Editing a Book, Or, Reasons to Drink

Editing a Book

Whenever I fill out interview questions, there’s the inevitable “what is your writing process” question. I don’t mind this question. Writers can come off as mythical creatures who somehow manage to spin words into worlds. I can understand the appeal.

But do you know when a writer becomes a crazed minion of the laptop? Do you know when a writer starts swinging between melancholy and rage? Do you know when writers go onto drinking binges that would put Ernest Hemingway to shame?

If you looked at the title of this post and meekly replied, “When they edit…?”, then you’re right!

How I Edit

I have no idea how other authors do it. For some reason, the editing process is the super private affair that gets mentioned only in passing. Or, if it’s discussed, it’s not described in great detail.

If I’m part of a writing group, I only get glimpses of how my fellow authors edit. What they do with my suggestions when they go home, I have no idea. For all I know, they could ceremoniously burn them while listening to a CD of Chuck Wendig swearing. In this blog post, I can only describe my editing process.

freedomStep One

I ignore it. I take this file, this blasted Word Document, and I stick it in the proper folder on my computer and I ignore the crap out of it. It’s been the bane of my existence for months, so it deserves to be ignored.

During the ignoring stage, I’ll go do other things. Travel. Read a book. Re-introduce myself to the novelty that is the outdoors. If I’m behind on Dragon Age, then I’ll play the crap out of that. I will do anything that does not involve my novel.

I will, especially, not share it with anyone. Ernest Hemingway once said that the first draft of anything is shit. My mother raised me to deal with my waste in private, so that’s how I keep the first draft of my novel.

(There are people who will share something as they are writing it or right after they finish and these people mystify me. The only way anyone will get to read my rough drafts is if I’m dead.)

This stage can last anywhere between a couple of weeks to a month, depending.

Step Two

I call this next step my “general edit”. Essentially, I read it over and make any corrections to continuity, descriptions, or obvious grammar atrocities. This is also when I’ll start taking a long, long look at the ending of the book.

I hate writing endings. I really do. Why does something have to end? Can’t I just keep it going? And why isn’t the first ending I wrote good enough??

It’s at this point that I start drinking.

"Absinthe-glass" by Eric Litton - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
“Absinthe-glass” by Eric Litton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons

Step Three

After the general edit, I feed the manuscript to hungry sharks, also known as beta readers. They will tell me if they like it or if I’ve lost my friggin’ mind for the millionth time. Beta readers usually come in three flavors.

The first flavor is the “very polite and sweet” beta reader. This is the person who will try to tell you, in the gentlest way possible, that your writing is crap and you need to change it. The second flavor is the “I am either an English teacher now or was one in a previous life”. This is the kind that cares more about what you did with the POV and your commas than about the overall plot. These readers hold a special place in my heart.

Then there’s the third kind. These are the Great White Sharks of the beta reading ocean. These are killing machines of dreams. Wherever they are, there’s red ink in the water. They will tear a manuscript down and, if you cry, they laugh. They drink your tears. They feast on your pain.

I take the comments from my betas and I decide which ones are good and which ones are bad. My rule of thumb is if more than two people complain about the same thing, then it needs changing. If only one person is complaining, then either it’s a subjective thing or the reader just wasn’t paying attention.

At this point, I probably need to buy a new bottle of absinthe.

Step Four

After two rounds of editing, I send the manuscript off to an editor. I use Sherman Writing Services for novel length work because the lady in charge is a real pro. And she doesn’t abandon you after she sends the manuscript back. I published Willows of Fate a year ago and Sherman Writing Services still re-tweets anything I post about my work.

An actual photo of a writer crying

It takes time for a manuscript to be thoroughly edited. SWS usually takes around a month or so, depending on the length of the work. During this time, I may start a new work or I’ll focus on advertising and prepping for publication or I’ll give my liver a break.

When SWS sends the manuscript back, I make my favorite cocktail, read what’s been written, and cry. I tend to drink margaritas because the salt of my tears goes well with the tequila.

Step Five

I do a final round of editing. I may give it to my betas again. I may let it sit before attacking it again. Every novel is different and they all need differing levels of work. Clara took years, after all.

When I’m ready, I send the manuscript off to a proofreader and contact Fiona Jayde about a cover. I’ll also start looking into promotion or whatever but, essentially, the bulk of the editing is over. Mazel Tov!

I may complain, but really, I love writing and editing. I enjoy the work. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t put myself through the regular abuse. So, the next time you’re asking a writer a question, ask about their editing process and watch their faces. Either they’ll be confused as to why you would ask, look suddenly desperate, or break down into tears.

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