There’s nothing quite like it either as a ghostwriter or an author as the feeling of utter relief when you type ‘the end’ on a manuscript. Personally it’s always followed by my end-of-book celebratory ritual which involves clearing my desk of random Post-it notes covered in scribbled chapter plans and several weeks worth of old coffee cups and giving my desk a good scrub with a packet of baby wipes. This euphoria is swiftly followed by the ‘Oh God will my publisher like it or have I spent X weeks/months writing utter nonsense?’ fear that creeps in a few seconds afterwards. However, six years on and fourteen published books later, thankfully they always do.
Many authors I work with always ask me so now their book is finished what happens next? Is that the last time that they’ll see it until they hold a finished copy in their hands? For those not familiar with how the publishing world works, sending off your finished manuscript to your editor is definitely not the end of the writing process. You’ve now entered the wonderful world of edits.
Generally in my experience, and the experience of several other United Ghosts with whom I consulted, this is how things work if your non-fiction book is being commercially published. Firstly your editor will read the full manuscript and will get back to you with some editorial notes. These can vary from a few paragraphs to several pages. Normally they’re notes asking for a little bit more information here and there, scenes they want to be expanded or parts of the book they think would work better if they were changed around or perhaps taken out or information that needs updating. One other thing to bear in mind at this stage is that these things take time. Publishers and editors are crazily busy juggling several books all at once so, depending on when your book is being published, it might take anything from days to weeks to even months for them to get back to you. So the first rule of edits is be patient – don’t worry, they will come. What normally follows after that first round of editorial notes is that your manuscript will then be passed onto a copy editor who will do a line-by-line edit. To any author this always sounds utterly terrifying. However copy editors are the eagles of the publishing world and can spot an error or a typo at 50 paces. So they’re the people who will tell you that the 13th March 1953 was a Tuesday not a Sunday and question how that character on page 153 of your book can storm off upstairs when in the previous chapter you’ve described how they live in a bungalow.
At the end of the day, edits no matter how painful you might find them are necessary and ultimately hopefully helpful. It’s a fresh pair of eyes on your book, an opportunity to tweak and refine your words. As one highly experienced United Ghost says: ‘I do always find, although I am reluctant to admit it, the publishing edit really adds something if it’s done well.’ Or as another fellow ghost so sagely comments – ‘Editors are very good at spotting when something isn’t working but perhaps not as good as fixing it. That is the writer’s job so insist on fixing it yourself.’
Heather Bishop is a ghostwriter, freelance journalist and TV producer. She can be found tweeting @heatherbishbash