Category Archives: Revision

Sworn Update (“Sorry about the footnotes” edition)

I apologize for not keeping you guys updated as frequently as I said I would. Things have been quiet on the blog and my Facebook page, and will continue to be for a few weeks, at least. I’m putting “Bound A-Z” on hold (I’m not sure how many of you are reading the posts, but I will get back to it and finish the series ASAP). I’m not likely to have any other new content here for a while. I know, becoming a hermit is supposed to be a horrible thing for an author these days, but I have other things to do right now that are more important, and I trust my wonderful readers not to forget about me.

You see, edits came back last weekend, and I’m hard at work.

And it IS hard work. I have a great editor who’s willing to rip a story apart to its foundations if necessary, ask hard questions, and to challenge me to put my best work out into the world. He’s very good at his job, and with his help I’m making a good book great.*

You probably would have been happy with what I had before, but my goal isn’t to make you happy. It’s to blow you away, to keep you up into the wee hours of the morning, and to leave you breathless.

So for anyone who’s curious about the editing process, here’s what’s happening:

I’m taking a good portion of my editor’s suggestions. We won’t go into details here (hi, spoilers…), but it involves rewriting a few scenes, revising others, and generally AWESOMEFYING EVERYTHING.

Sorry for using technical language. *cough*

After the changes are made, it will be back to the beginning to make sure everything is cohesive and consistent with those changes, plus making it all purty-like. This is actually a bigger challenge than rewriting because it involves so much mental juggling and razor-sharp focus.

Note: Writing a book is relatively easy. It’s making it great that’s difficult and time-consuming, and I wish more authors acknowledged that. Editing is gory and messy, and in its own way, wonderful.

So that’s what I’m up to. I have a little less than five hours a day, five days a week, to work. Well… most weeks. With Thanksgiving (hi from Canada!) and several professional whatchamacallum days for the kids’ teachers this month when there’s no school, I’m getting less than that.

And then there are the migraine days when I can’t remember what a fork is called and spend my days and am completely unable to make with the words, but that’s another issue entirely.

The point is, I’m working whenever I can on my shaky part-time schedule. I think, I edit, I rewrite scenes, I face big challenges, and I do what I have to to make this the best story possible.

It’s hard. Really hard. It’s scary for reasons I don’t understand yet, and sometimes it makes me want to build a blanket fort and hide. Possibly with cookies. Definitely with colouring books.

But damned if it this thing isn’t already becoming amazing after just three solid days of work, and I’m excited to see just how great it can be.

Yes, there’s still a lot to be done. No, I don’t have a release date yet** (but I’m hoping to announce that and have a cover reveal early next month, if anyone with a blog is interested in helping out).

I’m working hard to make sure that this is worth the wait.

I’ll see you soon.

*For any not-at-editing-yet writer types who are wondering: Yes, it hurts. Yes, every critique is a blow to the ego, though I’m learning to reframe things in my mind. And yes, it is absolutely worth it when the work is done and the story is a hundred times better than it was before. I think I’m a good writer, but I know there’s always room for improvement. And oh, do I want to improve. I used to want to hear that my work was perfect. Now I’d be disappointed in any editor who didn’t call me on every whiff of bullshit and challenge me to do everything better. Good enough just isn’t anymore.

**It will be this winter, and sooner rather than later. It will be less than a year after the release of the last book, which puts me ahead of most big publishers’ series release schedules in spite of the fact that I’m doing everything on my own. In spite of my Canadian tendencies, I’m no longer going to apologize for editing delays or for the fact that I can’t focus on work for the eight, ten, or twelve hours a day that would allow me to whip out two books a year. I’m focusing on quality, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for every reader who supports me in this. You guys are the best, and you deserve my best. I thank you for your understanding and patience, and for not going all Veruca Salt on my ass. ❤


WIPpet Wednesday – Awkward Spoiler Avoidance Edition (and a lesson learned)

WIP it… (duh nuh nuh nuh)… W-WIP it real good!

Sorry, I was tired of getting Devo stuck in my head every time WIPpet Wednesday rolled around. Thought I’d try Salt n’ Peppa. You know, instead of “Push It”.

It’s not actually better. Live and learn. *sigh*

WIPpet Wednesday is the day where we post a snippet from a work in progress that relates in some way to the day’s date. I’ve been having a lot of trouble participating lately, because a) I’m busy, and I don’t post if I know I can’t get around to comment (though I sometimes miss a few who post late–sorry! I’ll try harder!), and b) I’m seriously running out of spoiler-free snippets from Torn.

