Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How many editors does it take to....?

Today, we talk to Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of the Agatha-winning book , Prime Time, the first in the Charlotte McNally mystery series. Thanks for joining us, Hank, and for answering a few questions about how your books get edited. Let’s start.

Dani: How many of the various types of edits does each of your books go through from start to finish?

Hank: Depends on the page—sometimes on the words! to quantify. Every day when I begin writing, I go back over my pages (or words!) from the day before. I polish and tweak for flow, pacing, logic, story and rhythm. I also go back, earlier in the manuscript, and insert clues or connections that are needed.

By the time the first draft is complete, it's been nipped and tucked several times. I wait a week, then go back over once again for logic and continuity. For dialogue. For clues and continuity.

How may full edits at that point? Some parts never change. Some parts change dramatically. It's a process that's continuous and rolling.

I send the completed manuscript to my independent editor, the only other person who reads it before it goes to the publisher. She gives me suggestions, many of which are wonderful. I incorporate the fixes, make the changes, and then go through to make sure they haven't toppled some dominoes in the rest of the story.

Then it goes to the publisher, where my dear editor looks at it again. She's a genius for pacing and motivation.

I fix it one more time.

Then it goes to the copy editor, who looks for those inevitable and unavoidable typos, inconsistencies and grammatical errors. We battle over hyphens and commas, and generally agree at the end. (In Prime Time, I had 26 pages listing typos, mistakes and dropped words!) At this point, I can also make a few tiny changes to the writing, but not many.

Dani: How many "editors" for each book then?

Hank: Me. My independent editor. My editor at MIRA. The copy editor. So four total.

Dani: What is the absolute last time you can make corrections before publication?

Hank: After the copy edit, it's done. And I cross my fingers.

Dani: Thanks, Hank. It sounds like non-stop editing throughout the process. Be sure to stop by Jungle Red Writers to visit Hank and her compatriots there.

Next, we’ll talk to Karen Syed, publisher and editor at Echelon Press, for her perspective about the process.


Dani Greer is a professional artist and writer who is one of those aforementioned independent editors for her favorite writing pals. She prefers to read historical and cozy mysteries. When not working on her own writing projects, she runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup and offers advice to authors planning virtual tours with The Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever.

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  1. Nice post today, Dani. The interview covered some good points for writers to know.

  2. Great questions, Dani, as usual. Thanks for the opportunity to visit!

    My editor at MIRA is amazing, and delightful.

    She'll write in the margin: "The reader will not know what Charlie is wearing. Please adddress."

    Isn't that gracious and polite? Now, I say to my husband: "The dishwasher is full. Please address..."

  3. What a brilliant idea, Hank... editing the hubby's actions. Why didn't I think of that myself? Please address....



  4. I tend to go over what I wrote from the day before also, mainly to get back into the flow of the book.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. I do that same thing Morgan. It seems to kickstart the writing.

    Wonderful interview Dani and Hank. It's interesting to see what you go through, step by step.

  6. This is a great interview that will be very helpful to writers, especially new writers who often don't realize how much editing is required to polish a manuscript.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.