General

The Publishing Supply Chain: What is It and Why Do I Have to Care About It All of a Sudden

Have you guys noticed that a lot of books seem to be getting delayed lately? Dates are being moved back by publishers by a few weeks, sometimes even a few months. Some of you who follow the bookish bits of Twitter might have seen that lately, people have been saying that this is because of issues with the publishing supply chain. This is true! The publishing supply chain is at the root of these delays but the various issues are fiddly and interconnected and require some explaining.

MY TIME HAS COME.

GET READY WE’RE TALKING ABOUT LOGISTICS. (image: giphy.com)

So first of all: what is the publishing supply chain?

First things first: when I say “publishing supply chain”, I’m not talking about the publishing workflow process that I’ve talked about on this blog before. This has nothing to do with manuscripts and cover design etc., as most publishers all handle that digitally until you get right to the final stages. The publishing supply chain refers to the process of physically making books.

Broadly speaking, it’s this:

  • Wood pulp goes to the paper mill and becomes paper
  • Paper goes to the printers and is made into a book
  • Books are shipped from the printers to the warehouses
  • Warehouses send books to the shops

The bad news is that more or less every part of this process is shafted.

Paper

We’ll start at the very beginning, because I pay attention to the things that Julie Andrews sings about. The first thing you need to know is that right now, there’s a lumber shortage affecting a lot of industries, not just publishing – I hear construction is being hit pretty hard as well, but I don’t know anything about building stuff. How this affects publishing is that the raw material for making paper is scarcer and more expensive.

Noooo put that back we need that paper for the new Sally Rooney! (image: giphy.com)

Then you have the paper mills themselves. Ordinarily, wood pulp can get turned into a bunch of different things, including book-grade paper. But then there was a pandemic. The bookshops closed, and without footfall traffic into stores, a lot of publishers decided they were going to move the titles out of the Spring 2020 span and only print them once the shops had opened up again, because that way they wouldn’t have to pay warehouse costs for books that weren’t going to be published for several months. But at the same time, because all the shops had closed and people still needed things, the demand for cardboard packaging went WAY up, and as we’re still coming out of various lockdowns and people aren’t always comfortable with hitting up the shops yet, this demand is still really high. What this means is that some paper mills that would be producing book-grade paper have found it way more profitable to produce cardboard packaging instead.

Now the demand for books has risen again, because bookshops are opening up again. Even though e-readers are a thing now sales of physical books are still on the rise, because people like a physical object and screen reading doesn’t always work for everyone. But even though the demand for book-grade paper is rising again, there are much higher amounts of cardboard orders to meet, and switching back to producing a different kind of product is a) a business decision that needs to be fully considered and b) not something that can happen overnight.

Printing

So you’ve got your paper and the files to print your book. It should be plain sailing from this point, right?

WRONG!

I mean we are barely halfway through, what did you expect (image: giphy.com)

Printers are having some serious issues too. Publishers moving all their titles to counteract the effects of the pandemic meant that for several months, printers were earning substantially less, and then demand for books exploded when the shops started opening back up again. Printers went from printing a fraction of their normal output to everyone wanting everything printed immediately, and that kind of all or nothing switch is always going to be difficult to handle. If you’ve had to cut costs to accommodate a lack of demand, you don’t always have the support structures in place to accommodate a drastic rise in demand again.

This is all aside from the fact that (and I don’t know if you guys will have noticed this) there is a pandemic on. People need to be able to work safely so that they don’t catch Covid, and putting safety procedures in place can mean that things slow down. Also, as with a lot of other industries, people are needing to self-isolate if they come into contact with Covid, so sometimes printers are short-staffed at short notice.

You’d think that if this was a problem at one printer, a publisher would just be able to switch to another printer until this had all sorted out. Well, that’s not as easy as it looks. Aside from the fact that it takes time to set up a business relationship – negotiating scales prices and stuff takes aaaaaaages – when you get right down to it, there aren’t actually all that many printers to choose from.

This isn’t a problem which is unique to printing. Over the past few decades – centuries, even – we’ve seen a general shift away from a lot of smaller businesses to a few big ones. This is definitely the case in printing, where instead of having a range of printers to choose from you have a small handful who got big by buying up smaller presses. At the same time, readers’ expectations for what a good finished book should look and feel like have risen. If you take a look at old, cheap paperbacks, you won’t see any finishes apart from a simple varnish to the cover. But now, the range of finishes you find on even a standard-priced paperback has increased. As well as a cheap varnish you can get matt lamination, spot varnishing, embossing, debossing, 5th-colour inks and foil – and that’s not even talking about hardbacks, where you can get sprayed, patterned and foiled edges.