Like… even saying who’s in it is a spoiler, aside from the obvious suspects.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to share a big snippet, and I’m not going to say who’s in it. The POV character (herein referred to as “I”) is female and a Potioner, and that’s all I’m saying. The other party in the conversation is a dude, and… we’ll call him Y here.

Warning: If you’ve read Bound and really don’t want to know whether certain species are going to show up again, skip it. You’ll probably guess. I doubt anyone will be disappointed, but there you have it. 🙂

Okay, it’s super obvious. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

19 (short) paragraphs. WIPpet math: 1+1+8+2+0+1+5 = 18, plus one to grow on.

I’d only need one more ingredient. I brought out one of the daggers that my unfortunate soldier friend had left behind.

“Can I help?” Y’s voice drifted from the trees behind me.

“You’re getting quieter,” I observed. “I barely heard you coming.”

Y stood up straighter. “I’m working on it. I don’t think I’ll ever be as graceful on land as I am in [awkward redaction], though. What are you doing?”

“Trying to be prepared. You might not want to see this.”

The shadows covered much of his face, but I caught the concerned furrow of his brow. “Do you want me to leave? Whatever it is, I can handle it.”

The firm set of his jaw and the look in his eyes told me he wasn’t lying. I wondered what he’d seen in his life. Such a strange man. I couldn’t deny I was glad to have his assistance, and his company. Something about him calmed my mind, even as his presence tended to do the opposite to my body. I could ignore that, though.

“You can stay, if you want to,” I said. “Hold the bowl for me.”

He stepped into the clearing and cupped the bowl in his hands, holding it out from his body. “Like this?”

“Perfect.” I slipped off my cloak, then tried to roll up my sleeves. They were too tight. The whole thing would have to go. I thought about asking Y to close his eyes. We didn’t need to complicate things further.

Don’t be silly, I told myself. You’re both adults. He’s seen more, and probably prettier.

Y’s eyes widened as I unbuttoned my shirt, then swallowed hard as I slipped it off, leaving me in a thin under-shirt in the cold woods.

I waited for his gaze to return to mine. “Don’t [oh, so very redacted] go around naked most of the time?”

“Yes.”

I raised my eyebrows, and fought back a smile when his eyes wandered again.

“It’s just different with you,” he said. “It’s fine. Carry on. Please.”

I took a deep breath and traced the tip of the dagger over the skin of my arm, trying to decide on the best spot to get what I needed while doing the smallest possible amount of damage. I settled on the top of my forearm and stroked the tip of the dagger gently over my skin once, twice, three times, building my nerve.

“Use my blood, if you want,” Y said.

“No. Thank you. I’ve had worse injuries.”

“So have I.”

Well, my work here is done. Smoothly done, Sparkes. SMOOOOTHLY DONE.

O.o

For more and probably less awkward WIPpet Wednesday fun, scoot on over here to the linkie, and feel free to join in on your own blog. Thanks to KL Schwengel for hosting!

But seriously, guys, I think I’m out for a few weeks.

ROW80 Update

On the only goal that matters at the moment: Still editing. I think I have about eight chapters left to go, only two of which are full rewrites.

*cough*

Yes, it makes things harder. Yes, it’s more work than I thought I’d be doing two months shy of the projected publication date. It’s going to be worth it, though.

I’m done stressing about dates. Some people might be irritated if things are delayed by a week, but once the book’s out, no one will care. As I’ve said before, I’m not half-assing anything to meet a deadline.

My readers deserve my best. No shortcuts.

For the record, there will be no promises, speculation, or hints about the next book’s release date until after edits (professional, not self-edits). We’re looking at the same kind of space between books as we were this time, but beyond that, my lips are sealed.

Having a deadline is motivating, but it’s useless when it stresses you out too much to do anything.

Consider that a lesson learned.

ROW80 posts or to learn about the event, click here

 


So Long, Farewell…

I’m typing this quickly, and at 5:00 in the morning. There’s a feeling of adventure about being up at this time of day when you’re not used to it. It feels like the days when my parents used to wake us up early so we could get the long drive to my grandparents’ cottage out of the way before:

a) traffic hit in Toronto

or

b) my brother and I were awake enough to “ARE WE THERE, YET?” the whole way

…I’m not actually sure what the reasoning was, there.

The point is, ADVENTURE.

Well, my friends, I’m on a different kind of adventure this morning.

Edits are back, after a few delays in getting started and finished. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not pretty. There’s more work to do than I’d anticipated based on early reader responses, thanks to some amazing ideas from my editor on how to make this thing kick more ass.

Like, ALL OF THE ASSES.

