The Power of Editing

After my novella The Pied Piper of St. May was held for consideration for the I-can’t-remember-how-many-eth time, I was given some editorial direction in (yet) another really nice rejection letter.  There were two bits of advice ~ one of which I immediately knew was spot on.  The other, I had to sleep on.  After a good (?) night’s sleep, I knew the second bit of advice was spot-on too.

Here’s the advice (identifying information was removed from all quoted rejection letters):

This piece was close, and the editors enjoyed reading it.  We found issue with a few believability issues, such as burning books for warmth when there was a forest nearby and adults hearing the music but not even trying to investigate.  With a little work, we think you will find a home for this piece.

I can’t remember why, but I asked my friend Tracy to proof-read my re-write.  She was amazing, especially considering she did not get paid, is not a professional editor, and to my knowledge, has never been one.  Yet…she not only proof-read my rewrite and caught grammar and spelling errors (and all, my, extra, commas); she also caught continuity errors, pointed out places where the action did not “work”, and advised me on my description of a physical action that her twins often attempted but never pulled off.  She went over the story three times for me, and when she was done, I knew the story had gone from “good” to “quite good”.

Nevertheless, after revising the story with Tracy’s help, what I got was even nicer rejection letters, such as this one:

The reading team loved the concept of ‘The Pied Piper of St. May’ but  unfortunately we’re not going to be publishing this piece – if  anything, it was aimed a little too young for our YA brief…’The Pied Piper’ came close,  however, so we’d very much love to see more work from you.  

and this one

Unfortunately, while we liked your submission, so far we have not found a place for it … and it is against our policy to hold onto a story indefinitely…I’m going to have to very reluctantly let this one go. If it got this far, you can rest assured that your story is of high quality and you should be able to find a home for it. I look forward to hearing from you again.  

I decided to self-publish.  At that point, I was sure the story was of publishable quality.  I also knew I’d already sent the original version to the places most likely to publish the revised version.  And I figured any version of “Hey, remember my story you held for consideration and eventually rejected?  I rewrote it!  Here it is!” was bad form.  So I published it on Amazon and at B&N for Nook.

You may think the point of my story is that, even with good editing, you still won’t get your story published.  But it’s not.

I am proud of this story.  I have had other stories published, among them the flash fiction noir piece Free On the Green and the more literary And The Moon Waits.  Neither on-line or literary ‘zine pays, but that’s not the point either.

I have written stories I can be proud of, that others can enjoy, and with Tracy’s help, The Pied Piper of St. May is among my best work ~ meaning, it will give the reader enjoyment. And to me, that is always the point…

I am certain a good editor matters.  And it’s not just about grammar.  Just last night I was reading a book on the psychology of anger.  It was published by a big publishing house.  It is a fascinating book, but when I hit this text,

“…you will…react to a saber-tooth tiger differently if you encounter it in the zoo rather than in the wild”

I burst out laughing.

Look, I get the point of the text, but I am pretty sure my first reaction, regardless of whether the saber-toothed tiger is in the zoo or the wild is going to be astonishment, because that animal has been extinct for over 10,000 years.

Here are some fun facts about the Saber Toothed Cats.  Happy writing!  And careful editing!