Thursday 26 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Alys Earl

This week's guest author is Alys Earl who has given us a detailed inside into their process. 

AW Earl is a writer, storyteller, and performer whose fiction combines literary, genre, and folkloric motifs, and whose non-fiction involves them being quietly angry about transgender issues and the much misunderstood history of marriage. Living in Suffolk with various children and cats, they are currently seeking representation for a series of novels about modern day faeries in Norwich. Their debut novel, Time’s Fool, was published by Unbound in 2018, and their collection of illustrated ghost stories, Scars on Sound, was released in 2017. 

(See their books below)

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

I always do several drafts before sending anything on to a publisher, whether I’ve been commissioned or not. I like to have a very clear idea in my head of what I’m doing, and how I want to achieve it before I’m ready to work with someone else on it. This is partly because my intentions tend to change a lot over the second and third draft, and I don’t want to mess my editors about by having something that goes off at a complete tangent to what we’d discussed, or what the first draft implied. Time’s Fool, for example, was originally conceived as a gothic romance - it was only by the third draft that I realised I could not force it in to that shape, and that it really found itself as something of a tragedy. It would have been impossible for an editor to do a fair job on what was pitched (romance) without turning it in to something quite other than the story it needed to be, and I needed the space to find that out for myself without wasting another professional’s time.

I am also, alas, something of a perfectionist and really don’t like people to see my work unless I’m already fairly satisfied with it.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? 

With Unbound publisher, we had three lots of edits - the structural, the copy, and the line edits. I’m not sure how typical it was, but there was only one exchange at each stage - so, I received comments, worked on the suggestions, and then had my changes approved before the next stage. So, that was three times, and then a final proof read.

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

I’ve never been asked to make any seriously major changes to my work. In my experience, editors have been concerned with helping me draw out the story as I wanted to tell it, with an eye to the audience’s ease, enjoyment, and comprehension. This has involved moving some bits about, adding or deleting sections, getting rid of a few ‘darlings’ (I love a terrible pun - editors tend not to), or occasionally rewriting a scene or chapter so that it is more dynamic, or affecting. I’ve never been asked to change a character, or their motivations, only to make them clearer.

Similarly, copy editing is more focused upon honing narrative voice than controlling it - I tend to have quite a lyrical style, and a lot of the feedback was about helping that to ‘sing’. Copyeditors look for clarity, consistency, and - for want of a better word - elegance of voice, rather than any particular style.

Then, of course, there is accuracy. My books have a strong historical aspect, and editors are brilliant at catching, or questioning, historical points - and indeed, stopping authors from getting too carried away with including them. My editor for Time’s Fool caught some absolute howlers, as well as (thankfully) stopped me including an entirely unnecessary paragraph on the history of medieval beds.  

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? 
In my experience, editing starts out with a sort of long-lens, looking at the structure and the narrative or the book, and gradually hones in to the content, then on the word choice, and finally the details like punctuation and spelling convention.

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?

I try to keep in mind Neil Gaiman’s adage about editing: that if someone says there is a problem with a bit of your work, they are almost always right. If they try to tell you how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. Grumble as we might, editors know their jobs, and can see our manuscripts with clearer eyes than we can ourselves. As such, I tend to accept about 80-90% of small changes without question. Larger changes, I would often wish to discuss, or use as a starting point for implementing my own solutions, but in the vast majority of cases some level of editing is necessary or they wouldn’t have spotted it. Often shifting other bits around the contested section solves the problem just as well, or better, than their suggestion.

This approach almost certainly bores my editors rigid and no doubt comes off as very contrary, but as I said above, I’m a perfectionist. I am also, according to one editor I’ve worked with “terrifyingly workmanlike” about my stories. My structural editor for Time’s Fool spent a good few minutes reassuring me that it was a very decent manuscript, and the fact he’d marked it up so much didn’t mean I’d given him some dreadful scrawling that would need to be entirely rewritten. My attitude, though, was very much “Yes, but there are problems, or you wouldn’t have marked it up. So. How do I best go about fixing them?”

The only time this approach fails, I think, is when you and your editor have significant creative differences or outlooks upon life. When I was first starting to submit things, there was a little spate of stories about agents or editors asking (often marginalised) writers to change a character’s gender, race, or sexuality, - and that for me is a huge issue. Before handing your work to someone else to look at, it’s really important to know those things upon which you are not willing to compromise - the changes you will not make, not even if they are make or break changes as regards your contract, and for me questions of identity and morality feature very strongly in that.  In addition to these, it’s worth having a list of things you would rather not alter, but could be persuaded upon. Everything else is up for discussion, for the service of the story, and the service of the reader.

The point I’m trying to make is, a good editor who understands your work would not have flagged something unless they genuinely felt there was a problem there. Do you really want this story to go out there with your name on it, if it has a problem that was pointed out to you, and you have done nothing to fix?

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

Yes of course I do! Writers are delicate, touchy creatures and anyone who pretends that they aren’t is lying. But, ultimately, it comes down to integrity.

The pact I make with my readers is that I’ve done everything in my power to make this story as good as it can be, and that involves listening to my editors unless their advice is about one of the things upon which I will not compromise. So, while I have a couple of friends I can vent to about all the things I’ve been asked to do to my novel in order to make it readable, I also just grit my teeth and do them.

Thank you so much for taking part.

Autumn in the market City of Barchester, and two bright students begin their final year at University, content with old friendships, paying lip-service to old dreams. Until, that is, an ill-conceived prank introduces them to Julian.

For Sophia and Steven, the friendship they form with this worldly stranger marks a coming of age, a possibility to embrace the needs and longings they have never had the language to express. But Julian has his own secrets, and as the nights grow longer, it becomes clear that not all desires are without cost; that some things should never be brought into the light.

Time's Fool is a novel about monstrosity, about desire and communication. It's about the self we present to the world and the needs we whisper to ourselves in the darkness. It is about honesty and the fear of honesty. It is about the things we refuse - refuse to say, refuse to seek, refuse to believe - because sometimes, ignoring those things is all that keeps us sane. 

Click on the book cover for the Amazon UK link. The Amazon US Link is HERE

If UK based, you can buy the epub version on Hive UK HERE 

The past will hurt you if you turn your back on it. A village under the shadow of old magics. A book of poems that twists the minds of those who read it. A woman imprisoned by a poisonous love. Grown from the dark soil of the British Folk Tradition, these stories ring with a half-remembered music of loss, haunting and revenge. From the nurse recalling her monstrous charges, to the woman with scarred hands who is warped by a power from the past, these are tales of civilisation falling away, of something older and more dangerous coming through. With illustrations by Ruth Tucker, these lyrical, Gothic stories capture the horror that lies in the English landscape and the darkness of the human heart.

Click on the book cover for links to purchase from Lulu. 

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