Book Editing - The "Tell Me More, Tell Me More" Stage
Updated: May 17, 2022
Unfortunately, the word "editing" is often synonymous with red pen marks. Crossed out words. Missing commas.
Because of this, editors carry a certain mystique. First-time authors approach them with the fear of a high schooler meeting their prom date's parents for the first time. Authors hand over their manuscripts and say things like, "Please don't rip it apart too badly," or a last-second disclaimer, "Remember, this is my rough draft... it's probably not ready yet..."
But the red pen, the sentence-level grammar stuff, that's only one part of the editing picture. A lot of editing (or proofreading) is just a really smart person -- who's out to help your story, not destroy it -- saying to the author, "Tell me more, tell me more."
What does this look like in action?
Three scenes come to mind from our latest book, Safe Landing: A Family's Journey Following the Crash of American Airlines Flight 191"
Show vs. Tell #1 - Irish Headstand
The character "Nudy" (mom of the three siblings who co-authored the book) was described as outgoing, life of the party. The editor sees that and immediately says, "Hey, let's see that in action. Any memories of a specific party come to mind?"
Melody (one of the three authors) came back with this story:
One of my fondest memories of Mom standing on her head was in 8th grade. Our family was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a local restaurant in our parish called Deasy’s. The owner was a rather stern Irishman but was fond of Nudy, as all the adults called her. Mom gave me a “head’s up” that the owner had asked her to stand on her head as part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Mom told me she’d be wearing a taffeta green dress and was going to let her skirt fall to display a ruffled green undergarment with a shamrock on her backside. She wanted me to be prepared when her skirt fell in front of a couple hundred parishioners. Don’t worry, it’s all planned.
Needless to say, as a teenager with some of my classmates present, I was slightly embarrassed. But I was proud of how Mom could do something this crazy with style and grace.
Perfect! Great, memorable story, but works on another level as well because the line "wanted me to be prepared" ties into a larger theme in Chapter 1. A few pages later, we have Melody's mom preparing her to someday be the matriarch of the family.
This St. Patrick's Day story is something the author already had in their memory, just needed to bubble up to the surface. Good editors ask questions to make that happen.