Handling Content Edits

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my in-house editor on revisions for my debut novel.

You may be wondering what it’s been like.

Allow me to tell you a quick story.

After I gave birth to my son, my family came to meet our baby and asked Ryan, “How was it?”

He turned to them, looking more than a little shell-shocked, and said, “Intense.”

That’s exactly how I’d describe this. Intense.

As I’ve worked through the issues in my book, I feel like I’ve lived more inside my story than I have outside of it. I’ll come up for air and see my husband standing there and think, “Oh, right. You’re here.”

Before I signed my contract, I always loved when authors would share their experience with in-house edits, like Jody Hedlund does here. I enjoyed getting a sneak peak inside her life. To dream and anticipate when that day would come for me. So now that it is my turn (crazy, crazy), I thought I’d return the favor.

Other than intense, what exactly has my in-house editing experience looked like?

Keep in mind, every publishing house is different. And I’m sure, even within the same publishing house, authors have differing experiences. I can only share mine.

First, my editor and an outside reader read my book. Before she combined the feedback into an editorial letter, or revision memo, we discussed the major areas of concern via telephone.

It was a very casual conversation. Basically, she wanted to ask me some questions and run some ideas by me. I absolutely loved being included in the process.

After our conversation, I had some time to think about her suggestions. There was only one that I felt uncertain about, so I called my agent and she helped me process my thoughts and offered her own. One of the many, many reasons a good agent is invaluable.

A few days later, I received the revision memo.

I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t start pounding just a wee bit faster. It turned out to be nine pages, single-spaced. A very typical length, I think. My editor started with encouragement, a lovely way to start, assuring me that she loved and believed in my story.

Then she moved on to the tough stuff. Things that needed improved.

One of the things I had going for me was a tightly written plot, which meant the overall structure of the book was solid. I attribute that to my psychotic habit of outlining.

There were, however, two big issues that needed attention:
-My main character’s arc
-The romance between my hero and heroine

I think most of you know this, but in case not, I write romance. It’s a huge part of my books. So to find out that the romance between my hero and heroine wasn’t working….

Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest thing to swallow.

My natural inclination was to respond, “But, but….look at all this juicy tension I created. I can’t mess with that. What would Donald Maass say?”

After taking a deep breath and reading through the rest of the memo, I soon realized that:

1. She was right. Tension is good. But if that’s all there is, it makes for a shallow romance.

2. It wasn’t a lost cause.

She offered several solutions that would fix the problem without diffusing the tension, which made me excited. I could already see how much better my novel would be if I could rise to the occasion and fix what needed fixing.

So, there I was. Revision memo in my possession. All kinds of questions zipping through my head.

Which leads to our second phone call. My editor called me again and we talked for over an hour. She answered my questions, helped me brainstorm, and clarified the confusing spots.

But, that’s not all.

This is where I believe I’m incredibly lucky. This is where I sort of get this feeling of awe for my editor. She doesn’t just stop with a revision memo. She sent me my entire manuscript, with in-text notes.

I cannot tell you how incredibly valuable this has been for me as I work through my revisions. I’ve told my husband several times, “I don’t know what I’d do without these notes!” They’ve acted as a road map. Not to mention, many of the comments are downright funny.

Now here I am, two weeks later, finished (I think) with the major revisions.

So how did I do it?

Here are three tips for surviving a content edit:

Solicit the help of your family.
I asked my husband, my dad, my mom, and my aunt for help. The thing I’ve learned about revisions such as these, is it’s hard to jump in and out of the story. I needed to dive into the story and have large chunks of time to stay in the story. So my dad watched Brogan for an entire day, my aunt and grandma took him several evenings, and my husband took a father-son weekend trip to see his cousins in Wisconsin.

Tackle one issue at a time.
I focused first on their relationship. I went through with the deliberate intention of giving them points of connection. Once I got that out of the way, I switched my focus to my main character and looked for ways to make her more likable, more consistent. I continued until I crossed all the major concerns off my list.

Leave the simple stuff for the end.
As I write this post (Saturday evening), I just finished the last of the big stuff. But I’m not done. I still have to read through the manuscript, do some fine-tuning, make some secondary characters less caricature-like, add some more details to the setting, and make sure my prose don’t get too purple.  But this stuff feels much less daunting than the big stuff. Which is why I saved it for last.

When I finish, I’ll submit the story to my editor and wait anxiously to see if it needs additional revisions, or if I’ve turned in an acceptable manuscript. I’ll make sure to update you as soon as I find out!

For more information on the editorial process, check out these informative posts by my agent, Rachelle Gardner: Do Publishers Edit Books Anymore (to which I can answer a resounding YES!) and The Editorial Letter.

Let’s Talk: What, if anything, surprised you about the revision process? If you’ve gone through it, what was your experience like? Do you have any questions for me about my experience? If so, feel free to ask them in the comment section. I’ll either respond directly, or perhaps turn your question into its own blog post.removetweetmeme