See above for the NICEST patterned edges in town, I am not smug at all no sir

Because people have higher expectations of what a book should look like, what this means in practice is that printers need to be able to offer a wider range of finishes, which costs more money and requires specialist equipment, which prices smaller printers out of the market. If you want a fancy-looking book you don’t actually have all that many places you can print it – and cover finishes on a book are a really important selling point for publishers these days, so if you decide to take the sprayed edges off that book then some of your customers are going to get annoyed about it. There’s always been a been a bit of a bottleneck to get the good finishes on books, but when you add the current issues we’ve been having with the pandemic onto that, print times go way, way up. Add onto that the fact that autumn is always a really busy time of year for printers anyway, and the pile is just going to get bigger.

Shipping and Warehousing

And now it’s time to talk about shipping! Ready your Ever Given memes. We all know that having the Suez Canal blocked slowed things down, and publishing was no exception. A lot of books are printed internationally, so shipping is a really important part of the process, and the delays caused by the Ever Given definitely caused a few knock-on effects that we’re still dealing with now. Add to that all the hurricanes we’ve been having lately and that’s another layer of disruption.

Shipping and warehousing were already industries under a lot of pressure before all of the memes got stuck in port. The demand for delivery shopping, as opposed to shopping in physical stores, has gone way up over the past few years. Customers expect things to be delivered to their homes promptly and in good condition, and without having to pay too much for them. What that means is that warehouses are getting bigger and bigger to accommodate bigger and faster orders, and that more pressure is being put on warehouse workers and delivery drivers to meet increased demands. We’ve all heard about what goes on in Amazon warehouses, and it isn’t fun for anyone.

But – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the pandemic is causing some issues as well. In shipping, people need to load books onto and off of the ships in a way that’s Covid-safe and complies with local protocol for managing the disease. But the new procedures do slow things down, because you can’t have a lot of people in close proximity and sometimes ships need to quarantine. If your book is printing in China but selling in the US, you’ll need to make sure that both Chinese and American Covid protocols and restrictions are followed, and sometimes that can mean a two-week quarantine at both ends of the same journey.

In the UK we also have a fun new flavour of chaos: Brexit! Turns out deciding to leave the EU before all the details of what would happen after we left the EU were worked out has caused some problems. Who could have guessed? As you may have seen from the news, a lot of the protocols for goods leaving the EU and entering the UK haven’t been clearly worked out. Official guidance does not cover every circumstance, it’s not clear what kind of paperwork you need to have to be let through, and the new border checks take way longer than everyone was told they would.

But what both of these shipping situations have in common is this: they’re terrible for the people actually working in transport. Ships are stuck at sea waiting to dock at port, and once they get in they have to quarantine. There aren’t enough facilities for HGV drivers in Dover, which means that all of these poor lorry drivers stuck queuing for customs inspections for twelve hours don’t have somewhere to have a sandwich or go to the loo. Would you want to work in those conditions? I wouldn’t. So there’s a shortage of qualified workers in shipping as well, which is adding more delays.

Some of these issues are also affecting warehouses as well. Books have to be unloaded and stores in a way that keeps warehouse workers safe from Covid, and of course, sometimes workers will need to quarantine at short notice. And when more skilled warehouse workers are off sick, that means more accidents in the workplace and worse labour conditions for the people who have to keep working, because bosses won’t pause their companies to let their workers catch up on things. And, to make things worse, because publishers are coming up with extra costs and delays in printing and shipping, they want to get their books unloaded and in warehouses as fast as possible – and that’s a problem that tends to fall on warehouse workers. It’s a very physical job which can lead to exhaustion and burnout, and when you add to that the fact that some studies of recent Covid deaths have shown that people working in warehouses are more likely to catch Covid and die – well. You’d just quit, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right to. No job’s worth your life.

So what can we actually do?

Well, this is a good question. There’s a ton of different factors at play here, none of which are actually controlled by the publishing industry, so it looks like the delays and shortages are going to go on for quite a while.

