Debut Author Spotlight: In Praise of Editing and Editors

By Marianne Holmes

Now that the proofs for A Little Bird Told Me have been printed, I can breathe a sigh of relief that there’s no more editing for me – at least for the time being.

When I started sending my manuscript out, I heard so many anecdotes about successful authors who had received rejection after rejection but battled on to have their book published and loved by many readers. Ah, I used to think, but did they keep sending out the exact same manuscript or did they keep revising and polishing? Where does dogged self-belief and resilience need to give away to responding to feedback and striving for improvement?

I still don’t know the answer for those other authors but A Little Bird Told Me is almost an entirely new book compared to the very first draft that I produced 4 years ago. Since then plot lines have come and gone, characters have left or, in at least one case, been merged and scenes have been moved, cut and new ones created. The absolute constants, though, have been my main characters and the tone and atmosphere of the whole.

My document version control is notoriously awful but it looks like I didn’t send anything out until I’d produced about 5 drafts. And I didn’t get there without listening to feedback from my writing group and my beta readers. I entered Draft 5 into a few great competitions and was thrilled to be longlisted for the Bath Novel Award and shortlisted for the Creativate National Writing Competition in 2016. This gave me the confidence to take my writing seriously but also told me that I needed to work harder if I wanted to get further. So, I read the winning entries and what the judges said about them and I edited again before submitting to agents. With every next piece of feedback that I received, I edited again.

When I signed with Agora Books last year, I had done as much as I could. I was so close to the story and the way I wanted it to read that I no longer had the sharpness of vision to see how it really worked or the dispassionate view of my writing that was needed. That’s where Sam Brace and Kate Evans at Agora Books stepped in and pulled away the fog for me with so many clever insights. From questions about my character’s motivations to observations on the actual writing, they demanded better from me and guided me through, what looks like, another 5 rounds of edits.

I don’t often print out when I’m editing but here’s the pile of paper that I’ve just cleared out. That doesn’t include the bits re-used for shopping lists, scrap for the kids’ drawing, paper airplanes or the big clear out a year ago. The one full print out that I’m definitely going to keep is the version that Sam and Kate had to start with. Because if I ever, ever feel tempted to think I can manage without an editor, I’m going to compare that rough version with the proof that I hope is in a postman’s bag on the way to my house now.

So, here’s to you, Sam and Kate, and editors everywhere!


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