Mature, I know.

Mature, I know.

It’s the advantage and the disadvantage of getting developmental/substantive edits, I guess. There’s no “I can whip through this in a week by accepting and rejecting line edits,” which I imagine feels pretty sweet. There’s more gnashing of teeth this way, more re-writing of scenes and re-considering of elements, and more hard questions about everything. It leads to more self-doubt, for me at least, and more heartburn.

But damned if it doesn’t lead to a better, stronger, more satisfying and more entertaining book in the end. Bound was good before those big, bad edits. It came out of the fire far better. I’m aiming for the same here, and want to create the most amazing book I can for the readers who are making all of this possible.

So what does this all mean?

For me, it means a lot of hard work. I still want to stick to the time-frame I had planned, but… well, remember when I joked about becoming an editing-cave troll through much of the winter?

I thought at the time that I was exaggerating. I was not.

It means you’re going to see less of me around here, and on Facebook, and elsewhere. That stings. Authors these days are expected to stay on top of social media, and quite frankly, I enjoy it. I love you guys. Chatting with you in comments and posts makes me smile.

But that’s why I need to back off. Because you deserve the best.

Torn is a good story. It’s one I believe in, and one beta readers already loved. And after going through editing notes, I believe it can be great. Better than Bound (and isn’t improvement always the goal?).

It also may mean a delay in the book’s release. It definitely means I’m not putting a firm release date out there until I’m at least through the larger re-writes. If I were free to work on this all day, every day, I’d say there would be no problem sticking to my original goal. But I’m not. Technically, writing’s not my full-time job–my family is, and they’re not going to be pleased if I throw bags of uncooked ramen noodles at them every day for the next few months instead of cooking, or if they have no clean underwear… ever.

I know. Totally unreasonable, right? But I’m basically stuck working the 5 hours a day when the kids are in school, weekends off.

So here’s the plan.

I’m using this up-early time to write this post, and then to go over notes again, read through the line edits, see what changes I’m going to make, and which I’m not. It’s not an easy process, but it’s step one. After that, it’s organizing, brainstorming, re-writes, minor edits, line edits… and then my wonderful second-round beta readers will get their hands on it and tell me how we’re looking.

I’ll keep you all up to date on what’s happening as we go.

Yes, I’d still like to do pre-orders by the end of February. Yes, I’d still like to release in March.

But quality first. This isn’t an assembly line.

It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.


Snow Day (Or: How I Decided to Participate in ROW80 Again)

I’ve been on the fence about participating in A Round of Words in 80 Days this year. It’s a fantastic event-type-thing, and accountability is a great way to stay on-track with goals. It’s fun to meet other writers and read their posts, learn from their frustrations and share in their joy when things are going well.

But.

Well, I do worry about boring blog readers, which is why I only post updates on Wednesdays to go along with WIPpet Wednesdays. There was a time when most of the people following this blog were writer friends, but we’re gaining more and more of my readers (hi, guys! So happy to have you!).

It’s almost like I need a writing blog and an actual website for readers, isn’t it? But this is my home. This is where I stretch out, make myself comfortable, and talk about the things that are important to me. Reading, writing, life, headaches, distractions, moose sightings, cover reveals and other author promos, pretty pictures and fun teasers… there aren’t really any limits.

So everything stays here, for better or worse.

I didn’t make the decision until I realized that today was the first day of round one. See, I was looking forward to getting back to work today, as the kids are back to school.

Or they should have been. But it’s a snow day. So instead of retreating to my office with a coffee, I’m at the kitchen table writing this post.

Funny how things work out.

I’ll probably stick with just posting updates on Wednesdays. Twice a week doesn’t allow much time for change between updates. Wouldn’t want to bore anyone who’s getting e-mail dings every time I post.

 

And guys? This is going to be a big round (ends March 26).

**ROW80 ROUND ONE GOALS (2015)**

 

WRITING

Proof-read Bound: Yes, I did this before publication. Many times. So many times that I still can’t really enjoy reading it. But I’ve re-formatted the e-book in a program that allows me to make it look nicer AND to make corrections without knowing HTML stuff, so I need to go over that.

Also, there’s a big, secret thing happening, and I need this book to put its absolute best foot forward for it. I’ve caught 2 typos. Moved a few commas. Changed a word or two. Tiny fixes. Nothing has changed with story, characters, dialogue, anything. Nooooo revisions. So no worries, dear readers. It’s like dusting the shelves (but hey, hang on to those first-edition paperbacks…).

