happened exactly as promised. When you’re a fledgling writer or new to any industry, it’s incredibly comforting to have that assurance.”
She continues, “Having had this experience, I will never take a book-length project to an agent again without having gone through a professional edit.”
But don’t try to work with an editor too soon. Take the time to self-edit. Sally shares, “If I had done it too early, I might not have been ready to learn the lessons that I learned.”
Every author should approach the editing process with a willingness and courage to face the unknown. If you do that, you’ll emerge from the editing process as a better, stronger writer.
Congratulations to Sally Jane Smith for completing her manuscript and revisions. She’s currently seeking representation for Just One Step in Greece. Visit Sally’s blog here to learn more about her memoir or just to say “hello.”
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