Tuesday 31 May 2011

The Faces of Edits

Today's guest author Claire Robyns has walked with me on my writing path for a long, long time. In 2003, we met up and founded a small on-line crit group. We've long known that Claire is a talent worth watching, and last year her hard work and dedication to her writing paid off. She is now a published author with Carina Press. Claire is going to share with us her experience of the process of editing her manuscript under the guidance of her Carina Press editors. 

Welcome, Claire, and take it away...

The Faces of Edits by Claire Robyns

I’ve gone through the edit treadmill for two of my books now and the one sure thing I’ve found (and learned from fellow authors) is that no two edits are the same. Nothing is guaranteed.

You had almost no edits on the last book you handed in. This means you’ve finally skilled yourself up enough to be edit-proof? No! Your very next book could easily require a major rewrite, whether it’s your 2nd or 100th published novel.

So, if you wanna be a published author, you’ve gotta learn to love edits. Right? Um…

Happy Face Edits

I absolutely love editing my initial draft, polishing my story and filling in all those holes I dug while writing. This is where I get to play and tweak. I have wonderful beta readers with a quick eye for detail and I pay careful attention to their feedback. But, at this stage, I am still judge, jury and executioner. If I’m editing and go off on a tangent, who’s to care? If my ending no longer lines up with the tweaks I’ve done, I change it. If aliens landed while I wasn’t paying attention, I can turn my story into a SyFy book.

The initial draft of my debut novel, Betrayed, was 160k+ words. By the time I submitted it to Harlequin’s Carina Press, it was down to 100k. That’s a lot of editing all over the place to suit my – and only my – fancy.

Anxious Face Edits

Usually accompanied by nails bitten to the quick and bald patches on my scalp. These are the edits done on an editor’s suggestion before they’ve actually offered for the book.

This stage of edits is my worst nightmare. Usually the revision letter is so cryptic, it’s impossible to know whether you’re making things better or worse. You have no idea if you’ll reap any rewards from all the extra work you’re putting in. You’re tempted to stray from your original vision to satisfy a stranger who knows nothing about what you’re trying to achieve. Do you stick to your guns or bow down to a professional? The revision letter offered for you to contact her if you need any points clarified, but she’s the expert and you’re no one and you’ve read in a million places how busy editors are and she will remember you if you waste her time, won’t she?

This is a second-guessing exercise in pure madness.

Betrayed was a revise and resubmit. Twice. I’d previously gone through this with an editor who ended up declining. She wanted me to lessen the grit of the novel, turn a dead character into a merely injured character. I declined. She declined.

I went through this again with my Carina Press editor, except she loved the gritty reality of life in medieval Scotland. And all her suggestions were a ‘light bulb’ moment to me. I guess this is the first clue that you’ll work well with an editor – she gets you. And this is incredibly important in the next stage of edits. So, if you ever feel that your story was rejected because that editor just didn’t get you, breathe a sigh of release. And try again.

Nervous Face Edits

Finally, after years of writing and no more space under the bed to shove unwanted manuscripts, an offer comes along. My editor loved Betrayed. She wanted to publish it. She loves my voice, my style, she loves everything about me!!!

Except, when the development edits came in, my manuscript was covered in red (word change tracking) Numerous scenes had to be completely rewritten, my poor heroine and hero were put through the wringer all over the place, my writing had to be tightened up, etc.

This was a very emotional exercise for me. Why did she offer for Betrayed if it sucks so much? I thought she’d loved it? After scanning the extensive revisions she required, I was convinced she hated it. And it didn’t matter that her suggestions were good, that I could see how much better Betrayed would be. I was happy to do the edits, but I struggled to wrap my head around why she’d contracted Betrayed when it was so obviously ‘not ready.’

Of course, I’ve since learned that this is not only not unusual, but very normal in the publishing world. When editors say they love your story, what they really mean is that they love your voice, plot, characterisation, etc. They believe they’ll be able to work well with you and they love the promise of what you can both accomplish together as a team to make this book perfect.

The struggle with this stage of edits is that you’re contracted. If the edits break the story and your brain dies, you can’t just kick the manuscript under the bed and try again with something else. You’re committed. One way or another, you’ve got to make this work, and you’ve got to make it work in tandem with your editor’s vision for this story. This is why it’s so important to gel with your editor. This might sound callous (and I’ve been writing for many years, I’ve been rejected for many years, I’ve gone through times when I’d do anything to get accepted) but it really is better to get rejected than to land up with an editor that wants to take you where you don’t want to go.

The developmental edits for my second novel, Second-Guessing Fate (release date 26 September 2011,) were also pretty extensive, but I was a lot less emotional this time round. I trusted my editor, I knew she loved my work, and I appreciated all the hard work she was putting in to make the story fantastic.

The beauty about this stage of edits is that you build a relationship with your editor. If her suggestions are cryptic, you phone or send an email. There’s a lot of back and forth, swapping ideas and suggestions, joking, laughing, ranting together. You can challenge her ideas, and she can challenge yours. As I prepare to go into editing of my third book, The Devil of Jedburgh (release date early 2012), I am much calmer and confident about the process. And yes, I can say it, I’m actually looking forward to it.

