On Butterfly Wings: A Book Editing Case Study

An illlustration of an open door and multi-coloured butterflies flying out of a box sitting on the threshold, overlayed with the words "On Butterfly Wings: A Book Editing Case Study"

This post is a part of our services overview series, “What the Heck Do We Do?” 


a newspaper clipping from The Province with the headline "From Rick to Ricci"

When she saw “FROM RICK TO RICCI” splashed across The Province newspaper’s front page on Sunday, March 30th, 2008, Jayne Doxtater needed a moment. Even though she was interviewed for the article, it was a different feeling seeing it permanently in print. She took a deep breath. There, paired with before and after photos of her beloved husband, the text went on: “They’re one and the same. Ricci heads to Quebec today to complete her sex change, but critics say it would cost taxpayers thousands less if it was done in B.C.”

Ricci was taking a big step, but her gender affirmation surgeryand the political discourse surrounding itwas just a tiny sliver of the couple’s story. Jayne and Ricci had experienced a lot in the past few years, although mostly in private. Now it was news for all to see. HEADLINE news!

Today, stories about transitioning and other LGBTQIA2S+ experiences are increasingly (finally!) coming to the forefront. However, many of these accounts are told from the perspective of the person transitioning — quite understandably, as it’s a deeply personal, unique experience. At the time, however, Jayne felt alone, as the romantic partner of a trans woman in small-town British Columbia. 

For Jayne, sharing her story was cathartic. Between her day-to-day work as an esthetician, she started writing a series in the Vancouver Observer in 2009. She detailed her experience with the help of staff journalist Linda Solomon, who edited the four installments that were ultimately published. But, after a pause, she decided she wanted to get it all out, in long-form. It was time to write a memoir.

The Metamorphosis of a Memoir

An illlustration of an open door and multi-coloured butterflies flying out of a box sitting on the threshold

In 2019, Jayne approached us with her partially completed manuscript and some trepidation about working with an editor. She wanted to honestly recount her experiences and tell her version from a place of love. For Jayne, preservation of her voice was of utmost importance. She wanted advice and coaching, but also for her editor to understand her point of view at that moment in time.

We met with her, listened to her concerns, and had her share a few chapters with us. Then we offered a complimentary trial edit of an unedited chapter, which helped us determine the type of editing she needed and also gave her a feel for working with us.

During the trial edit, we decided Jayne’s memoir would need developmental, stylistic and copy editing — as well as a final proofread and help with the acknowledgements, author bio, and back-cover copy. Because she hadn’t quite finished the manuscript, we also suggested developing a collaborative schedule to keep everyone accountable and on-track. Together we embarked on what would be an extended, extremely close working relationship. 

Writer & Editor, Cocooned Together

While Jayne polished the later chapters, we got to work on the earlier ones. We suggested edits, asked questions, and made notes prompting clarification or expansion. As we worked through the manuscript, we saw themes of love, loss, anger, and acceptance emerge. 

In any memoir, there is a lot to consider. Memoir authors are writing about real people, some of whom are probably still alive. One of the biggest questions in the genre is whether to use real names or pseudonyms. Often, this will depend on tone, events, and the author’s present relationship with those people. In Jayne’s case we advised that she write the entire first draft using real names to make writing easier. Later, we discussed courtesy, permissions, legalities and the pros and cons of using fictionalized names in some cases. (For any names we wanted to change, it was a simple matter of strategically using find and replace to swap them out at the end.) We discussed how to frame certain flashbacks and memories within her story and considered inclusive language, including gendered pronouns. 

By the time we reached “The End” at the bottom of The Box in the Closet, we were joking about how close our relationship had become. Did we “remember” more about this period of Jayne’s life than she did? Was she speaking with us more these days than she was with her children? As we put our journalistic skills to work, researching and fact-checking, and then completing another round of edits before a final proofread, we were further immersed in her life’s nitty gritty details. Jayne laughed and wholeheartedly agreed that despite the up-close-and-personal nature of her day job, this might be the most intimate professional relationship any of us had ever had! Also, kids? What kids?

“Knowledge and guidance, extremely helpful, fun and easy going manner, responding to questions quickly. They made it so easy to keep going on my project (in my case, a book), and they have been one of my greatest cheerleaders throughout the journey. I highly recommend Writer's Block Solutions, Val Rossi (journalist) and Kyla Girling (editing). They will give you 100% of their time and energy.” —Jayne Doxtater, Award-Winning Author of The Box in the Closet


A Story Emerges

In addition to her manuscript, Jayne needed an author bio and a few versions of the book’s summary (for the back of the book, online listings, and marketing materials). She also wanted to include some acknowledgements and asked Ricci to contribute a brief postscript. We sent Jayne some prompt questions to get her started on her bio and acknowledgements and then edited her drafts. We wrote a synopsis for her feedback and approval, and then edited it into different versions to meet the required parameters, such as word count. And we quickly proofread Ricci’s very touching contribution, which she opened by paraphrasing Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” lyrics: “I’d tell them my life’s been one big adventure.”

Jayne was concurrently working with The Self Publishing Agency (TSPA). Under their agreement, she had access to their team of editors, illustrators, photographers and designers. We not only briefly collaborated with a couple of their editors (have we mentioned we love collaboration?) but also consulted with Jayne when she was selecting a cover designer, and eventually a cover design.

In May 2021, we were thrilled to receive our copies of The Box in the Closet, complete with a cute little personal dedication handwritten by Jayne. The book is published! The caterpillar becomes a butterfly! Fly, you magnificent creature! FLY!

From Chrysalis to Flight

Book cover of "The Box in the Closet" by Jayne Doxtater with cartoon butterflies coming out of a box on the floor of a bedroom closet faded in the background.As Jayne says, The Box in the Closet is not just a memoir; it’s a love story. In telling a story about healing and becoming whole, she hopes to encourage peace, love, and understanding in others. Of course, we were inspired by that goal, and truly honoured that Jayne trusted us to edit her story and help her share it with the world.

We’re excited to share that The Box in the Closet was recently selected as a winner of Best Book – Genre: Memoir in the 2022 Page Turner Awards. Congratulations, Jayne! For more info, including where you can purchase a copy, visit jaynesbook.com.

Have a story to tell, but need editing help? Get in touch to learn more about our Author Solutions services.

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