by Laura Garwood, Collaborative Editor

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The editing process can be hard. You’ve sent your hard work away for someone else to look at and work on, and you are just left to wait it out.

I hope they like it.

If you are like a lot of people, you second-guess yourself.

Oof, are they going to think I’m a dork because of that scene in the jailhouse? I knew that scene wasn’t working. I’ll bet they hate that scene.

And if you are like a lot of people who have second-guessed themselves, you might be tempted to try to fix it.

I have a good idea! What if I make that scene have a surprise ending? And while I’m at it, did I use too many commas? I’ll just delete those.

[record screeching noise]

That was your editor’s record. Your editor really doesn’t want you to do that. Not right now.

One of our major tasks when we are collaborating with an author is keeping track of what has happened to the manuscript. If you have received a draft from us, you’ll see all those nifty/annoying/helpful colored lines showing you what we have removed, added, suggested, moved, reworded, and so on. Then you can accept and reject and make changes yourself to result in the next, better draft, right?

Enter a competing version of the manuscript. This one has changes that you have made in it—it has fewer commas now, and that jailhouse scene really pops! Except…it doesn’t have all the changes that your editor made. And some of the changes that your editor made were in response to the way you used commas and are based on that jailhouse scene being the way it was. Your editor suggested changing the character who was in jail because she was too much like the character who works at the community center. And now the commas in the new jailhouse scene are different than those in the rest of the book.

Of course these are extremely random examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Everything your editor does is based on your work as a whole. If you mail them a revision after they have already started, even if they’re only in the first forty-five pages, it’s really hard for them to be sure that the patched-together version of forty-five new pages and three hundred old ones is consistent and clean. Or they may inadvertently edit the wrong manuscript altogether if you’ve sent them several, which is pretty catastrophic all around. And if you are working with them in some kind of collaborative ongoing format, like Google Docs, it can be even worse, because they will be overwhelmed with trying to figure out what has changed and why and when.

Most editors (or collaborative writers) already have a few sordid version-control tales under their belts. These stories may involve bad words, lost money, client frustration, editor frustration, and more. Help them avoid this pitfall by preparing as finished a version as possible for the round of editing you are seeking, verifying exactly what draft you would like them to work on (complete with a good document name and date), and then being patient until they have finished. And then, heck, you can revise again!

Laura GarwoodLaura Garwood has been an editor and writer for fifteen years now, and boy has she seen a lot of messes, many of them involving multiple people working on different versions of the same document. As someone who is deeply concerned about consistency and catching all the loose ends, Laura finds this very stressful. Please don’t stress Laura. She has enough going on. Manage your document versions well.