Stick the kettle on, waiting is thirsty work (image: giphy.com)

If supporting authors is your priority, then the best thing you can do is pre-order the books of the authors you love. (Oh look who left this preorder link here?) This demonstrates demand for their work to the author’s publisher, which will still be in place even if the book is delayed. Also, it may well work out cheaper if you pre-order an author’s book now, because all of these extra production costs are almost certainly going to mean that some publishers end up raising their prices.

If you just want general reading material, you’ve got a couple of other options. If you are comfortable with reading across a range of different formats, you might consider switching to buying ebooks instead of hard copies, or giving audiobooks a try. These are usually released day-in-date with the hard copies for new books, so if any physical publication dates are pushed back the digital ones will be too, but if it’s a backlist book that you can’t get a physical copy of this may well work for you. If you have to have a physical copy, you might have to wait for new releases, but you’ll still have options! Libraries and second-hand bookshops are much more cost-effective, and still provide an income for the author if they sign up for the right schemes. (Side note: if you’re a writer in the UK, SIGN UP TO PLR, you can thank me later.)

And while we’re on the subject of reading material: support your local independent bookshop. The big chains of bookshops will be coming through this crisis more or less fine – it’ll be hard, but they’re big enough to have support structures in place to stop the businesses from folding. It’s going to be much, much harder for independent bookshops to weather the storm.

Hoo boy, this got long. 2000-word story short: it’s not all because of Covid, this has been years in the making – but a lot of it is Covid. Support your local independent bookshop, join a union, pre-order your favourite author’s books if you can, and cross your fingers. It looks like this one is going to last for a while.

Book Recipes

Book Recipes (Sorta): How I Wrote The Shadow in the Glass

Time for another book recipe! This one’s going to be a little bit different. It is now LESS THAN THREE WEEKS until my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass, is released and I am being TOTALLY chill about it, you guys.

Up to this point all my book recipes have been extremely silly and not at all meant to be taken seriously. But it occurs to me that some of you might be interested in a book recipe for a real thing that you can hold in your actual hands in less than three weeks. LESS THAN THREE WEEKS. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Here’s how I wrote my book!

I was always one of those kids that was really into fairy tales. Like, really into fairy tales. I remember when I was in primary school we used to have a couple of old hardback books of fairy tales and folklore in the library – I read them both cover to cover, and I remember being way more interested in the dark, weird original stories than the adaptations I saw on the TV. I remember being fascinated by how many different versions there were, and there was definitely a point in my childhood where I was convinced that this meant that way back when, they had actually happened.

Fast forward about ten years, to when I first had the idea for what would eventually become The Shadow in the Glass. I’d always known I’d wanted to be a writer and this had all been bubbling away at the back of my mind. One night I had an incredibly vivid dream: in it, I saw the moment where Eleanor, my Cinderella analogue, met her fairy godmother. In the novel, the fairy godmother appears as a woman with all-black eyes, but in the dream, I saw her for what she really was. (And it was, of course, incredibly spooky.) Suddenly I had this magnetic idea in my head, and try as I might I couldn’t drag my thoughts away. (Also, I was a little bit pleased with myself because that’s how Mary Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein.)

We just have SO much in common (image: giphy.com)

The plot of the novel took shape really quickly and I knew that I wanted to write this book. But at the time I was seventeen, and I knew that I’d need a certain amount of emotional maturity to tell the story I wanted to tell. It’s always been a pretty dark story and I wanted to make sure I could do it justice. Also, I decided on a nineteenth-century setting pretty quickly and I knew I’d need to do a lot of research. I had other writing projects on at the time (nothing serious, but all practice is good practice) and after a false start I decided to let the project sit for a little bit.

I completed the first proper draft in my second year of university, when I was twenty. I was studying history and after a year or so of my degree I felt a lot more comfortable with the research side of things, so I decided to go for it. I made myself a little chart where I could only cross off the day if I’d written a thousand words or more, and added an insulting note for myself at the bottom to try and motivate myself. That part didn’t work, but the chart did, and after a few months I had a completed first draft of my manuscript.

This was my approach to motivating myself for many years. (mage: tenor.com)

This is where my friends come in. I printed out the draft, tied it together with some string and some cardboard to make it a bit sturdier, and then I asked four of my friends to read through the paper draft and make some notes on it for me. When they’d finished, I went through the draft myself with a red pen, scribbling wildly, and used that as a basis for my rewrites. I made them do this for me several times over a few years and I’ve still got all the paper drafts. (They’ve got stuff drawn on them, it’s great.)