Goal: Finish by Wednesday, January 7 (currently at 70% finished)

 

Edits on Torn: My editor says he plans to have these back to me by the end of this week.

**WOO, PARTY!!!**

We had some delays in getting started, but I’m ready to work hard to get through this as efficiently as possible. How long it actually takes will depend on the scope of revisions required. My beta readers didn’t tell me to make any big story changes… we’ll see what the editor says. I had to re-write sections of Bound after he got his hands on it (and thank goodness for that!).

Goal: Come what may, finish by the end of January.

 

Other Torn stuff: I need to be super organized on this goal, which includes proof-reading, sending it out to a few readers who have offered to act as true beta testers and error-catchers, formatting, setting up pre-orders, having someone format the paperback, sending paperback info to my cover artist so she can do the wrap-around cover, doing promo stuff for Bound once pre-orders are up for Torn…

And also organizing the cover reveal, the first chapter release, creating teaser pics, pulling my hair out, angst, stomach upset… I’m swamped.

Goal: Varies. Set up pre-orders by mid-February. Other events to follow. Advance review copies (offered to newsletter subscribers first) sent out early March.

 

Release Torn: Yes, before the end of this round. As I’ve said before, I’d rather release late than release something that’s not ready, but I’m confident that we can pull this off, even if I have to turn into an unwashed editing-cave troll to do it.

*grunts, shuffles, squints at sunlight*

I’ll keep you updated on that, and announce an official release date soon.

 

Bound Trilogy Book Three: Obviously I’m going to be busy with Torn through this round. But I need to keep moving forward with book three if I want it out by the end of the year. It’s looking good, but I’ve had a few ideas on how to make it better, smoother, more satisfying, and more epic. Those revisions will take place in March while all of the fiddly, non-writing stuff is happening with Torn (I hope). Then it’s off to my wonderful first readers for a test drive, and then whatever punishments they decide to hand me afterward. FUN.

Seriously, though, I will never understand how some authors get a book from first draft to release in two or three months. Between developmental edits, line edits, two rounds of readers, and corrections, never mind the three drafts I do before any of that happens… not a schedule I can hope to achieve.

READING

Still aiming for one novel and one non-fiction book a month. Right now I’m reading UnSouled by Neil Schusterman, and then I think the next one by Jenn Wylie is up. But I also just bought Gone Girl, which I’m told I won’t be able to put down… we’ll see what I’m in the mood for. This might be a two novel month. I’m determined to get through “Writing 21st Century Fiction” even though I’ve been stuck on it for a year because it’s dry as bricks and feels like the author is talking down to me. I’ve never had this problem with Donald Maass’ books before. We’ll see how it goes, I might DNF it and give it away. Fiction Unboxed is also in the non-fiction queue, and I’m more excited about that.

LIFE

Aiming for balance, for working during work time, social media-ing during social media time, making more time for housework and giving my family my full attention during their time.

That last one shouldn’t be difficult, but it really is. I know. I’m a horrible person.

^These are not quantifiable goals in this section, but they’re reportable. We’ll see how it goes.

So there we have it. Wish me luck, and if you’re participating in this round, let me know so I can stop by and cheer you on in your goals post!

More ROW80 goodness here.

 


Revision Time, Baby! *cracks knuckles*

Yessir, it’s time to get back to work on Book 3 of the Bound Trilogy.

Wait, you say. What about book two?

Well, that will be off to my editor soon. I hope. In any case, trying to do more to it right now would be a waste of time. It needs a new set of eyes on it. My time is better spent revising the next one, making big cuts and changes and adjustments and WHAT THE HECK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO AGAIN.

It’s okay. This is always a scary time for me. For a lot of us, actually, so I thought it might be interesting for writer types to talk a bit about how we approach this. I don’t usually do “how I write” posts (because who cares, right?), but this is what’s happening right now, so here we go.

Let’s take a look at what I have here.

Um… It’s 126,000 words, for a start. And I need to add a few scenes, plus throw in some more description all over the place. It’s a fairly big book, is what I’m saying.* What else is it? Well, I think it’s a good story. It needs work. There are places where I didn’t quite have character motivations nailed down, where I missed out on crazy good opportunities for character or plot development, or where something just doesn’t quite fit yet.

But honestly, I think it’s my favourite story of the trilogy. I think Bound is a great story, and that Torn is better… but yeah, this might be my favourite. I pushed characters further and harder than ever before, and… well, no spoilers.

So how do I approach revising something like this? Like so:

1) Read through and take notes. Squee a little at the great moments, note what’s not working, and what can be cut. Make notes on lined paper. Good lined paper, because I’m spoiled. Mead Five-Star or bust.

