HOW DO AUTHORS EVEN: Developmental Edits

Hello! Welcome to HOW DO AUTHORS EVEN? where I try to the demystifying things on “this side of the fence!” This side of the fence being the agented & book-deal side of the publishing process. There’s a lot that’s a mystery to writers still in the query trenches or to readers who just want to know more about the process. So if I can demystify something in the future, please let me know in the comments! For today, we’re going to talk about DEVELOPMENTAL EDITS.

“I’m editing The Book!” you’ll see your favorite authors crow on Twitter. “And I still love it!” Add a few heart emojis and you get the first few days of editing.

Soon, those tweets will take a different tone. “I’m still editing. Gah. Edits. Edits edits edits. EDITING FOREVER.”

And then, they’ll turn into laments. “I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. On her tombstone, it shall read, “She was offed by the edits on her second book. They ate her alive.” “What is a plot anyways?” “Can’t I just have them making out for like seventy thousand words? READERS TELL MY EDITOR YOU WANT THIS.”

What’s the process of editing a book? How does it differ from editing with your critique partners and beta readers?

It’s very very different. Your editor looks at the manuscript with a critical eye, one not as close to the story as you (and in most cases, your critique partners). S/he/they look for everything from logistical issues (“Um, he has three hands according to this scene. It’s kind of ruining the mood for me.”) to plot holes (“Your entire plot hinges on this one person not doing this very very simple thing but there’s not a good excuse for why that person doesn’t do it. Look at that again? Why doesn’t Jared deliver the letter to Sammy so Sammy doesn’t think that Helena is dead and does what she does?”).

Most frequently, you get an edit letter plus in-line comments. Depending on your editor/you, you either get this digitally or in physical format. I’m infinitely grateful we do everything digitally at Carina.

My edit letters from my (outstanding) editor Kerri Buckley at Carina are usually a few pages long (I’ve heard of very very long edit letters. Cupcakes and booze to those authors and editors) and look at the major issues I should approach first, with some potential solutions. I have a great deal of leeway with this personally. Kerri always understands what I’m trying to do and does a great job of helping me do that better without telling me how to write my book.

There are always a few lines in the edit letter about what’s working really well. This prevents complete author breakdown at the “Oh NO, my book is TERRIBLE AND BROKEN AND I AM SO BAD AT THIS” because hey, we’re often neurotic and narcissistic beings. We like our egos stroked. The breakdown still happens, but those lines and reassurances really help.

It’s also helpful to know what’s working so you can replicate it across the book. Oh, that section where Aly and Zed (from my District Ballet Company series) have a normal couples fight and then work together to figure it out and give each other space without the reader fearing for their relationship really resonated with the editor? Awesome. What worked there was really sharp dialogue and a really good hold of Aly’s emotions and Aly’s chronic inability to read Zed as thoroughly as he reads her. That’s something I need to pull through the whole book. Let me go do that.

So then we get down to business. Writers tackle developmental edits differently. I talked about my process in this post. After I outlined the notes, I just began to go through the book, scene by scene. Any time I deleted more than one line that I thought I might want to recycle, I put it in another document. And I was pretty ruthless on this edit. I cut entire chapters and rewrote them.

For me, one of the ways that I maintain the differences in my characters’ distinct voices is by writing them in separate Word docs and then copy-pasting them. (I’ve just started using Scrivener for another book but I suspect that Scrivener is going to be the easier way to do this.)

I also leave myself notes in the comments. I always label them with NOTE TO SELF so I can do a search at the end and hopefully clean those up so my editor doesn’t get them. (I think I did leave a “Note to Self: WTF?” in Second Position.) Sometimes my notes to self are: “uh, she’s right. Fix this.” For when a comment from my editor is totally on point, but I don’t have a solution just that minute. Sometimes they’re things that now I have to look at because I changed other things.

Writing is rewriting. At this point, I’m no longer surprised by how much rewriting I do in revisions. Exhausted, yes. And complaining on Twitter, absolutely. But not surprised. So I whine, and then wallow, and then sit down and rewrite my book.

For instance, a note in Finding Center said about an Aly & Dr. Ham chapter that they didn’t quite have the same relationship and bounce off each other that they normally do. I deleted the chapter completely, thought about where Aly was actually at at the beginning of Finding Center (this isn’t a spoiler, I promise), and realized that she must be a little terrified. She’s doing well. Aly’s never done well before. She’s never really stood on her own two feet before, felt solid in her life and relationships. Okay is a foreign feeling to her. She’s used to extreme feelings. She’s okay. She’s good. She’s maybe even happy. And for someone who did not not love her illnesses, her identity’s shifted. Shifting identities is disconcerting. That’s where she is.

So I deleted the previously written therapy chapter, and wrote a brand new one. In it, Aly says she feels like being okay undermines her previous experiences and illnesses. And that’s where she’s at. I didn’t think about that until I saw that note and had to reexamine what existed on the page, and what should exist on the page.

This is what Finding Center looked like when I turned it back in. My editor’s remaining comments are in purple. I accepted all her changes so this is only what I turned back in, not what I received. My changes are in green and red (no method to that madness, just the fact that I was jumping around computers while working on this book.)

 

FC3
First chapter
FC2
Middle section. The chapters I barely had to touch were always the chapters I thought I had bombed. Goes to show you we don’t always know our own work!
FC1
yeahhhhhh

 

I’m onto line edits now, so next week I’ll do a HOW DO AUTHORS EVEN about what line edits actually are. Line edits take a LONG time for something that LOOKS so small and sounds so easy. It’s the nitty gritty stuff. But it’s where you can really make your book sing too.

 

Let me know if you have questions!

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