By this point I’d graduated and had just got my first job in fiction. Trying to get into publishing was hard work and I didn’t really have a lot of time for writing, so I didn’t work on the book much. I was an unpaid intern for about a year, working in central London, so pretty much all my brain space went on trying to find a job. But when I was settled, I started to think about writing a bit more seriously. I’d always had projects on the go but they were more for me, rather than anyone else. But I’d started to reach the point where I was ready for some more professional feedback and I decided I wanted to try and get an agent.

My first attempt didn’t go great – I approached about three agents, realised I’d contacted them from a very stupidly-named email address, and then immediately had an idea about how I could make my book much better. So I wrote another draft, got a better email handle and tried again.

Motivational cats were necessary. (image: pinterest.com)

That’s when I met Chloe! Chloe is my agent and about three months into my search, she made me an offer of representation. She had quite a few editorial notes for me, which was exactly what I was looking for, and after another couple of drafts I was ready to go on submission. From there, things escalated very quickly – I was on submission for about a month or so, I think, before I received an offer from HarperCollins. It was way sooner than I was expecting!

From there, it was a lot more editorial work, some of which I’ve already talked about on this blog. I think in total it was about four or five passes, spread over roughly a year and a half. This was about what I was expecting – working in publishing gives me a good idea of how the schedule looks from the other side, so I knew I’d be in for the long haul! I’ll try not to repeat myself too much about what it was like to be edited as I’ve talked about it before, but one thing I really wish I’d done was factored in a few more breaks. I wanted to make a good impression on my editor for the first pass and agreed to turn around my structural edit in four weeks – I did it, but I pushed myself so hard that I ended up giving myself a chest infection and was laid out for like a week after that! Thankfully, this all happened before the pandemic, but I definitely learned that lesson the hard way.

Now all the editorial work on my book is complete, hard copies have been printed and I’m currently gearing up for my publicity run – I’ve had to film some things, which I guess means I’m fancy now? I’m also working on my next book as well, although hopefully, that won’t take quite as long to write. I’ll be pretty busy over the next few weeks so blog service may be patchy and book-related but hey. I wrote a book! I’m excited about it! And I want to share that with you.

And I am, because this otter told me so. (image: giphy.com)

Happy reading! (In three weeks. Or just, y’know, generally. You don’t have to read my book, of course, but it’d be really cool of you if you did.)

General

Behind the Curtain 2: What’s the Deal with Agents?

Right! So as I mention every other week, I’ve got a book coming out in LITERALLY FIVE WEEKS and I’m being totally cool about it, I swear. The Shadow in the Glass is being published by HarperCollins on the 18th of March, which is just wild, and I hear that ALL the cool kids are pre-ordering it.

Obligatory promo aside, I definitely wouldn’t have got the deal without my lovely agent, Chloe Seager. (She’s absolutely great.) But it occurs to me that some of you might be interested to know more about how an agent can help you get published and what kind of support they can give an author. So I’m going to tell you! Aren’t you lucky.

Pals, let’s talk about agents.

You’ve finished your manuscript!

Great! Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done really well to get this far so you should definitely buy yourself a cake or something before you proceed to the next step.

Seriously, you should celebrate, this otter says so (image: giphy.com)

If you decide that you want to try and get your manuscript published (and you don’t have to, if you don’t want to) then you’ve got a few different options open to you. You can self-publish or you can try and sell your manuscript to a publisher. There are pros and cons to both options and you’ll need to think about what you want to get out of publishing before you decide what you’re going to do. Self-publishing usually means you have to pay for everything yourself, but you get a lot more creative control, whereas traditional publishing might get you more money but aspects of your work will be up for discussion with editorial, sales and publicity all having different concerns. (I’ve done another post on what that’s like here if you want more info.) It’s important to think about what you want before you jump right in.

If you decide to self-publish, you probably won’t need an agent – although you might still want to get someone to look over the terms of any contract you end up signing. If you decide you want to be traditionally published, you are definitely going to need an agent.

What does an agent do?

