“Editing’s Many Layers”

Small presses don’t have the reputation that larger presses do of maintaining high editorial standards. But my experience with these presses, especially the one that published Curva Peligrosa, my second novel, has been revelatory.

Before submitting the manuscript to the press for its consideration. I had been through it numerous times on my own, seeking to strengthen it. I also had hired two different professional editors to read and review it. They made valuable suggestions, many of which I used as a basis for additional rewrites.

However, while interacting with my publisher/editor, I’ve discovered a whole new level of revising. She did one read through where she looked at overarching problems that should be addressed. Then, she went through her second review that consisted largely of line editing. In the process, she discovered many inconsistencies that are unavoidable in a 300+ page work. She also made numerous suggestions that helped me to add important detail or to deepen/streamline the narrative. It was an invaluable experience to have this attentive and intelligent questioning of passages that I thought were complete.

Of course, I resisted some of her comments, and I didn’t act on all of her recommendations—maybe two thirds. Though she was deeply involved in Curva Peligrosa’s characters and action, it was my creation, and she didn’t know the book in the same way that I do. But, then, that’s my role as the author. And while I’m extremely grateful for her attentiveness, at times I also felt overwhelmed by the number of comments she made that often went beyond suggestions to the point where she seemed to be taking over my manuscript. The process was a delicate balancing act on her part and on mine.

But her observations also forced me to reconsider or question aspects of the work that I thought were finalized. That was the most painful part: as someone who has knitted in a past life, this process reminded me of what happens if you slip a stitch. The knitter can’t just keep going. She has to return to the place where the error occurred and start over from that point. It’s not a happy move. Yet ultimately, it will produce a finished garment that looks professional, not something marred by many snags and snarls.

Consequently, Curva Peligrosa is much stronger because of my publisher/editor’s involvement in it, and I’ve discovered how valuable this kind of intensive editing can be. While I gave birth to the world I’ve created and saw it grow from a tiny seed to a full-length novel, it helped enormously to have a sensitive eye that could assist in the midwifery. I believe I received more help in this process than I might have if a large publishing house had purchased the book. Seeing the characters and situations/settings through a sensitive reader’s eyes gave me deeper insight into the work in general.

My publisher/editor’s reading and response raised the narrative to another level, something not all published authors achieve. In the process, I’ve had to sometimes put my own role as writer aside and let the work itself have prominence. Otherwise, my ego would have been too involved in the outcome, and I wouldn’t have heeded all the valuable criticisms that improved the overall product.

Fine-tuning a novel takes not only an enormous amount of time but it also requires tremendous patience. Some passages that had made perfect sense to me seemed opaque through my attentive reader’s periscope. We novel writers need to be prepared for this kind of scrutiny. We may feel we’ve hit all of the notes in our many drafts, but we also need to recognize our limitations.

It requires a skilled reader to help us see what we’ve missed. And humiliating as that may be, it’s an essential part of the writing craft. Being able to take good criticism and make it part of the final product is as important as the flush of creation.

About Lily Iona MacKenzie

A Canadian by birth, a high school dropout, and a mother at 17, in her early years, Lily Iona MacKenzie supported herself as a stock girl for the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a long distance operator, and as a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored her into the States). She also was a cocktail waitress at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, was the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got her legs broken, founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County, co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children, and eventually earned two Master’s degrees, one in Creative Writing and the other in the Humanities. Her reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir have appeared in over 155 American and Canadian venues. Fling! was published in 2015. Curva Peligrosa, another novel, launched on 9/21/17 2017.  Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released on August 1, 2018. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. She taught rhetoric for over 30 years at the University of San Francisco (USF) and currently teaches creative writing at USF’s Fromm Institute of Lifelong Learning. She also blogs at https://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com/  




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