Good Book Editing Doesn’t Just Correct, It Collaborates

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I love the economy of publishing: a writer takes an idea and creates a product (the writing-the-book part), perfects the product (the editing-the-book part), and then prints the product (the finished-book part that readers pay to read). It’s one of the purest forms of capitalism.

I also love the collaboration. Over the past decade, my role in the editing-the-book part that “perfects the product,” while still focused on grammar, punctuation (the taking-the-narrative-where-it-needs-to-go part), has morphed into having a say when it comes to such elements as theme and design.

So when Jmichael Peeples, a talented jazzman and new author, compared me to Quincy Jones, I thought, now there’s a man who knows a thing or two about collaboration. 

"I just opened my email! Man! You’re like the Quincy Jones of the editing world. It looks great! I love the way you connected the songs into the chapters!" - Jmichael Peeples, author of Take it to the Bridge

Quincy Jones’ ability to affect the musicians he works with, to draw out their best, is profound, and as an editor-collaborator, it’s something I’ve begun thinking about more and more and striving for with each and every book project.

Jmichael's book was originally written as a play, so we focused on the novelization, loosely based on his grandfather’s experience of losing his son in a motorcycle accident, as much as the writing and editing. Because he’s a songwriter, there was a musicality to what he initially offered, and our first face-to-face meeting was more of a jam session.

Then we moved on to the writer-meets-editor phase, and ultimately we decided to blend elements of song structure into the narrative. In fact, we approached his book as if we were songwriting. While content editing an earlier draft, it struck me that two songs Jmichael had written for inspiration showed two different yet successive storylines. I thought, why not blend these? Why not shape these as epigraphs at the beginning of chapters?

Using two columns, we arranged the coinciding lyrics side-by-side. This embraced the book’s lyrical essence; it also juxtaposed clashing feelings the protagonist navigates throughout the storyline. He’s lost his son and is devastated, and yet, with his faith and the help of an old friend and a new friend, he is able to—you may have guessed this—“sing” again.  

For me, the experience was transformative: I no longer see or define myself solely as an editor, but as a collaborator. I still love to make corrections—but with my red pen in hand, the book-perfecting experience has grown to a relationship that’s more creative and more connected.


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Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.