Anything and everything! Here’s a quick list:

  • Provide advice about your manuscript
  • Pitch your manuscript to publishers
  • Negotiate the terms of your contract with the publisher
  • Chase outstanding payments
  • Assist with some of your publicity
  • Recommend you for other projects
  • And a bunch of other things which I cannot remember right now because I am tired

Seriously, agents do SO MUCH STUFF it’s uncanny. An agent will support an author all through their writing career and at all different stages of the process. They are priceless!

But why do I need one?

Oh man there are so many reasons why authors need agents. Agents meet with editors on a regular basis so they actually know a) who to send your manuscript to and b) who would be interested in reading it. Agents have a working knowledge of contractual terms, so they know what to ask for in terms of finances. Agents will be able to advise you about what to put in your manuscript as well, so if there’s a tricky bit in the middle you’ve got someone to talk it through with. And also, agents are there to support you. If you’re worried about something and feel a bit silly talking to your editor about it, you can talk to your agent instead.

Live footage of me emailing my agent. (image: giphy.com)

Of course, it is possible to do all of this yourself. But it would require a lot of specialist knowledge of contractual terms, market trends, as well as all the stuff you as an author already need to know about writing. But the biggest stumbling block is that most trade publishers won’t accept submissions from authors who don’t have agents. If an author has an agent, an editor already knows that somebody has looked at the author’s manuscript and decided that it was good enough to be published and that’s a huge vote of confidence. If an author doesn’t have an agent, an editor is less likely to look at it, because most publishers get hundreds of submissions a day to their public-facing email addresses and I won’t lie to you, most of them are Not Good. But if an editor already knows an agent and they say ‘hey I’ve got this really good MS which I think you’d love’, they’re much more likely to take a look.

(Side note: there are always exceptions to this rule, I will not be listing them.)

So how do I get an agent?

First things first: you need to work out who you’re going to submit your manuscript to. Different agents want different things! Find out who wants the kind of thing that you write and go and talk to them.

There’s several different ways to do this. In the UK we have a book called The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, which has a bunch of different resources for writers and artists including a list of agents with their contact info and what they’re looking for. You can also look in the acknowledgements sections of your favourite books and see if the author has thanked their agent by name there – Google them and see if they’d like your book as well. Social media is also a good place to check – agents do a lot of online networking too and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on book hashtags to see if there’s any agents talking about the kind of thing they’d like to acquire.

Once you’ve found some people you’d like to submit to – and it does need to be more than one person, trust me – check their submission guidelines. There’s no set standard of what you should send off and most agencies will have slightly different guidelines. You might need to prepare a synopsis and the first three chapters if it’s fiction, or you might need a detailed proposal document (but not a full manuscript) if it’s non-fiction. It depends! Check their websites and see.

Some investigation required. (image: giphy.com)

One really key thing is knowing where your book is going to sit in the market. It doesn’t have to be just like the most popular book on the bestseller lists, but you need to show that you’re aware of what’s going on. You don’t have to have this down to a precise art, but if you know what people are reading right now and can demonstrate that, that’s a really positive sign.

And then you wait

No, seriously. And then you wait.

Agents have an enormous amount of reading to get through so it’ll take them a while to get back to you. Hang in there! You may find it helpful to keep track of everyone you’re submitting to in a big spreadsheet so you have notes of the submission materials you sent each agent and the date that you contacted them. A lot of agents don’t have time to send rejection letters so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on these dates.

So then what?

So you’ve found an agent who likes your work and they want to represent you. That’s great! Now what?

First step is you have to sign on with the agency. As with any contract that you end up signing it’s a good idea to get this checked by someone familiar with the law. In the UK the Society of Authors will provide advice on contracts to all members, and you can qualify for membership if you’ve received an offer of representation from an agent – you don’t always have to be fully published. I believe there are other organisations that do this for writers in other countries, so definitely check out some of them.

Once you’ve signed on with an agent, they can start submitting your manuscript to publishers, although they might ask you to take on board some editorial feedback before they do. This can be quite a long process, particularly if you’ve written something really huge – editors have enormous reading lists! From there, if an editor likes your work they’ll take it to their acquisitions meeting, and if they put in an offer, your agent will start negotiating the financial details with them. And once that’s all signed and you’re officially going to be published, your agent will continue to support you through the publishing process, whether that’s asking other authors to provide early quotes about your work or chasing things up on your behalf with your publisher.