2) Add these notes to the ones I made while I was drafting re: things to go back and change. I don’t revise while I’m drafting, for two reasons. One, it costs me momentum. Two, until the story is drafted, I can’t see how all of the pieces fit. I might go back and change something, and then need to change it again later. Big waste of time for me.

2) Make a plan. This consists of looking back over what I’ve read, making notes on character arcs, plot, subplots, character interactions and tensions, timelines, and anything else that I need to keep an eye on while revising. I make notes on what these things SHOULD look like so that I can easily see where they’re not working. This is still all on paper. I just brainstorm better that way.

3) Go through, scene by scene, and fix what’s broken. This pass is about the story and characters, not about making it pretty (though I can’t help fixing the writing sometimes). This is the stage I’m at now. I’ve re-written the opening, because as written in draft one it just picked up where Torn ends, and wasn’t particularly compelling. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s better. I will do this for every scene, using my notes. I will cut scenes and completely re-write if I have to. Scary, but worth it if it makes the story better.

4) Go through each POV character’s scenes individually to check for consistency of voice and characterization. Make sure they’re not acting in chapter 2 the way they should be in chapter 22. Now is also the time to make the writing shine a little brighter, add descriptions that I missed before, chase down character observations/feelings/etc. that really get us into their heads.

5) Send to beta readers. Pray they don’t think it sucks and needs to be completely re-written. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s always a fear.

6) Fix based on their notes.

And after this, it’s all editing, not big revisions. Or at least that’s the hope. I might have to make big changes and re-write scenes post-editing, but hopefully won’t have to change the story.

Is it more work than some writers do? You bet. But every pass gets me deeper into the story and the characters and shows me things I missed before. For me, it’s totally worth the extra work because this is how I make my stories the best they can be. Others have their own methods, and that’s great. In fact, I want to hear about them.

So… yeah. We’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to get through revisions quickly for reasons we’ll talk about in another post. For now, I guess I’d better get back at it.

Pictured: Revision fuel

Pictured: Revision fuel

So tell me, writerfolk: What’s your revision process like? How do you know what works and what doesn’t? What’s the hardest part for you, and your favourite?

 

 

 

*For perspective, Bound was about 118K, making this one a little less than 10% longer. Not so bad, when you look at it that way.


WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?!

There are authors who can put out a book in a month.

Spoiler alert: I’m not one of them.

I know that a lot of people are waiting for Torn to come out, some rather impatiently. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s wonderful to know that people enjoyed Bound enough that they’re excited to read more of the story. Amazing. A little shocking, as there are more of them than I expected, but wonderful.

I thought it would be a good time to explain why I don’t get a book out a month, why it takes a while for me to do this, and why it’s best I don’t rush things.

But first: In case anyone missed the note before, the release date for Torn will probably be late March/early April, with February pre-orders, not December 2015. I know, “Winter 2015” could have meant either, but I really couldn’t be more specific than that when I released Bound. But hey, sooner is better than later, right? Yaaaaaay.

But still, this is 8-9 months after Bound came out. What gives, WRITER PERSON?

A few things.

I started Bound in November 2010 (yes, it’s a NaNoWriMo novel. Officially). That means it took me 3.5 years to get it ready for publication, most of it spent finding the story, improving it, and developing the characters that many people seem to be somewhat fond of. I was also learning about the craft of writing. This wasn’t my first story (I’ve been writing for years), but it was my first completed novel.

A big part of the reason all of this took so long is that writing is not my full-time job. During 2.5 of those years, I had a kid at home full-time and one in school during the day. Last year the younger guy went to school half days, and I finally got time to work. A whole hour or two a day! WOOHOO! But still, writing was a hobby. I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it without ticking the family off.

The point is, I’ve had to fit writing in around my family’s schedule, because they’re kind of my main job. My husband works shifts and is on-call a lot, so that factors into it, too. I can’t spent six, or eight, or twelve hours a day cranking out books, as some indie authors say they do. I hope I’ll get at least a few solid hours in a day now that the kids are both in school full-time (though home for lunch), but until now it’s been hit-or-miss.

Second thing: I do a lot of revisions. I know some people say not to do that, but I do. Why? Because the story, the characters, and the world get better with every draft and every scene re-write. If I had released Bound when it was “good enough,” it would have looked nothing like it does today, and I’d be wishing for a do-over now. It takes time for my ideas to evolve, for the puzzle pieces to fall into place, for little details to appear that make the story richer. My first drafts aren’t the worst in the world, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. If I waited for perfection I’d never release anything, and there comes a time when I have to let go. But when there are still big issues, I can’t. You all deserve better (and so do my beta readers).