Happy Face Edits

Full circle. These are the line edits and copy edits. At this stage, the story is basically sorted out. The line edits address punctuation, misused words, etc. The copy edits are similar, although these are done by a copy editor and vetted by your editor before passed onto you.

At this point, the editors are sympathetic to your voice and the style of your book, and those take precedence over grammatical correctness. You’re also free to stet any changes if you don’t agree.

For Betrayed, which is a medieval Scottish romance, this was very interesting and, I’ll admit, brain-stretching. Try writing a hot romance without using the words ‘sex’ and ‘flirt’. In medieval times, ‘sex’ referred only to gender distinction and was never used in ‘pleasures of the body’ context and ‘flirt’ had just not yet been invented. There were many other word usages I had to get rid of as well and come up with something more era-appropriate. I’ve read many historical romances that ignore these accuracies, and I could have kept my words, but I decided I like the idea of being correct. 

For example,
‘Flirty smiles’ became ‘sensual smiles’ or ‘teasing smiles’
‘Sex’ became ‘bed sport’
‘Sexual games’ became ‘dangerous games’

It was a fun exercise, finding just the right word.

Serene Face

When it’s all over. The last round of edits have been handed in and approved. It’s out of your hands now. And before you know it, your release date arrives and you go straight back to Anxious Face as you wait to see how it will be received. :):)

Thanks for having me here, Judy, it’s always lovely to have the opportunity to ramble on about writing. 
Claire, thanks for joining us and for sharing your experience with us. The thought of going through all those rounds of edits doesn't sound quite as daunting now! Good luck with your new releases.
Remember to enter the LAUNCH COMPETITION for the chance to win great prizes, including a full manuscript critique or an Amazon US$100 gift voucher.


Damaria Senne said...

Thank you for sharing, Claire. And you Judym for hosting Claire. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Its nice to meet you, Claire. I'm working with my editor on stuff. It can be painful but necessary. Editor are also coaches, inspiring you along with way.

Claire Robyns said...

Finally made it here (just back from work)

Thanks for having me, Judy, it's great to be able to share my experience. Judy was one of the very first writing friends I had, way back when, when I knew nothing, lol. We learnt together along the way and the one thing I learnt is that you can't do this writing thing alone. Crit partners are so important, not just for honing your writing skills but just sharing the frustration every now and again.

Damaria, it's my pleasure to share here. Even having gone through the process, I'm always curious about how author's handle/cope with editing.

Stephen, I totally agree. My editor always makes a point of praising/encouraging in the process so we don't lose heart, no matter how much work is needed. Good luck with your edits.

Linda Cassidy Lewis said...

Never having experienced that process, I found this post fascinating. Thank you for sharing, Claire.

And thank you, Judy, for inviting Claire.

freespiritshaz said...

wow....dis awesum...my head hurt thinkin abt all u went through Claire but it instills in me Hope. tanx 4 dat. It once again speaks of havin a tough skin. Tanx Judy.

Claire Robyns said...

Linda, only a pleasure

freespiritshaz, the moment you send your work out, anywhere, you're open to critisism and rejection. Developing a thick skin is the only way to cope and get out there again and again and, when the time is ready, accepting *good* criticism and applying it to improve. Never give up hope. I love the saying that a published author is merely a writer who never have up :)

Hilary said...

Hi Judy .. and Claire - good to meet you .. and to learn about the process, which you've set out so well - giving us explanations that make sense.

I guess once you've worked through the process once to its completion (not rejection) and had the temerity to work out what's going on - it all makes perfect sense.

So pleased you've found a publishing house that appreciates you and understands your writing .. sounds like the road ahead is a little less stony - here's to much success.

Judy - so delighted to win again - amazing .. I'll be doing a post about it shortly (next week - or perhaps when it arrives, when HRH Theodorable can get to the PO - no rush!) - this Friday am joining with some others for a kid with returning cancer .. very sad story, his mother died a year ago ..

Congratulations to you both .. keep on writing and publishing .. Hilary

Stephanie Faris said...

I have learned so much working with my agent on editing my projects. And I've learned, as she gets more clients and more experience, that she's become much more heavy handed...but with each edit I learn more and I find that my writing on my next work is even stronger.

Claire Robyns said...

Hilary, thanks for the well wishes. Not sure if it all makes perfect sense yet, each new book seems to come with it's own learning curve, but it doesn get easier

Stephanie, interesting to know that agents also have to learn and improve their techniques as they go along while their confidence sets in.

Elliot Grace said...

...considering how I recently finished up the edit process, reading this caused my heart rate to surge. Fairly certain I battled through every stage you mentioned during my ten month editing-gauntlet.

In the end however, I was awarded a project worthy of showing off on poker night:)

Thanks Claire,(and Judy!)


Claire Robyns said...

Elliot, sorry for the resurgence, but as you say, at the end it's all worth it

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Claire, thanks for your wonderful post. It's garnered a lot of interest!

Thanks to everyone who took part in the conversation and made Claire so welcome!