These next few months are all about editing on the blog, so we’ve asked some TBA clients a question:
“How do you tackle your edits?”
S.E. Green, author of KILLER WITHIN
My edits typically come with an editorial letter and also the manuscript with track changes. I print the editorial letter out and read through it, making notes as I go. Then I start on page 1 of the manuscript and go through every track change and comment. As I do this, I tackle not only the tracks but also weave in the solutions to the points made in the editorial letter. When I’ve reached the last page of the manuscript, I start over and read again (this time out loud). This gives me a chance to tweak anything I may not have addressed from the editorial letter. After that it’s ready and off to my editor!
Katherine Locke, author of SECOND POSITION
I start with a reverse outline, which means that I write down what actually happened on the page, versus what I wanted to or needed to have happen. I put these on notecards (color coded for different character’s POV since I almost always have more than one POV in my books) and look for gaps in the narrative.
Once I’ve identified the gaps, then I’ll go back and fix those first. After rewrites, and sometimes re-reverse outlining to make sure there aren’t new gaps, I go through and do passes for specific issues.
These vary depending on the manuscript’s weaknesses, but I usually do passes for dialogue, setting, distinct character voices, tension, and stakes. For this stage, I like to write the issues onto post it notes and keep them on a large piece of blank paper next to me. As I fix an issue (for instance, “Weave in Zed’s St. Anthony’s necklace and importance”), I’ll pull the post off the paper and throw it out. It’s extremely satisfying to do this and helps keep the momentum up!
Kathryn Ormsbee (also writes as K. E. Ormsbee), author of THE WATER & THE WILD
I use the writing software Scrivener to divide my manuscript into manageable sections, highlight problems, and add notes about scenes and storylines. I also spend time with a folder I call “the graveyard”—home to scraps of writing I’ve removed from the work that need to be either revived and reworked into the story or buried forevermore. When I’m through revising a chapter, I celebrate by ticking the corresponding “revised draft” box. (Yes, I was a kid who derived inordinate satisfaction from achievement stickers.) I’m a very visual person, but one of my most helpful revision stages is sitting down and reading the entire manuscript out loud. If I simply read over the manuscript, my brain falls into a habit of skimming. But when I say the manuscript, I catch problems like repetitiveness and awkward syntax. This stage is especially helpful for polishing dialogue. Some lines might look good on paper but don’t ring true when they’re coming out of my mouth.
Mike Revell, author of STONEBIRD
Tackling edits is my favourite part of the writing process. The first draft is quite an isolated adventure; it’s you sitting alone at a computer, day after day, putting one word after another until the final page. But as soon as the manuscript flies off to your editor’s desk, you get someone on your team who believes in your story and wants it to be as good as possible. While the first draft, for me, is a splurge of consciousness that I figure out on the fly, the edits are where that lump of clay gets shaped into a book.
After reading through my editor’s notes, the first thing I do is set them aside and let all the thoughts stew for a day. I don’t write, don’t change anything, just let everything they’ve said bump around in my mind. The next day, I read through them again, and this time I write the key points down in my own words. By now, they’ve often triggered new ideas and thoughts of my own, and I note these down too. Then I read back through the manuscript, using index cards to write up a timeline of what happens and when.
This gives me a fresh idea of the shape of the story: if I need to cut something, I can see where it is. If I need to add something, it’s obvious where to put it. It also creates a visual picture of the plot threads so I can be sure that they come together where I want them and can be tied up nicely by the end. Once I’ve decided what changes to make, I turn the list of edits into a to-do list, ticking each one off as I go. It’s a very satisfying process, because you know that each step brings you closer to a proper, finished book!
Lisa Tyre, author of LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS
Every time I see the Subject: Edits line in my email, I react the same way. I ignore it. Chances are good that I’m in the middle of a hundred things and I like to wait until I can give the edits my undivided attention. When all is quiet, I open the document and read through them quickly just to get an idea of how difficult this round is going to be. I make note of the more extensive things I need to think about, then I go through the manuscript making all of the easy edits, like deleting words and saying OK to changes.
For the larger edit dilemmas, I take my time mulling it over. I work a lot on my laptop, but for edits, I use my desktop with its large monitor. I like to open the old file to have it for immediate reference as I make changes. If I’m not 100% happy with the change, I highlight it in the text to come back are reread after sleeping on it. Before hitting save, I read the different versions to my favorite reader (my husband) to get his feedback. Occasionally, I’ll even write two different versions of a particular sentence and let my editor decide.
Nancy Scanlon, author of THE MISTS OF FATE series
There are two kinds of edits: Substantive edits and copy edits. Copy edits are easy – spelling, grammar, and details (for example, if a character has blue eyes on page 4, he should probably still have blue eyes on page 304). But substantive edits can be scary – in my experience, there’s a whole lot of red, strikethroughs, and comments. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, I break those edits into a schedule.
Day 1: I ignore all the red strikethroughs and suggested changes, and get right to the comments. I need to see what the editor thought of the overall story. My editor writes notes such as, “I like this, but wrong place. Move to another scene” or, “This scene does nothing to further their plight/plot/story. Cut it from MS.” The comments can also be lovely, which helps me to think that maybe things aren’t as bad as they look at first glance (did I mention there’s a whole lot of red?).
Day 2: I save a copy and accept all the changes, then I turn the doc into a PDF and read the manuscript (on my e-reader) all the way through. I can see where the suggested changes work, and where they don’t. I let that settle in for a couple of days and try to breathe normally.
Day 5 – 20: I go back to the original copy and begin to make changes within the red marks. I’ve let the suggested changes percolate long enough, I am back in the story mindset (which can be tough to do if it’s been awhile since I last picked up that MS), and I’m ready to DO ALL THE THINGS. If a passage is particularly sticky or complicated, I’ll change the font color to something bright. If I know the edits I’m making impact the story later in the book, I highlight the text to cross-check later.
Day 21: I print the whole thing out…in color. This way, I can see at-a-glance what needs another review, what needs to be cross-checked, and what I need to talk to my editor and agent about (as my books are part of an overall series, I have to watch the finer points of my dialogue and dropped hints).
Days 22-25: Make my final edits. Also, I take a moment to reflect how lucky I am to have an agent and an editor who can read my story from both my and the reader’s points of view, and they’re just plain nice about my mistakes word choices.
Day 25: Send to Victoria for feedback. Drink a large glass of wine. Pretend like nothing big happened except, you know, CHANGING HUGE PLOT POINTS.
Day 30: After Victoria sends her thoughts to me, I read the whole MS once more. If I fell in love with my hero again, if my heart hurt when things weren’t looking so good, and if the heady rush of happy-ever-after leaves me with a smile on my face…Edits complete. Send to editor.
Thanks to all the TBA clients who contributed to this post!