So I do two drafts before anything goes to my first readers (three in the case of Bound and Torn, because they just weren’t ready after two). I have to let the stories rest for at least a month between drafts so I can gain some perspective, so that adds time, though I am working on other things while those are festering. Then beta readers get time with them, and I revise again based on their critique. Then I have to wait until my editor is ready, and he gets the book for about two weeks, and then… yes, scene rewrites, edits, all that fun stuff.

And then someone has to read it again.

It is a long process, but I’m committed to only releasing the best-quality books I’m capable of. That takes a lot of help, and a bit of time.

Maybe now that I have time during the day, I’ll get on a roll and be able to produce a 30,000 word novella in six months. But with rewrites, off-times, and waits for editing, I can’t see a big story taking much less than a year, at least in the near future. (For reference, Bound was 118,000 words, and Torn is almost as long.) Maybe as I become more comfortable with crafting longer and more complex stories, those puzzle pieces will start falling into place in earlier drafts. That would be fantastic, and they did for my unreleased Urban Fantasy novella. But at this point I’m not going to sacrifice quality for speed.

Good thing I started Torn in November 2012, right? Did the first draft through December that year, and did the second draft last year. And that’s how it goes: It’s a long process, but I try to have several things on the go at once so you all don’t have to wait so long.

So there you go. Reasonable best-case scenario (as of right now) for a long book: 3 months for draft one, 1 month to settle, 2 months for draft 2, another quiet month, another run-through before beta readers see it (probably at least 1 month), 1 month for them to read, 1 month (conservative) to fix that, 2 weeks with the editor (if I can get him at that time; scheduling can be an issue), 2+ more months to make things shine. Then proofreading, formatting, advance copies, etc., and LAUNCH.

And through that there are birthday parties, Christmas, summer vacation (two months when things slow to a crawl), a dog to walk, dentist appointments, teacher meetings, and those oh-so-irritating and frequent migraine days when it’s all I can do to keep the household running, never mind stringing a sentence together. I know, other parents manage to work at home just fine, and some writers with full-time jobs crank out a book a week.

I’m not them. My point is, it takes me some time, but I promise you’re not going to get anything less than my best. I respect readers enough to offer only that, even if it means a semi-frustrating wait between books. I wish I was one of those amazing writers who can offer both (and some of those fast writers really do), but right now I have to choose between more books and better books.

I choose better.

 


The Things I’m Learning: Working With an Editor

In this series of posts, I’m sharing a few of the things that surprised me about publishing a book, as well as things I wish I’d known before I started. This is all personal experience and personal opinion, shared in case it helps someone. Your mileage may vary.

This is going to be a long post, and not of interest to everyone. Feel free to skip this one and join the party next week, or skip to the TL;DR version at the bottom. And again, this is about my choices and experiences. My way is not the only way. You can do it your way, and I respect that. We all cool?

I get a lot of questions about my editor: why I chose to use one, how I decided who to work with, how much it cost, what the process was like, and whether the decision has paid off. I think it was one of the best decisions I made for my book, so I thought I’d answer some of those questions today.

…And then I really need to get back to my real work, which means getting Torn ready for beta readers, who look at it before my editor does (more on that later).

So. Once I made the decision to publish independently*, I knew I wasn’t going to put out anything that was less than the best, most professional work I could produce. I know there’s a popular school of thought that says do your best, publish and move on, and then pay for editing later if there’s enough interest in the book. I can’t do that. My perfectionism will not allow do-overs, so it had to be right the first time.

In my case, that meant hiring an editor.

I had done my research already. I knew I wanted developmental editing, because though the story was as good as I could make it, and my beta readers were AMAZING, I knew it still had weak spots. I knew it needed line edits, because no one can catch all of his/her own errors. Also, the number one criticism I see on indie/self-pub books in reviews is “this could have used an editor,” and I didn’t want to put my readers through that.

(For anyone wondering, developmental editing = critiquing the story, finding plot holes/character inconsistencies, pointing out missed opportunities for kicking things up a notch… whatever. This can be done any time from the planning phase through edits. Line editing is fixing grammatical errors, changing sentence structure to be clearer or flow better, probably changing that string of three consecutive “ing” words up there, noting confusing sentences/blocking, etc. Some people call this copy editing, and define line editing differently, but this is what I was looking for.)

