It only took me around eight months to write my novel Broken Smiles.
It took me three years to edit the same novel.
Yes it was my first book that I finished to the end, and part of that was the submission process, but towards the end, before I signed the contract, I was ready to shelf the dang thing. In fact, I did.
It was discovered because I submitted my second book, a Christmas novella, “Eight Birds for Christmas” into a few Christmas competitions. It was rejected by some, but I also had a couple publishers interested. When it came time to sign contracts, I sent in my full novel on a whim and said, “here’s something else I have finished.” Right away the publisher I ended up going with wanted to get started on Broken Smiles first and then release Eight Birds for Christmas during the holidays. So that’s what happened.
I guess the moral to that story is, after you have done all you can do and enlisted the help of others in your circle, if it’s your best possible work with where you are now… don’t give up. I almost did.
With NaNoWriMo (click to find out more) finishing up last week, I want to talk about editing. I have done that crazy, whirlwind writing competition a couple times before. One year I finished, another year, life got too busy and I only ended up with 35,000 words. That type of writing is so fun for me. Turning off the editorial brain thrills me and the words seem to bleed easily. But then comes December and you are left with a mess of a story. For months you revise, edit, and slash those words into something readable.
Below is my editing process. I am much more faster now, and my circle of people who help me has grown, but I think that this can apply to anyone on their own personal writing path.
* Before you begin the editing process, you need to learn track changes in Word perfect. There is only one person who I print full copies for, and that is because she is fabulous and old school. Other than that, everyone else edits with track changes. It really is a great tool and has sped up the process tremendously. Plus it helps save trees!
* First – I must admit… I have a secret weapon… My mother. I mean, just look at some of the pages she sends back to me!
She is not your typical mother when it comes to cheering your book baby on. Yes, she is kind and loving, but she is also critical and looks at it with an editorial eye. Whenever I send her pages, I imagine her arming herself with pen as a sword as she prepares for battle. Also, she has written eight books and edits for other authors.
So my first bit of advise is to ask yourself “who is your secret weapon?” Is it a fellow critique partner, neighbor, friend? Someone who owes you a huge favor. (because that is exactly what this is) Who is willing to look at your very first draft after you have done all you can do to whip it into shape? That person is key because they will get you to the next step, which is…
* Second – Alpha readers. (If you don’t have a secret weapon, this takes place) I feel sorry for these guys, really I do. They are given a mess because they are given your second draft. I say second because the first draft should be all on you. Do not waste your Alpha readers time by giving them a complete piece of junk. Just kind of waste their time by giving them kind of a piece of junk. First drafts have heaps of problems and these poor people who you asked to help, hopefully know what they are getting into. These people find holes in your story and help with content and overall story line. I think they usually catch blaring line edits as well. But mostly they are readers who read a lot and know the basics, not necessarily writers.
* The time I spent between my Alpha and Beta readers spanned over a couple years for my first novel. I am faster now, but it was a huge learning experience for me and I went through the roller coaster of wondering if what I wrote was any good. I bit the bullet and hired a content editor during this time. She helped me slash 30,000 words, moved chapters, and killed many of my darlings. I suggest you hire a content editor before a line editor. Do your research when finding an editor. You want someone thorough and who will almost make you cry, but also will cheer you on. It can be very daunting when opening up track changes and seeing that almost every line, I mean every line, has either a comment or change to accept or delete. Oh, and as a side note, keep track of your different drafts. Hide the past drafts within a folder in a deep dark corner of your computer so you won’t get confused. Rename the drafts back and forth to your editor with numbers or dates.
* Third – Beta readers. These people get your polished draft. Once you have gone over the harsh edits from your Alphas or secret weapons, and the editors (both content and line) it’s time to move to the next level. After you have gotten over the shock of realizing your story might suck, these Betas can help revive hope again. They usually are experienced writers or people who work in the business. After you have gone over the returned suggestions from your Betas, this is when you submit to agents and publishers. Or, I am guessing this is when you self-publish your novel. Although, if I was to self-publish, I think I would hire a different editor to look at the final, final draft before it goes live.
* When you get an agent or a publisher, the process starts all over again. And oh yea, there will be deadlines! Doesn’t that sound like the funnest thing ever! I couldn’t believe the things my publisher and new team of editors, proofers, and readers found. For that very reason, I was glad that I traditionally published first. I now know that you can never be done editing. I think some people jump the gun too early when it comes to self-publishing.
* The final step is releasing it into the wild unknown. By this time you will have become so sick of looking at the words of your manuscript, that you will hardly remember the storyline. It all becomes a blur of punctuation, adjectives, nouns, run-on sentences, point of view issues, etc… By this time and after all that hard work, next you become a marketer. And if you thought editing was fun and relaxing — you just wait!
I don’t want to discourage anyone. I have never learned so much in my life — not in school, or college, or from any book. It is a whirlwind of information that is hard to explain until you go through it. It is an exciting journey that should be enjoyed. Yes it can be stressful at times, but you come out changed and better at the craft.
One of the main things to not change during this process, is to constantly be a humble student. Don’t ever let your head get so big that you are unteachable. There is always something more to learn or another way to see things being done. Just last month I went to a conference and sat through a class that was titled “how to write your first draft.” I learned so much because the presenter shared examples and things I had never heard of before. So now, as I tackle a new work in progress, I am armed with yet another tool of the trade.
Best of luck as you edit your book!