How We Edit: Our Indie Editorial Process

Originally published at: https://ackerlygreen.com/2020/04/17/how-we-edit-our-indie-editorial-process/

 

Preface: This has changed dramatically since COVID-19, but I want to create some relatively evergreen posts that tackle questions we get asked most often.

If you pre-ordered The Book of Briars, then you’ve been receiving parts of the book as a supporting narrative unfolds on our forum. And you might’ve also seen posts from readers who’ve found mistakes or misspellings in the advance reader copy, or you may have even found an error on your own.

Having my readers (graciously and thankfully) point out misspellings and grammatical errors that seem so prominent and noticeable when brought to my attention was hard for me at the beginning of Ackerly Green, (and has gotten a little easier, but not much) because it can trigger my imposter syndrome, and worries me that my oversight makes my work and company seem sloppy and amateur. Recently, I brought this up with my editors, and what I learned was pretty eye-opening.

You may or may not know that I have a developmental editor and a copyright editor who does some proofing as well. Given the unique beast that is the Briarverse, I need people who are focusing on different things. Not only the quality of the individual work but also how it fits within the scope of the existing (and future) literary world. I reached out to my copyeditor, who previously worked in New York City for several of the “big five” publishing houses. I wanted to know if it was unusual to find the number of errors my readers were finding in The Book of Briars, partly because I wanted a little reassurance, and partly because I wanted to know if there was room to shore up my editorial process.

She told me that it’s very common to find errors in an “ARC,” but the reason that these kinds of mistakes are rarely found in traditionally published final books is that they often go through a year of editing. That’s six or seven complete passes with proofers, and that’s after copy editing. That is a lot of editing and A LOT of money. I have two extraordinary editors, but I can’t expect them to do a year’s worth of work for a fraction of the money that they’d make with a traditional publisher.

Having learned that, I spent some time thinking about and reworking my editorial process. I thought I’d run it by you, so you have a better understanding of an “indie” editorial process.

I write my initial drafts in Ulysses, a markdown writing app, but then export them to Word to begin editing.

In a perfect world, I would first submit an initial draft to my developmental editor, Conor, who would give extensive notes about characters, narrative, and how well the current draft fits into the broader scope of the Briarverse.

I would address those notes, and if schedule and finances permit, send back any chapters that needed extensive work to get his final thoughts.

From there, I would send a (hopefully) polished manuscript to Bethany, my copyeditor, to help with spelling, syntax, formatting, and a little character/narrative work, to the extent that it makes sense in and outside of the connected world of books.

I would then address those notes, which there are usually a lot because Bethany is lovely, funny, and awesome, but doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When she says she likes something in the draft, it’s basically a religious experience for me.

Once Bethany’s notes are addressed, Catherine will read the draft (she’s probably already read it once, when I send it to Conor) and check for what we called in my theater days “last looks.” Just making sure we didn’t miss anything glaring because, at this point in the process, I’ve gone “draft blind.”

Once Catherine’s made any notes and runs it through Grammarly premium (not sponsored), I address the draft changes, then export the document into a program called Vellum, where I format the book for publishing myself.

Now, in traditional publishing, that draft could’ve gone back to Bethany four or five more times. I would LOVE to do that, but often I don’t have the time to do that, and I certainly don’t have the financial means to do that. The current editorial process already costs me $3-5k per book.

You’re also a part of the editorial process. Some of you have received Advance Reader Copies in the past. Even this beta, sectional release of The Book of Briars has allowed us to fix issues thanks to readers graciously looking out for errors in the near-complete manuscripts. I’m grateful to all of you for helping me do the “last looks” in the advance reader copies while I work toward affording a broader editorial process. Thank you for not judging me too harshly for my missed punctuation, embarrassing misspellings, and improper verb tenses. We really do work hard to catch them all. The editorial process is a big, tricky beast, and I appreciate your patience and kindness!

 

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Happy to be part of the process, it does sound like quite the literary ping-pong with drafts. I just found a spelling mistake in the book I’m reading now which is 5th in the series, nobody’s above making mistakes.

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I think this is really wonderful, actually. We’re a community, and it shows that you’re just as much a living part of it as anyone else. Prior to reading this, I didn’t know anything about the typical “life-cycle” of a published book, and the fact that our community can play the part of what would otherwise be an expensive and time consuming process is unique and beautiful. It brings anyone who participates even closer to the finished, published works.

As the Flinterforge magimystic affinity goes: Many Hands…

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As long as you wash them …

But seriously, editing is a major process. I edited a law review—articles written by Really Smart People who often had Cheap Labor (student research assistants)—and the amount of work we still needed to do was amazing. After multiple passes, the process culminated in a dramatic read-through: yes, reading law review articles out loud well into the early hours, including all of the punctuation. And even then …

Draft-blindness is a thing. Multiple passes, multiple people, and read-throughs are all good ways to handle it. But one of the most important of all is the courage to take the edit and push forward. That isn’t always easy, as you point out, @CJB, but you’re doing a graceful job of it, and the final product looks great. (And now we know your secrets like Vellum, muahahahahahaha!)

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Yeah, I think I got that part down.

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Vellum is my absolute favorite part of the process. Maybe I’ll record the process of formatting part of The Book of Briars manuscript!

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Healthcare Friends!
@CJB
I guess one of the beautiful things about running a company is once you’ve had mistakes pointed out to you it’s very easy for you to change them, especially in physical editions. I did work experience in a publishing house and I hated how much red tape there seemed to be. Also if you haven’t already, I find Neil Gaimans blog post on imposter syndrome exceptionally helpful (http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2017/05/the-neil-story-with-additional-footnote.html?m=1).
For each book thats been released I’ve steamrolled through it because Ive adored the story so much.
I found Christina Ricci’s series on writing her books super super interesting and made me appreciate how l o n g the process of publishing is.

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Typos and missed words and misspellings happen. We catch as many as we can, and I’m honored to be a small part of the editorial net. :grin: I for one will watch/read/absorb into my soul any indie publishing wisdom you wish to share!

And thank you @violetlily for that Neil Gaiman post! This bit at the end is wonderful:

Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

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@violetlily Gossmere healthcare frens unite!

EDIT: Thanks for sharing that link from Neil Gaiman, too. I went back and read it after I posted my reply. I struggle with imposter syndrome much of the time, too, and I’m going to keep that bit of perspective in mind going forward.

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Honestly @CJB, I figured that was kind of just part & parcel of being an Advanced Reader - we get to be part of the narrative, and you get a bonus of having additional eyes that you don’t need to pay exorbitant fees for. :smiley:

Plus, if anyone here is anything like me, there are some of us who like that sort of thing.

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