I had a list of a few editors to check out. There are a some whose blogs I follow who seem fantastic, and who are on my list for future projects, but I had one more item on my list: I wanted someone with experience in Fantasy. That narrowed the list down. While I would trust many professional, experienced editors to do line edits, I needed someone who knew world-building and magic systems.

Enter editor Joshua Essoe.

I’d been listening to the Hide and Create podcast for a few months, and knew that he knew his stuff. I liked what he said about those issues I mentioned above. I liked how he described his approach to editing. People seemed pleased with his work. I went to his website, looked things over, and decided to send my sample pages in and get an estimate.

I was so nervous. I hate sending my work out for critique, and this was the real thing. Someone was going to tell me how my work sucked so I could pay him money to tell me MORE about how my work sucked. Sweet deal, right?

Anyway, it was fine. He actually thought the first five pages were pretty good, but he made some line edits. I changed things, read it through, and knew I’d found my guy. He didn’t mess with my character’s voice, just made things smoother and clearer, and asked questions that helped me make the setting and character movements clearer.

The next question, of course, was money. I don’t like to talk about money. Monsieur Joshua Essoe charges an hourly rate (posted on his site if you’re THAT curious), and gives an estimate based on the sample and how long he thinks it will take to edit the full book. The estimate is subject to change, of course. If a mechanic gives you an estimate on changing your oil, then opens the hood to find the engine plastered in cat crap and roadkill (not to mention the parts that are falling off), your price is going to go up. Likewise for an editor who charges by the hour.** My estimate came in at something just north of 50 hours.

So yeah, it was a big decision. I had to talk it over with AJ, and explain that there was a good chance that this book wouldn’t earn that money back. Most books, especially first ones, don’t “earn out,” and any profits would need to go toward the next book’s production costs***. We’d have to think of it as an educational expense; I wanted an editor more than I wanted to take a few courses or try to go to a convention. More than just getting this one story fixed, I wanted to know where my writing needed to improve, and I knew I’d get that. It was an investment in me and my business, and (may all the gods of Tyrea bless him forever), AJ voted that I should go ahead with it.

I was shaking when I hit “send.” I may have barfed. Wait, maybe that was when I published. In any case, for the two weeks My Editor (yes, it’s fun to say that) had the book I was tense, jumpy, nervous… a joy to be around in all respects. He sent an updated estimate half-way through (not much change, but considerate of him nonetheless).

Was I nervous that I was wasting my our money? You bet. Terrified, in fact. What if it wasn’t worth it? What if Señor Joshua Essoe thought it was horrible and told me to change everything? What if he didn’t get what I was trying to do, and wanted to make the tone less modern and more TRADITIONAL, MEDIEVAL FANTASY? Ick. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I like to read or write. What if it turned out my work was so horrible that I couldn’t publish, and had to give up writing, and had wasted our tax refund, and…

Sometimes having an over-active imagination sucks.

So then, on an evening in April, my phone binged its e-mail notification as I was getting ready for bed. By that point I was jumping to the ceiling every time that happened.

And there it was: Bound Edit Complete! And an attachment!

Nausea. Excitement. It was like Christmas morning, if we’d had the turkey the night before and it gave me salmonella.**** Obviously I wasn’t going to wait until morning to peek. AJ was working, the kids were in bed. Screw sleep, I had reading to do!

The editorial critique letter came in around 20 pages. This was the developmental editing, the big picture stuff, the things that would lead to revisions and scene re-writes.

And it was FANTASTIC.

That’s not to say it was all positive. Nooooooo sir.

The first paragraph was kind and wonderful. He said I was a good writer, that my characters were well-drawn and engaging, that he enjoyed the story right through.

The second paragraph said this: “If you feel like throwing things as you continue to go through the edit, come back and read that first paragraph again.”

Cue my nerves.

It was a fair warning, actually.

  • He critiqued my magic system, which seemed too broad and open, and allowed problems to be solved too easily. It wasn’t well-defined enough; that was my fault, as I’d accidentally edited much of the explain-y stuff out when I was trying to get the word-count down to trad-pub acceptable levels.
  • He reminded me that I had the ability to time-travel, to go back and set up important details early in the story so that they didn’t seem a little too convenient when they showed up later, or slow pacing when I had to explain them during exciting moments.
  • There were big issues with Aren’s character and motivation. Not surprising, given that he wasn’t even supposed to be a viewpoint character when I first came up with the concept for the story, or through most of the first draft.
  • The climax needed to be re-written, as it was too melodramatic.
  • He thought I should change the ending, and **SPOILER** suggested I not let certain aspects of the romantic storyline reach a conclusion until the next book.

