Tuesday 24 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Akshita Nanda

The next Guest Author is Akshita Nanda, a Singapore based author, with some interesting experience to share. 


Akshita Nanda's first novel, Nimita's Place was shortlisted for the 2017 Epigram Books Fiction Prize for unpublished manuscripts, and the 2019 Singapore Book Awards for best literary work. It was adapted into a staged reading for TheatreWorks in 2019. Her second novel, Beauty Queens Of Bishan is published by Penguin Randomhouse SEA. She has worked as a lab researcher, as an educator and for 12 years as a journalist and critic for The Straits Times. She is currently studying at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Books reerenced in this Q&A:

I've had 2 novels published: Nimita's Place (Epigram Books, 2018) co-won the Singapore Literature Prize for English fiction in 2020 and was shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards 2019. It has also been adapted into a theatrical reading.

The second is Beauty Queens of Bishan (Penguin Randomhouse SEA, 2019)

I've also created an interactive online story for readers aged 9-14, commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore, with publisher Tusitala Books. It's online here till Nov 29.

All three works went through some form of editing.

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

Both my novels were written before publishers were found for them. I'm currently working on a third, without a publishing contract. 

I'm represented by the Jacaranda Literary AgencyI do speak with my agent, Jayapriya Vasudevan, while developing the elevator pitch, but she has the difficult task of representing books that I want to write, rather than getting me to write what a publisher wants.

The interactive online story was the first one where I sent a pitch in for approval but I was given carte blanche with the narrative and plot. The publisher Tusitala Books did explain what media sources and tools they were using, which helped me shape my story outline and not ask for features they couldn't include with the story.

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

Several drafts. I hand-write all my first drafts. Typing them into the computer is the second draft.

I edit several times and then give the edited version to at least 3 friends I trust deeply. I've also paid for professional editing, via someone my agent recommended.

Once all the feedback is in, I collate it and decide what needs to be changed. Only then does my agent receive a submission copy to show to publishers.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher? 

There's usually a structural edit, where an editor goes through the course of the story and suggests what should or should not be changed.

With the second novel, this involved me writing an extra chapter for earlier development of a minor character.

After the structural edit comes the line edit, where one or more editors go through the novel line by line and suggest changes or ask questions.

There’s usually at least two rounds of editing - including with the online story - before the text is sent to layout. After layout, I proofread the galleys before they are sent to print.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? Are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

Examples of changes include the extra chapter for book 2. With the first novel, I wrote it to alternate between past and present. The editorial team thought it would be better to have several chapters from one timeline put together, rather than alternating timelines between every other chapter. At first I was resistant but it did work better for readers and didn’t involve me rewriting anything, which was great.

Both my books have been edited by at least one person unfamiliar with the culture being represented in the story. That’s led to some interesting dialogue about differing cultural assumptions. No editor has forced me to make changes I didn’t eventually want to make. All were respectful of what I was trying to achieve.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

There is always a discussion. Both editor and writer will need to make clear to the other why changes are considered necessary. If a writer can defend their rationale, editors tend to accept it.

If an editor can defend their rationale, writers tend to accept it.

I have had 17 years in the publishing industry, including 6 as an editor of books and 12 as a correspondent for a newspaper, so I am aware that writing IS a team effort and that there are many hands and eyes shepherding copy to print. I know that often I am too close to the text to be objective - and also that in the end, my name is on the book. I know what hills to die on and what changes to accept gracefully.

Thanks you so much for taking part.

A light-hearted story, Beauty Queens of Bishan centers around stereotypical rich Indian families in Singapore, yet it does not leave out other parts of the community and how they all come together in the beauty parlours of the average-class heartland of Bishan. In Bishan, the busiest suburb of Singapore, thirteen small beauty parlours co-exist quietly, offering haircuts, bikini waxes and facials at no-nonsense prices. All that changes when a swanky new salon opens. D’Asthetique (Beauty is Skin Deep) is run by April Chua, the stylist to the stars. April’s plan for Bishan includes controlling her competitors through a new society, NAILSO (Neighbourhood Alliance of Independent Lifestyle Service Operators). The only person who dares to protest is the chubby Gurpreet Kaur, owner of Monty Beauty Spa. Both have clients in the upcoming Grand Glam Singapore Beauty contest. Will April’s shoe-in Candy Kang prove yet again why she is Singapore’s sweetheart? Or will Gurpreet’s client, Tara Chopra, prove a star on stage as well as in court? 

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