I spent the last weeks of January 2010 working on the structural edits of my new novel The Half-Child. A few weeks later, it was time for the copyedit. If I compare the process of structural editing with renovating a house — more or less work, depending on the initial state of the premises — copy-editing is like interior decorating. Making sure you use the same shade of paint throughout, making sure the paint doesn’t clash with the carpet, using the right fixtures, cleaning up after it all.
At the copyedit stage of my first book, Behind the Night Bazaar, my editor advised cutting 30,000 words from my manuscript, or some 30% of the text. This brought the word count down to 72,000, apparently the optimal number for a first-time author. I’d been obliging up to that point, figuring that whatever the publisher wanted, the publisher should get. But 30,000 words! Years of work, and all I’d have to show for it was a slim novel on the shelf…
Then my beloved partner pointed out that it was better to have a slim novel on the shelf than a fat manuscript in the desk drawer. He was right, of course, so I got over myself and made the cuts. This did wonders for the pace of the novel, and it still looked quite respectable in the end.
At the same stage in the copyedit process for The Half-Child, albeit with a different editor on my team, I was advised to cut 3,000 words from the manuscript, or around 3.7% of the text. I take it as a sign of having learned a thing or two the first time around, though it will ultimately be up to my readers to make that call.
Both novels had last-minute changes to the names of major characters to avoid confusion for readers unfamiliar with Thai names. I changed the name of the corrupt cop in Behind the Night Bazaar to Ratratarn and can honestly no longer remember what he was called in earlier drafts, he fitted the new name so well. I wonder if I will come to feel the same way about Mayuree, whom I still think of by her previous name.
In other news, I’ve also been following up on permission to use the lyrics of the (new) song I chose from the competition I ran on this blog. The lyrics feature in the penultimate scene in the book, which takes place in a karaoke bar. My last task during the structural edit stage was to re-write a version of the scene that mentioned the song title but didn’t cite any lyrics. It therefore came as a total bonus to receive a letter from a company in Nashville less than a fortnight ago granting me permission to reproduce the lyrics in English, ‘valid for the territory of: the world.’
For what it’s worth, my hot tip when citing lyrics in literary works is to choose a song penned by one author who is managed by one company. Better still, choose an artist whose entire catalogue is owned by said company.
The song in question may well be sung at the launch of The Half-Child if my plans for a karaoke party come to fruition. Meanwhile, my timeline from Text has the proofs coming back tomorrow, with bound proofs ready before Easter. Can’t wait to see what Chong Weng-ho comes up with for the cover.