There were other things, but I won’t list them all here. The letter concluded with another lovely paragraph about the book. More importantly, the body of the letter gave suggestions about how to fix the problems. *insert choirs of angels singing* And not only that, he had respected the story that I wanted to tell and the way I wanted to tell it.

So yeah, it was hard to hear there was so much room for improvement, but it made me sure I’d made the right decision in hiring my editor. I fell asleep that night with a huge grin on my face. It was going to take a lot of work, but this thing was going to be goooooood.

I read through the line notes the next day. These were done using Track Changes in Word– not my favourite program, but effective for this. There were changes to wording that I would accept or reject later. SO many of those. But more importantly, there were notes EVERYWHERE. Why would he do this? This statement doesn’t make sense. That concept needs to be explained sooner. Redundant. She wouldn’t be this comfortable with him yet. Cut. These characters are too stereotypical. There were also little notes that indicated personal reactions to the story, and those made it easier to get through the tough stuff: **cool!  **nice **this is awesome

My personal favourite correction.

My personal favourite correction.

Maybe it’s silly that I needed them, but those little bits of encouragement really made the whole thing a lot more pleasant. Yes, there were times when I made faces at the screen. Yes, in my sleep-deprived immaturity I may have giggled at the phrase “needs deeper penetration.” Yes, I did occasionally want to throw things.

In fact, what came next was the hardest work I’ve ever done on anything. I took the advice. I planned changes. I accepted most suggestions, and rejected a few (see aforementioned romantic conclusion and ending– truth is, I hate cliffhangers and unresolved romance as a reader, and I didn’t want to use them in this book. Not bad advice, just a personal decision. This is one of the reasons I went indie, after all). And at the end, I had a book I was truly proud of.

Was there anything I would change about the experience? I guess doing developmental and line edits separately would have been nice, though it would have been a LOT more expensive to have him take the time to do two passes. It would have allowed me to make the big changes and address major issues before he fixed up the smaller things. But keeping costs down was important at the time, too. And Joshua was great with follow-up stuff. I asked for clarification on a few points, bounced a few ideas off of him in e-mails, was probably a little annoying, and he was great about answering everything. He offered a wrap-up phone call, but I don’t really do phone stuff. E-mail it was. And he took a quick look at by cover copy and corrected a couple of grammatical/punctuation errors there, too.

Was it easy? No. My skin’s not as thick as it should be, though it’s getting tougher. But it was absolutely worth every dollar and every minute.

Is it for everyone? Probably not. I know I was lucky to be able to afford to do this (see aforementioned tax refund), and not everyone can. Many authors get by just fine without developmental editing, and line edits are usually cheaper. Some writers don’t work with editors at all. I’m sure people will read this and tell me I spent too much. That’s fine, if that’s your opinion. But my book came out of that editing so much stronger than it went in. It’s not a perfect book, but I’m confident that it’s the best I could make it.

Okay, there’s one typo. I need to fix that.

And yes, it has paid for itself already. I don’t like to talk money, but my fears about that were unfounded.

Before anyone asks, yes, Mr Essoe has agreed to work on Torn. If Bound hadn’t made enough money, I’d have had to find a cheaper route, but we’re good for now, and I’m thrilled about that. When my lovely, wonderful, and honest beta readers are done ripping it apart critiquing it, I’ll fix the problems they identify, and then send it off. Fewer problems = less for mister editor to fix = less expensive for me. I highly recommend doing it this way if you’re using an editor.

TL;DR VERSION

Why I decided to use an editor: The book was good, but I needed professional help if I wanted it to kick ass.

How I found mine: Heard him on a podcast, was blown away by the sample edit.

How much it cost: More than my first car, less than my current one.

Holy crap, really?: Yes.  This is a good post on what they do, and average rates. There’s another FANTASTIC post out there on why they charge as much as they do (taxes, business expenses, non-billable hours, etc), but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the one I’m talking about, please drop a link in the comments!

What the process was like: Amazing. Humbling. Uplifting. Inspiring. Confidence-boosting. Challenging. Grey-hair inducing. SWELL.

Has it paid off: In my case, absolutely. Your mileage may vary. This is all personal experience.

So I hope that helps someone, and now I have a post I can refer people to when they ask. WIN-WIN, guys.

*No, I don’t like the term self-published, because it has a stigma attached to it and because I don’t do it all myself. I operate like a micro-press that works with freelance editors, cover artists, and formatters. It just happens to only represent one author.

**Many do charge by word-count. I consider them brave souls!

*** General advice is to expect to release 3-5 books before you’re making much money, so that’s how I planned it.

****Sorry for that visual.


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