The Joy of Editing

Previously: (can’t you see I’m a fan of The West Wing and House of Cards)

I get an email from Lake Union Publishing saying they want to publish my novel
I have long and fruitful negotiations with Senior Editor, Jodie Warshaw
I get cold feet
I am happy as Larry and sign the contract

I still kept pinching myself. I looked again and again at the authors already published on Lake Amazon. I was the 100th in the list. My head swelled. I could be found laughing at odd times of the day. Laughing oddly, in fact.

One of the things that was so attractive about being taking up by a publishing house was the opportunity for my work to be edited. Most of my previous novels had benefited from my friends’ comments at Andrew Puckett’s writing group in Taunton but I was now hundreds of miles from England and missing their input. My wife took over the mantle and proved an excellent editor, both in looking at the overall nature of the book and the fine detail.

I gave her ‘A Love Most Dangerous’ to edit in December of 2013 and she made some preliminary comments. Then, on New Year’s Eve she got extremely ill and had to go to hospital. I spent the next two months visiting her at hospital, doing constant laundry, furiously writing a novel about Alfred the Great and editing and polishing ‘A Love Most Dangerous’. I had no idea when she would come home and without the help of friends I would have drowned.

It was the same with my writing. I got marvellous feedback from people who had studied on a Coursera course with me. Their help was invaluable and I am very pleased to acknowledge them in the book.

And then, at the beginning of March I heard the news that my wife would come home within the week. I was thrilled and decided that I would publish the new novel in time for her homecoming. I guess this is why there were the errors which some reviews kindly pointed out. Whoops.

So the thought of getting professional editing was wonderful.

The first stage was the developmental edit. I had a phone conversation with Jodie Warshaw and the editor Marianna Baer who is herself an author of Young Adult fiction. A schedule was agreed and I waited on tenter-hooks for Marianna’s comments.

Jodie had said that there was not major work to do on the book and Marianna and I had tight deadlines to complete our work. Jodie was right, there was not a huge amount. But, wow, did it take effort.

Because I lived in a very small apartment I thought I had best go to the public library to do my side of the process. But then a new friend, Mandy Hager, stepped in with a wonderful offer. images.Mandy


Mandy is an extremely gifted author and was this year’s Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton. She was going off on a research trip in the weeks I was scheduled for the developmental edit.



So she offered me the use of the Katherine Mansfield Writing Room. It was a little room with only a desk, a coach, an Oxford Dictionary and a Roget’s Thesaurus. And a very useful little electric fan. it was a haven of peace and I worked eight hours a day in the boiling heat of August. i don’t think I would have been able to complete the task if I had not been loaned the room. And it was lovely to think that I was working in a place that Mansfield herself would have known.images.KatherineMansfield

All in all I spent two weeks working at Marianna’s suggestions. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. Marianna’s suggestions were great. But it had been made clear to me that I would have the final say in accepting her advice or rejecting it. So began an intense period of collaboration with not a word said between the two of us, in fact only the Atlantic Ocean between us.

I took on some of her suggestions instantly. Why hadn’t I noticed this, thought of that, realised such a thing, I would berate myself. Other suggestions I agonised over. Should I change this scene? Was Marianna not clear about what I intended? Was she clearer than me? Slowly, slowly, I worked through the text.

The only real disagreement concerned one difference between British and American usage. My characters occasionally clicked their fingers. Marianna wanted to snap them. No way, I snapped back. Snapping fingers is a sign of contempt or, alternatively, what East End gangsters do to their rivals. My characters click their fingers when they have a sudden thought or realisation. They do not, will not snap. So there.

Apart from this I’m certain that Marianna’s ideas improved and polished the novel wonderfully. And I learned a lot from the process.

Next was the copy edit. I got the amended copy back and began to work my way through it. The copy-editor was called Janet Robbins. She was eagle-eyed, immensely knowledgeable and jaw-droppingly thorough. She noticed typos and repetitions which I would never have seen in tens of years. She suggested improvements in style where there was confusion. She even researched the oldest version of a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt. In fact, there was a lot of disagreement about this and I found three versions. In trying to find the definitive version I found an authority on Sir Thomas Wyatt, Dr Colin Burrows, of All-Saints College, Oxford. I emailed him and I asked his advice. He replied within the hour to suggest the best reading.

Most of Janet’s suggestions and amendments were so obvious that I agreed them with a tap of the mouse. Others were more difficult. I fretted over punctuation marks, little words, conversation tags and word order. I once spent forty five minutes trying to decide whether to have a comma or a semi-colon. I changed my decision a dozen times. My mind was in a whirl. Sometimes I hated the process, but more often than not I got completely engrossed. And at last I was finished.

By this time I felt I had a clear idea about the redoubtable and erudite Janet Robbins. I imagined her to be in her fifties or sixties, surrounded by dictionaries, encyclopaedias and dusty tomes concerning English punctuation and grammar. I thought she would live on the outskirts of some old colonial town and be a stalwart of the library. She would probably dress in tweed and have half-moon glasses. But when I looked her up on the internet I was astonished to see how mistaken I was. She may have been erudite but she was very much not as I imagined her. Here was yet another lovely young person with immense skills and talent. It was beginning to make me feel ancient.

I got one last chance to read the manuscript and check it for any final mistakes. By this time I would cheerfully have fled to a desert island. And then, it was over.

If you’ve already bought the book you’ll find that it is now a much more polished piece. So, go on, please tell your friends about it.

During this time, by the way, a cover designer was working on a new cover for the book. And I also found out that it was going to be more than just an e-book and a paperback.

Next up:

Behind the scenes at Lake Union Publishing
The marketing plan
The end process


About Martin Lake

Martin Lake lives in the French Riviera with his wife. After studying at the University of East Anglia he worked as a teacher, trainer and company director. A serious accident shattered his arm and meant that he had to rein back his work. He decided to concentrate on writing and is now writing full-time. He writes a wide range of fiction. His main interests are historical fiction, short stories and fiction for young adults. Martin has a series of novels 'The Lost King' which are set in the years following the Norman Invasion of England. They concern Edgar Atheling, last representative of the ancient English royal dynasty and his fight to regain the throne from William the Conqueror. Martin has also published 'Artful' the further adventures of the Dodger and 'Outcasts' a novel about fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His latest novel, 'A Love Most Dangerous' is about a maid of honour who becomes the lover of Henry VIII. Martin’s work has been broadcast on radio. He won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story based on 'The Wind in the Willows.' You can get the collection, 'The Wind in the Willows Short Stories' from Amazon.
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4 Responses to The Joy of Editing

  1. Well done and how fabulous to have worked in Katherine Mansfield’s space in Menton. Bonne Continuation Martin.

    • Martin Lake says:

      It was wonderful and inspiring, Claire. But I also read about some of the dreadful ‘cures’ she took to try to cure her TB. Terrible for her. And all in vain. Martin

  2. Deanna says:

    I enjoyed reading about your experience working with editors to polish up your novel for Lake Union Publishing. One of my novels was also purchased by Lake Union last year and I have gone through both edits so far and am awaiting the proofread copy. Like you, I would agonize over one word or phrase, and there was one thing I just wouldn’t give in to. I’m happy to find out that other writers feel the same way about the editing process. In the end, it’s worth it. Good luck with your novel. Lake Union Publishing is certainly a great publisher to be with.

    • Martin Lake says:

      Hi Deanna, thanks for your comments. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. What is your book and when is it due to be published? I’ve had a look on the Amazon site but can’t see your name anywhere so either you write under a pen-name or it’s not up there yet.

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