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What Are Edits Like?

Shannon Stacey blogged a few days ago about her edits, and I loved her post so much I decided to write one too. I’ve had the honor to work with six editors over the years, and every single project — even if I’ve worked with that editor before — has required a different amount of work.

Just last week, I made two full editing passes through Return to Shanhasson, one of my longest novels ever (over 100K). Despite its size, the edit process was quick.  My new editor, Lisa, requested several word changes or clarifications, but over all, I didn’t need to add any new scenes or delete anything major. I’ve lived in the Shanhasson world the longest, and when I wrote that book, I didn’t need an outline. I didn’t need a series bible. It’s all in my head, because I’ve dreamed and breathed it for years. Writing Return was almost stream of conscious writing, and thanks to my diligent beta readers, most typos or places of hesitation/confusion were already resolved.

On the other hand, I also began working on Golden edits last week for Alissa (which incidently went through pretty much the same round of beta readers). This work is much shorter (right at 20K), and I’ve spent DAYS on it.  Okay, two weeks.  Not constantly, obviously, but days of thinking about the characters and how to add some build-up at the beginning.  Mulling over clarifications. Researching a few touches to make this story even more special.

I’ve made four major revision passes.

The first time, I accepted or addressed all the easy changes.  Took one evening.

The second pass, I went through her comments one by one and made those changes.  Sometimes it was a simple rewording of a sentence; other times I deleted or added clarification to support motivation.  Even though some of these changes were literally a single word, they took much more thought to ensure I made the correct choices.  This pass took me three evenings.

The next pass was the hardest. After thinking about it for almost a week, I came up with some new scenes I wanted to add at the beginning.  Adding is HARD, let me tell you.  My mind decided I’d already told this story — why did I want to make up more?  Those details had to be meaningful, or else why hadn’t I already written it?  Of course writing the new sections was only the beginning.  You know that whole butterfly effect:  make a simple change in the first chapter and every other chapter has a trickle-down change.  I worked all weekend and Monday night on these changes, well past my bedtime because I was almost done.

The final pass has actually been numerous read throughs.  Before I send a book back in, I like to create an “approved” copy with all comments deleted and all changes approved.  Then I read for clarity and consistency.  Inevitably, I also find a few formatting issues introduced through track changes (it’s sometimes hard to see double periods, misplaced spaces, etc.).  Since I’d added several sections early on, I read them the most to make sure I hadn’t introduced any other issues.  e.g. if I’d corrected filter words through the rest of the manuscript, it’d be stupid to turn it back in with filter words reintroduced in my new sections. What had I learned then, hmmm?

Literally, I’ve created and read at least six approved copies with minor changes each time.  I promised myself that I could only read it one more time today and then I must submit it, or I’ll just keep tinkering.

Here’s a few stats you might find interesting.  In this 66 page document:

  • Alissa made 115 comments.  A few said something like “Nice line.”  Many others said “awkward, please reword.”
  • The first page has 6 comments and several red changes.
  • There were only 8 pages with no comments or changes. (Athough I might already have accepted her changes on these pages.)
  • In the first pass alone, I deleted about 500 words.
  • In the third pass (when I added new sections at the beginning), I ended up adding about 1700 words back.

I don’t consider myself a beginning writer, so why so many changes?  Did I rush to submit crap?  Absolutely not! 

For one thing, the shorter medium can be much more challenging than a longer novel with plenty of room to dedicate to character arcs, romance arcs, setting, worldbuilding, motivations etc.  For another, this is an entirely new series and technically an entirely new genre (although I’ve written several stories with BDSM).  This story is based on Imperial China, loosely, the Tang Dynasty.  Hello, how much do I know about Imperial China?  Other than my own fascination as a reader, not much. 

I wanted this story to have a historical feel, even though it’s more of a fantasy. I’m not a historical writer, though.  So sometimes I used words that were a bit too modern.  Or I didn’t quite have enough Chinese culture touches (that’s why I did a little more research this week). In trying so very hard to not make cultural or historical mistakes, I committed a few writing sins that I haven’t made in ages (can you say dangling modifers?  *hangs head in shame*).

So this round of edits was WORK.  Wonderful work.  Yes, I’ve been a little stressed and frantic.  Yes, I’ve had moments of doubt (why do you think I haven’t submitted it yet?).  Honestly, it doesn’t matter how many manuscripts I’ve turned in, that first sight of all those red corrections and hundred+ comments makes my stomach sick. It’s scary and uncomfortable. I begin to wonder why the heck the editor accepted the story if it needed so much work.

It’s important for me to note that when I turned this manuscript in for consideration, I was pleased with it.  I’d finished several rounds of my personal revisions on it, and at least three other writers/readers had helped me with it at various points.  I write cleanly, so the document wasn’t riddled with typos.  If I’d chosen to self-publish it (without the guidance of a developmental/content editor, which is different than a line editor), I might have made one more pass after a month or so, and then I would have released it.

That’s why editors are worth their weight in gold.

With Alissa’s help, this story is going to shine as golden as Jin’s eyes. Errr….after I read it just one more time!

5 thoughts on “What Are Edits Like?

  1. You sound like you deserve a cookie. Can you have a cookie? I’ll go get you a cookie….or some coffee. Or coffee cookies. And hugs. :mrgreen:

  2. Thank you for the hugs and I’d definitely take that coffee!! It was a lot of work, but I’m sooo glad. The story is going to be even better! Assuming I pulled off the changes…

  3. Wow– thanks for the post, Joely! As you know, I’m stuck in the mire of revision, and It’s so helpful and inspiring to read about your process.

  4. You all might be interested to know that she knocked the revisions out of the park. 😀

  5. Wheeeeeee! Wouldn’t have made it without your help, Alissa!

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