Saturday, 16 March 2013

Perfection takes time - and here's the reason why!

It's been pointed out to us recently that some aspiring authors who might consider submitting work to Manifold Press could possibly be put off by the idea of being edited, unsure what that entails and afraid of losing control of their story; therefore we thought it would be useful to give a few details about our process and how we like to work with our authors.

Let's imagine that you have a book you want to submit - just because it's easier to discuss it that way! We need to start by saying that there is no question of forcing you to tailor your work to fit a particular template, or indeed to do anything with your work that you don't want to do. We don't usually issue contracts until the book is in a more or less finished condition, as agreed between us and you; we do it that way so that you won't feel pressured into making changes you're not completely comfortable with, and so that no contract is broken if you choose to withdraw from the process.

First we try to build up a relationship of trust between you and ourselves, so that hopefully you'll realise we're making suggestions for the good of the story rather than from any ulterior motive. If we can't even get this first step right, we're not likely to be taking matters any further with you at this stage.

From acceptance onwards, however, the route we take very much depends on the author's skill and the quality of the submission. Some people need less editing than others, but everybody – no matter how skilful or experienced they may be – needs at least some.

Let's suppose that the book you've sent us – and which we like very much – has a strong plot and good characters, but the storytelling is a bit muddled. We can see that there's quality there, but it's obscured in some way; it needs to be made clearer so that the reader can appreciate it fully. In one case that we dealt with recently, for example, we had to tell the author "every word you've written should be three", because everything happened far too quickly. In other cases we've been able to point out that scenes were in the wrong order, that a character knew something on page 16 that he or she'd forgotten by page 45, and so on. Our aim is not to change the story overall; if you want your characters to get married, or to die, or something else life-changing and significant, we won't ask you to alter that – although we may ask you to explain why you think it's important, which might well help you to clarify your own thinking about it.

So, next we'll probably do a 'developmental edit'. (See this page for a clear explanation of how this works.) We do this as quickly and as thoroughly as we can, using a method which we agree with you in advance, and then we send the book back for your further consideration. At this stage most authors seem to have a brief (anything from half an hour to a week!) panic attack, and then they start evaluating our comments – so now we need to make it clear that our suggestions are just that; ideas for ways in which the story can be improved. If you hate them, you have two options; either withdraw the book completely, or come back to us for further discussion/negotiations on specific points, and between us we'll try to hammer out a solution that we're both happy with.

Depending on the book itself and on how comfortable you are with the process, we might perhaps need to do this a second time, too. In the meantime, if there is a requirement for some kind of specialist input, we may (with your permission) send off sections of the text to people with relevant expertise. We've done this, for example, with a trial sequence under English law; we happen to have a bona fide Clerk of the Court who can look at such things and tell us whether or not they're accurate. More recently, we've had an experienced gardener looking over material with a horticultural theme. We've also consulted – among others - a native German speaker, someone with experience in Planning matters, and a member of the Roman Catholic faith, each of whom provided the kind of detailed verification you just can't get from Wikipedia.

After all this – which could take a month or six weeks, perhaps, at the outside – we will very probably have a text that you and we both think is ready to take to the next stage. That's when we issue you with a contract, confirm the intended publication date, and send your book off for proof-reading.

We employ qualified proof-readers, who work for us in return for a fee based on the word-count of the book. To us, a professional service is worth every penny we pay for it; we have extremely diligent proof-readers who pick up on virtually everything – not just spelling, punctuation and grammar but also other minutiae which may have escaped our eagle eye at an earlier stage. They're scrupulous; they'll know if you've said 'cold-hearted' on page 9 and 'coldhearted' on page 78, and they just won't let you get away with it!

Again, when we've heard back from the proof-reader, we'll return your book to you. If the proof-reader's suggestions don't suit you, you're free to reject them. However we hope you won't – not all of them, at least, and not completely out of hand!

There is usually one last scan-through of the text as well, when the layout of the book is being prepared, but this is by no means thorough and any errors spotted at this stage are likely to come to notice only by accident. If it's just a question of the odd missing quotation-mark or something, we'll fix it without consulting you. If it's more serious, we'll check with you first.

Hopefully you will understand from the foregoing that we see the production stage of a book as a process of collaboration between you, the author, and our editorial and proof-reading team. None of us would make any claim to being infallible, but we've accumulated a great deal of experience over the years which we're very happy to make available to you - for the simple reason that we all want your book to be as good and as successful as it can possibly be. After all, if it sells well, we all benefit!

We heard somebody say recently that 'perfection is a journey, not a destination', and this could well be the motto of the Manifold Press editorial team. We don't know if it's actually possible to achieve perfection, but we are very committed to constantly moving closer to it. If you, as an author, submit your work to us, it will be our aim to help you take one step further along that road; nothing more than that, and - to the very best of our ability - nothing less.

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