So that’s agents! Hopefully some of you will have found all of that useful (looking at you, people who made ‘get published’ a New Year’s Resolution). Obviously everyone’s experience of publishing is going to be a little bit different, and this won’t all apply to everyone’s circumstances. But hopefully knowing what to expect is useful and will make all the waiting that bit easier.

General

What is it Like to Edit a Manuscript?

Once again I have to concentrate on my book this week! I am at copy edit stage, which is my last chance to make any actual changes to the manuscript. This is deeply and fundamentally strange to me on many levels, so I’ve only got time for a short post this week.

That novel’s not going to write itself. (mage: tenor.com)

Last month I did a post about what it is like to have your manuscript edited. This month I’m going to flip the script and talk about what it is like to edit someone else’s work, because I just love a formula.

As many of you already know, I work in publishing as a fiction editor, so I’ve edited quite a few manuscripts as part of my day job. I also worked at a vanity press for a little bit and have gone through stuff for some of my friends and acquaintances. As you might expect, your experience of editing a manuscript will vary wildly depending on what kind of MS it is and who you’re editing it for. Editing a crime manuscript for a traditional publisher will be different to editing an autobiography for a vanity press, and that’ll be different from giving editorial feedback on a fantasy novel that one of your mates has written.

So! The first thing you’re going to want to do is to establish expectations. If this is in a professional setting, have a chat with a colleague; if it’s just for a friend, talk about what kind of critique they want before you settle in to read. Different genres also carry some different expectations as well. If you’re working on a licensed tie-in, for example, then there may be some specific style points which you and the author are expected to adhere to. These don’t always apply to non-licensed genre fiction, but there are some beats which most readers will expect a writer to hit: a standard romance novel usually has a happy ending where the couple get together, a standard crime novel usually reveals who the murderer is. Of course, if it’s literary fiction, then a lot of this stuff gets thrown out the window, but it’s good to know what you’re throwing.

It’s like this but with words. (image: giphy.com)

Then you want to clarify the type of edit you’re going to do. There’s a few different ones, so I’ve listed them here:

  • Structural edit: big plot and character stuff. This is where you’d make sure the identity of the murderer makes sense, or that the romantic leads have got enough chemistry to keep the reader interested. This can take the form of comments on the manuscript or an editorial letter, which is a separate document.
  • Line edit: sentence-level stuff. The big plot things should’ve been sorted by this point, and you’re clarifying smaller details – it’s more about bringing out what’s already there, rather than putting in something completely new. Here you would make sure that the murderer’s identity doesn’t get revealed too early, or that the big scenes between the romantic leads are really standing out.
  • Copy-edit: grammar and sense check. This is where you’d make sure that character’s hair doesn’t change colour, everything is spelled correctly, and that the timeline of the novel all holds together. You might also check any relevant history and geography here, although that can also be done at an earlier stage.

As you can see, the experience of what it’s like to edit a manuscript varies wildly depending on what genre it is, what kind of edit you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and in what kind of context. There’s a lot of different stuff you have to consider. But now that you have considered all of that, what is it actually going to be like to edit a manuscript?

Honestly? It’s kind of strange.

Bring tea. (image: giphy.com)

Editing a manuscript is a really immersive process. Sometimes I get so lost in what’s happening that I completely lose track of time. When you’re editing professionally, you can sometimes spend full workdays on the same manuscript, and you get so focused on this fictional world that it’s almost weird to come back to the real one. Also, your search history gets so, so creepy, especially if you’re editing crime novels, because you’ve often got to fact-check a lot of stuff to make sure it’s all believable.

It’s also weirdly tiring. I find that a thorough edit always ends up using both parts of my brain: the creative side and the logical side. The creative element is obvious – writing is a creative thing and when you’re working on a manuscript you look at the themes, motifs, character development etc. that you’d find in any other creative pursuit. But the logical element is just as important. It’s quite methodical work and you’ve got to keep track of a lot of different things at once, so you’ve got to be pretty organised. What this usually means for me is that I’ve got to go through a manuscript at least twice: once to get the plot firmly stuck in my head and for some initial queries, and once to check my initial queries and make deeper comments now I know how it ends.

