“I wrote a book. Many of my friends and members of my family had read it and some had offered constructive advice. I uploaded it to peer review websites and gained more from the thoughts of other writers. I edited and re-edited, then wrote a little more. I was too close to my words however, and knew I needed a ruthless and commercial eye to turn my work into the best book it could be.
I approached Johnny in some trepidation, knowing the respect in which my peers hold him as an editor of fiction, and aware he did not pull his punches. With my anxiety, I handed him a dilemma, because I was seeking his help not with a work of fiction, but a memoir. I complicated this further by making the subject of the book, my daughter, who died nearly eleven years ago at the age of five.
Johnny was frank in his misgivings about working with me. Considering the subject matter, he wondered aloud whether I was robust enough to bear tough editing should the manuscript need it. He gently pointed out that if a criticism upset me he would be mortified, but that his critical eye would be assessing the pull of my story like any other on which he worked. Was I happy to proceed on this basis? I gulped, and agreed.
With provisos and caveats in place, Johnny began by explaining how he worked. I recommend that all writers in whatever stage of editing read his insightful (and funny) thoughts about the various reader irritations (distorters) that an edit should pick up. Holding files? I’d never heard of them, but when Johnny explained their existence, it changed the way I perceived my writing. I sent him the first three chapters of my memoir. He preceded his comments with his thoughts about the editing role, and I could not put these into better words than Johnny’s own.
‘I see your work as one would view any art form; be that a painting, sculpture, play or film, and as your editor I am here to help refine that form and make it the best that it can be. With the finest chisel we will nick away the bumps and jars, with a deft brush we will smoothen the flow, with a director’s hat we will arrange the production to maximise impact and effect, and so the finished product will entrance those that open the pages to read’.
Johnny said he needed me to agree with at least most of the changes he suggested if we were to work together successfully on the rest of the book. I agreed with them all. He was honest, saying my opening chapter was ‘bland and boring’, but he explained why. He was right, and I saw what I needed to do.
Over the next few months, he edited three chapter sections at a time. I had the most work to do with the earlier parts but after a while, I understood more of his vision and I edited ahead, anticipating his comments. He wrote about what worked well, which boosted my confidence and helped me to trust him when he showed me where the writing was weaker. I am now as convinced as modesty allows that my writing is better at the end of the editing process, and that this is entirely due to Johnny’s deft tutelage and patience.
Before we began, Johnny painted himself as a tough and primarily commercial being. Perhaps I’m ruining his image even to hint that our work together proved that while never losing sight of what makes a reader keep reading, he is far from lacking in emotion. Thank you, Johnny, it’s been a privilege. I’m looking forward to the next book.”
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