Fear and Loathing in the Dining Room: Dominic Dulley on Being Edited

As a very exciting early Christmas present, JFB debut Dominic Dulley has agreed to share with us his experience of being edited for the first time. What more could we ask for?!


Writing is a solitary business, until it isn’t. I completed four novels before I was fortunate enough to find an agent and secure a deal for Shattermoon. Suddenly I had a whole team working to get my book published, and it was a wonderful thing. But it can be difficult to have other people messing with your baby.

I was fortunate enough to have Jo Fletcher herself as my editor, which would have been daunting even without her well-intentioned warning to ‘brace myself for a lot of red’.

A Word document duly arrived, together with some useful suggestions about how to tackle it. I opened it to find that Jo hadn’t been exaggerating about the red. I told myself it would be okay: surely it looked worse than it was?

Following Jo’s suggested approach, I first accepted all her changes and then read through the manuscript, highlighting anything that jarred or read as if I hadn’t written it. There was an awful lot I didn’t like, and by the time I’d fought my way to the end I was close to despair.

I think this was my lowest point, but I plunged back in. Armed with a long list of everything I’d highlighted as not feeling right, I compared them to Jo’s actual changes and was surprised to find that I hadn’t picked up many of her notes; I’d written a lot of the stuff I didn’t like myself!

Encouraged, I embarked on a chapter-by-chapter edit. This was tough going at first, as I felt I had to adjust to Jo’s style, which can be very different to mine. I found myself cringing at some phrases – not because they were badly written, but because they weren’t in my voice. There was a foreign invader in my book – a book I had lived with every day for a year of my life.

As time went on, a few realisations eased the process. On more than one occasion I found myself getting cross about a phrase, only to discover it was one of mine. Also, as well as the inline copyedits, Jo had provided me with a (thankfully quite short) list of larger structural and plot issues. I decided to tackle these as I came to them, and was surprised to find them far less distressing to deal with than the smaller changes. I realised this was because I was rewriting whole paragraphs in my own voice. It took me until about halfway through the book to figure this out, and once I did, things became easier. I was now looking at the intent behind each of Jo’s smaller changes: why had she rewritten this sentence in this way? Why had she switched these two paragraphs around? I started excising many of her suggested changes entirely and replacing with a sentence or two of my own that served the same purpose.

Of course, there were still things that niggled at me, but Jo knows what she is doing and so in some places I just gritted my teeth and accepted a change I wasn’t entirely happy with. This was rare, though.

Still, by the time I came to the end of the second read-through I was not in a good place – and the last thing I wanted to do was go through the whole thing yet again. I had a deadline to hit for book two, and the two weeks I had naively allowed myself for editing had already turned into three.

But, again, I just had to get on with it – and actually it wasn’t too bad. I completed it in about a week, and realised that the whole book was reading a lot better. My swearing levels had reduced considerably, much to my wife’s relief, and although there were still a few things I wasn’t a hundred percent happy with, they were few and far between.

I returned it to Jo with a profound sense of relief, but already bracing myself for round two. I must have done a passable job, though, as very little came back from her.

A month later I received a bulky envelope through the post: the printed proof pages. After my initial excitement wore off, I approached them warily, but this round of editing turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. I allowed two weeks but in fact it took just four days.

I sat at the dining room table and went through the printed pages one by one, noting any changes in a PDF of the proof. I changed over two hundred things, but nothing major. Less than 10% of the changes were actual mistakes (typos etc.); the rest was just polishing.

I read a thread on Twitter recently about writers who are not prepared to let anyone else touch their work. I would respectfully suggest that if this is your mindset, then traditional publishing is not for you. I went through one round of editing with my agent before Shattermoon was even submitted, which makes for a total of five. As with most things in life, if something is easy it’s probably not worth much. Though my first editing experience was difficult – even painful at times – the end result is a far better novel, and for that I will be eternally grateful to Jo and her fabulous team.

And the next one will be easier . . . won’t it?

Dominic Dulley’s debut novelShattermoon, the first in the rollicking space opera series The Long Game, will be out in eBook in May 2018 and in hard copy in June.

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