But the most important thing to remember when you’re editing a manuscript is that it isn’t your book. The work of an editor is really important, and editorial help can take your writing up to the next level in so many different ways. But the most valuable skill an editor can have is not to make those changes themselves, but to get the author to make those changes. The way I see it, editing a manuscript is less about leaving your mark on it and more about making sure the author can bring out its full potential. What this means in practice is that when you’re editing something you have to be quite careful about how you phrase things. Obviously you don’t want to be too harsh and offend the author, but even if you’re being really nice you’ve got to make sure that the author feels that it’s still their own work. This can be tricky, especially if you’re working on any kind of licensed tie-in where a copyright holder has strict standards about how things must be done. But it’s a skill worth developing, because once you’ve got that sorted you’ll be able to bring out the best in someone else’s writing while helping them develop as a writer. What more could an editor ask for?

MONEY. WE ASK FOR MONEY. (image: giphy.com)

And there we go! That’s how I’ve found editing manuscripts. Of course your mileage may vary, as everyone has different things that they want to get out of the editing experience. But if you’re thinking about editing as a career, or if you want to start giving feedback to a writer friend, maybe this is a place to start.

General

What Is It Like Being Edited?

So! As many of you know I’ve got a book coming out (did I mention that you guys DID I SAY) and over the course of the past year or so I’ve been working on the manuscript. I’m currently working on my line edits, which is my last real chance to make any major plot changes.

Eep.

I’m not nervous. (image: giphy.com)

This post will be a short post because I’ve gotta get back to work. But I’ve been asked before what it’s like to have your manuscript edited, and now’s as good a time as any to tell you.

What it is like to be professionally edited will, of course, depend on the circumstances. My book is being traditionally published by a large publisher, which means I’ll get a different experience from someone at a small independent publisher, and from someone self-publishing who’s hired a freelance editor to go through their work. I also came in roughly knowing what to expect: I am a fiction editor in my day job, so I already knew the kind of things an editor might be flagging up for me.

But what was it like to actually be edited?

Overall, I loved it. I’m used to rewriting my manuscripts based on feedback from other people (I have relied on many excellent beta readers for some time now) so that part of the process felt familiar to me. However, there’s a real difference between the stuff that a beta reader and a professional editor will pick up on. Going through a formal editing process meant I was considering a lot more “literary” things about my manuscript, whereas going through a beta reader was basically me just yelling at my mates and going “LOOK I PUT IN ANOTHER MURDER” while they’re trying to like, brush their teeth or something. My work feels like a more intelligent piece of writing because of my editor’s work, which is something I really value.

I have raised my game from just smacking the keyboard. (image: giphy.com)

The big cuts weren’t that bad. I ended up cutting at least three characters during the structural editing process (which, for those of you who don’t have time to click on this link, is for the really big plot stuff) and I found I didn’t mind about that at all. I gave one character a total personality transplant, which was really fun, and had to plant various bits of evidence so everything would still make sense. I also have a really good relationship with my editor, so whenever I did get stuck I felt really comfortable talking to her about it.

But all of that said, it was still really hard work.

I found the first structural edit the toughest by far. I was on a pretty tight deadline and had quite a lot of changes that needed to be made, and I was also having to fit that in alongside a full-time job. I’d get up early, write before going to work, do a full workday, and then come home and write for at least another two or three hours. And I was lucky that I was able to do this; not every writer is able to take that much time out of their schedule. If I’d had a second job or childcare to maintain, I don’t think I could’ve done it. I also found that in order to make sure what I was putting down was worth reading, I was having to dig pretty deep, and that took an emotional toll I wasn’t really expecting. Looking back, I’m not at all surprised that I got a chest infection that knocked me out for over a week immediately after handing in my first round of rewrites. I definitely pushed myself a bit too hard that time round.

For me, the editing process has been really good. I feel like I’ve got a lot more out of my manuscript than I would if I self-published it and it definitely feels like a stronger story now. But getting it to that point was a lot of work, and I think that’s something that doesn’t always get talked about. There’s that saying, “find what you love and let it kill you,” but there’s no need to hurry it along. The biggest lesson I had to learn while doing my rewrites was that taking a break can be just as valuable as working. When I did set aside time for myself during the rewrites, I found that I wasn’t as stressed and what I was putting down was much better than when I wouldn’t let myself take a night off.

There you have it! That’s my experience of being edited. Writing is a weird process which is different for everyone, so you may well think that everything I’ve just said is nonsense. That’s fine! Everyone works in different ways. But hopefully, some of you will find this useful. There’s a fair bit of mysticism around the editing process which really doesn’t need to be there – here’s hoping I’ve dispelled some of it!