Can “That” Really Change Your Voice?

Seems like everyone is dealing with edits lately. I know that’s likely a false observation, based on only a few data points. But one of my CPs was wresting with copy edits she didn’t totally agree with and another received kind of on odd batch of late-breaking line edits after copy edits, mostly eliminating word repetition. Another is coping with pretty deep first round developmental revisions.

For those not in the trenches, there are various rounds of edits we receive from our publishers. They are:

Revise and Resubmit

This is before you get a contract. Usually you’ll get a letter from the acquisitions editor saying what they like about the book, along with what you’d have to change for them to acquire it. A surprising (to me) number of authors won’t do them, saying they won’t “work on spec.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that they’ll accept if you revise. Still, as my fab editor Deb Nemeth points out, it takes a substantial amount of time and effort for her to write an R&R letter. It’s much easier to say no. With an R&R, they’re already invested.

Developmental Edits

The first step after you sign your contract. There are one to two rounds of these, usually depending on how well you revise on the first round. These can be overarching changes like “firm up the heroine’s motivation” or “write this chapter in real time, not as a memory.” Sometimes writers react to developmental edits like they’re an insult or as if the author screwed up. No, it happens to established authors all the time and can have a lot more to do with how the publishing house wants to target the book. One friend of mine had grandparents in her YA novel who were way too supportive and helpful. Her editor asked her to go through and make them unsupportive, to add more tension.

Line Edits

This is what it sounds like – the editor goes through the whole book, line by line and scrutinizes every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph. Usually there are two rounds of these. Hopefully the second is far less painful than the first.

Copy Edits

The final round! (Or two.) The Copy Editor is a different person, very specialized who has the job of Quibbling. They fact-check. They fix everything according to House Style (the established rules of the publishing house – for example, Carina has a no colons or semi-colons rule). Copy Editors tend to be very literal. They hate metaphorical language and they love Perfect Grammar above all else.

So, my friend who was angsting over her Copy Edits was upset at having a lot of “thats” inserted. It’s the difference between, for example, “The hammer that she used every day” and “The hammer she used every day.” A lot of writers hate “thats” and work to eliminate them. Copy Editors tend to insert them, for perfect sentence structure. The writer felt that (heh) this changed her voice.

There’s lots to be said about voice – volumes, really. Amusingly, as I was deciding how I could wind this up succinctly, I was discussing on Twitter this book I finished readingĀ  last night, how much I loved it and how, this morning, I’m missing it. And my editor, the aforementioned fabulous Deb, replied: “That feeling of wanting to be back in a story after you finish reading the book? That’s the quality I look for in a submission.”

And that, my friends, will never be affected by a few more that’s.

Heh – at least I amuse myself.