I’ve had the edits for Holland Bay back for almost two weeks now. So, I just accept track changes and pack it off to the wonder agent. Right? No? So it’s going straight to Amazon as soon as I can get a cover? No? Then what?
Cut. Add. Change up. Rewrite. Words that make many writers, especially newer ones, cringe with fear.
I’ve been on this merry-go-round three times, with Bad Religion dependent on a lot of interim beta reads. This, despite being done for barter, is the most professional edit I’ve had on a manuscript. Such edits are not for the faint of heart. There is, however, a method to the madness that is prepping a manuscript.
For starters, the first thing an editor does is line editing. They will flag grammatical errors, continuity problems, and suggest dialog changes. It’s not just proofreading (though that is part of the process). This is where the editor tries to make the language clearer, finds inconsistencies, and learns the structure of the story.
Then the editor will make notes at the end to give an overview of the manuscript and suggest changes to structure, even scenes to add or cut. The notes often come at the end of the edited manuscript. Read those first. Why?
Everything else will make sense. Remember, this is often the first time someone other than you has seen the manuscript. By now, you should have at least one round of revisions under your belt. (You did do at least one before packing this off. Right? Right?) So there should be some coherence to the story. Even if you still are sending out something completely unreadable, it should still have something of its final shape by now.
Now, here’s where a couple of professional editors and I are in agreement: Forget your manuscript even exists. You don’t want to know about it. The only thing you should do is answer questions about word choices. For instance, there is a neighborhood in Holland Bay called “Serievo,” which sounds like “Sarajevo,” the capital of Bosnia. I needed to explain that I did that on purpose. But beyond explaining word choices and naming conventions, the book should not exist to the writer.
“But what should I do while I’m waiting?”
Why aren’t you working on the next project? After I sent off Holland Bay for editing, “Dick” wrote the science fiction novel, which I am now studiously ignoring.
Once you have them back, you are going to rebel. “But why should I drop that character? What do you mean that subplot is unbelievable? Why can’t one of my characters retire to Montana to raise dental floss?” (Seriously, why would he want to? Monsanto’s GMO floss has completely wrecked the market for organic dental floss. Go breed unicorns instead. There’s a big market for unicorn meat.) Yes, rebel. Respectfully push back. If you’re working with a publisher, I must strongly emphasize the respectful part. They’re paying you. But it’s just as important if you’re paying the editor. Professional editors have only so many slots. If yours is good, you want to get another slot. And if you’re trading…? Hey, it’s a favor, stupid. Don’t spit in the face of someone doing you a favor.
All the same, push back. Find alternative edits. Find out why something did not work. This is where new ideas are bred. An example: My guy, Brian Thornton (my fellow blogmate over at Sleuthsayers), did not like the character of Murdoch, a beleaguered patrol officer who finds himself working with disgraced cop Jessica Branson. Murdoch has to deal with a ladder-climbing wife who wants to break out in the city’s media. Brian initially suggested simply cutting the character. Ouch. I couldn’t see where that would work. So I asked why? The marital woes of the Murdochs take up a lot of space, and they’re over Murdoch’s career. Murdoch is a cop. He goes where the city sends him. It’s not really enough for the FM rock station’s “Traffic Wench” (the nickname makes sense in context) to get worked up over her husband managing to keep a steady paycheck.
On the other hand, if she’s bored and finds an influential lawyer who takes a shine to her…
Oh, now that amps things up. Some characters got killed off, one main character gets shot. It’s all about ratcheting up tension.
So now I’ve come up with some ideas to rework this puppy. What now? Well, I sent Brian a Word document, so he was able to do Track Changes. Once I’ve read the notes and kicked around alternative structural changes, I go through the track changes and either accept or reject changes. I would say I took about 95-98% of Brian’s changes. At the same time, I made notes on each chapter. Replace certain scenes, adjust existing ones to accommodate other changes, and add or delete scenes. Then I went back and shifted scenes around, added them, deleted them. The climax was completely rewritten.
Once that’s done, we’re ready to upload, submit, or hand back to the publisher. Right? No. The notes included (as yours most likely will) suggestions for dialog and description. You’ll want to make another pass or two to check that out. Now we’re done. Right?
Nope. One more pass. You’ve sent a manuscript off that probably has continuity errors built in (and your editor’s notes will point those out.) You’ve made changes to scenes, added or removed characters, and even deleted whole chapters. You want to make sure the story still makes sense, that you’re not referring to events that no longer happen or an inserted character or place doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. One final pass with a little proofreading to clean up finishes the process.
Okay, now what?
Indie authors format for ebook and print, which means you have to get your own cover. Trad authors just format it and write the dreaded query letter.
Yes, revisions are a lot of work. You might get lucky and get away with little revision. I submit that succeeding without any sweat equity is the worst thing that can ever happen to a writer. If you don’t learn how to do the work, that success is going to be short-lived.