Content editing

My publisher warned me that the editing process would be intense. There would be cuts, major revisions, and a lot of hard work.

On any other day, I might have been nervous. But coincidentally I had just listened to a podcast in which Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the greatest writers alive, describes how his editor made him rewrite Between the World and Me over and over for ten years.

So when Astrid said there would be multiple rounds of revision, I immediately recognized that this was the hardcore editing process for Serious Writers. And I was excited. I could already imagine it.

Editor: “This” (gestures disdainfully at manuscript) “is a pile of garbage. Utter fucking garbage. Remember, I’m saying this for your own good.”

Quinn: (mature and accepting) “Thank you for your excellent feedback. Please, tell me what else is wrong with it.”

Editor: (nods approvingly) “You are a good student.”

This would continue until the entire manuscript was riddled with red slashes and barfing emojis, and I was left holding the torn-up pages of a work I had once naively described as okay. Then she would say to Astrid, “Quinn is ready for the next phase of her training.”

Reality

My editor turned out to be really sweet and nice. She gives positive feedback as well as criticism. She ends each email with a happy face. It was not quite what I expected. We had some initial exchanges along these lines:

Quinn: “I just want you to know that I am extremely open to criticism. Seriously, don’t hold back at all. I can take it.”

Editor: “That’s great! So the way this works—”

Quinn: “I’m not one of those authors who is like, oh, my book is so wonderful. I want to know everything that is wrong with it, so you can be super harsh. I won’t be upset.”

Editor: “Yep, I got it. So after I read the draft—”

Quinn: “Seriously, I am going to be so cool about this. Unlike the casuals, I embrace editing. Probably as much as Ta-Nehisi Coates if not more so…” (etc etc for two pages)

Editor: “Okay I’ll be in touch in a few weeks bye”

The initial feedback arrived at the end of June. Since then, I have spent every free moment feverishly re-working the story. She did not hold back — we hacked that shit apart — but at the same time it has been such a positive and affirming process.

And OMG. I am learning so much. I realize now that I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote the first draft. Given the depths of my ignorance, it is a miracle that I stumbled into anything resembling a romance novel on the first try.

So I have been getting all emotional about the fact that Ylva took a chance on my book despite its many problems. It makes me want to send numerous long, gushy emails about how thankful I am. But I am so thankful, I decided to give them the gift of not doing that.

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