The Six Circles of Editing Hell

As promised, I have some insights to share about editing Blood of Heirs

The edits hit a pretty big snag last week, and without going into the gruesome details, the up-shot is that I had to cut ties with one editor and employ another to finish the job of the structural edit. Hopefully, this won’t have a major impact on my publishing timeline, as the new editor is working her literary butt off to deliver as quickly as she can.

There are a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ things that go into building a book that readers often aren’t aware of, hence my desire to shed some light on the process of getting Blood of Heirs (BoH) to its current state.

I give you, the Six Circles of Editing Hell:

Photo on 13-8-18 at 4.27 pm
Actual footage of my ‘editing face’

1 – FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT!

Seems simple, right? Write the book! Get it done!

I started BoH sometime in 2014, and the ‘first draft’ took about a year to finish. In that year, I had the first joint fusion surgery on my right hand, so I took some time off for recovery and general sorrow-wallowing.

When I’m working on a first draft, I tend to self edit as I go. Sometimes I have big chunks of time away from the story and I need to re-read previous chapters to get back in the game. That inevitably means finding scenes that don’t work, sentences that need re-shaping and about 10,000 spelling mistakes. Still, I always find it a useful exercise and a good launch point to attack the next chapter or scene.

I got about 50,000 words into the BoH draft, and working with an editor at a publishing house, whittled that back to 25,000. Big knives and lots of blood got that job done. Then off I went and finished the thing.
 

2 – SELF EDIT AND REWORK

Sometimes this is the most enjoyable part of the process. Sometimes digging your own eyeballs out with a spoon is more appealing. It generally depends on how you feel about your writing at the time.

Sometimes you’ll read something so utterly amazing you’ll question whether you actually wrote it. You’ll high-five yourself and fist-pump the air, and feel like you could conquer a small island nation with just a sword and a really spiffy pair of boots. Sometimes you’ll read something so bad that it makes you wonder if you were drunk, stoned or both, or just typing with your elbows. You’ll want to burn everything to the ground, throw your coffee cup at the computer and rock back and forth in a corner questioning all your decisions in life.

The good times, and they are there, occur often enough to make up for the bad, but only just! You run through the story enough times to make your brain collapse and leak out your ears, and you eventually get a handful of re-worked drafts down the line before you become completely book-blind.
 

3 – FIND UNSUSPECTING READERS TO TORTURE

The beta-reading stage has always been very enjoyable for me. It’s the first time I get to see how real humans respond to what I’ve made, kind of like giving crack to mice and watching what happens.

Sometimes they bliss out and love it, sometimes they throw themselves against a wall until they’re unconscious. Either way, it’s an informative exercise.

I usually start with one trusted person to share chapters with. In the case of BoH, it was a friend who lived some distance from me and who enjoyed the genre. She had no industry experience and was reading purely from a consumer’s perspective. If I recall, she read these chapters in chunks as I went along, somewhere in the Self Edit stage.

By this point, it was June 2017, and I was working on the first draft of Legacy of Ghosts.

Once I had a draft I felt I’d worked as much as I could, it went to a wider group of readers who volunteered their poor, unsullied eyes to my whims. Their insights were invaluable to polishing the draft when I was planning to pitch it to agents.

Some of the readers sent me general feedback on feelings, impressions, and the odd spelling mistake. Two of them delivered full tracked-changes documents for me, which I edited into the draft. I will be forever in the debt of the beta-readers for this book, and those I’ve yet to write. There are simply not enough words to express how much I appreciate their help.
 

4 – EMPLOY AN EDITOR TO PULL THE CLADDING OFF THE WALLS AND TELL YOU WHERE THE TERMITES ARE HIDING

This is the stage I should have completed for BoH before subbing to agents, but skipped over for some unfathomable reason.

As it was, I got my handful of rejections from my handful of submissions and realised the thing needed the help of a professional to really make it burn. As previously indicated, my first choice of editor wasn’t the best, and ended up with the edited manuscript being delivered half-finished and very late. Cue the requirement for a new editor to finish the structural edit.

Essentially, the structural edit is the ‘big picture’ stuff. Plot holes, inconsistent character development, inconsistent world building as well as the odd change to sentences, punctuation and spelling as required.

I already had an idea of things that needed to change thanks to feedback I’d received in my rejections, and so far the edits have confirmed those instincts to be on the money. Sometimes you just need some distance and a nudge to see the work from a different perspective.

Those changes have been made and checked, and are locked in now. The rest of this stage is underway as I write this, so the remainder of the process from here on is ‘planned work’ to polish off before launch.
 

5 – FINAL EYES

Depending on the individual author, this last part may look different. For BoH, I have two final pairs of eyes combing through it; a fellow author who was also one of the original beta-readers back in 2016/17, and a copy editor/proofreader.

Copy editing is the fine tuning stuff; spelling, punctuation etc.

It may surprise some to learn that even at this point, errors still exist. The brain, being the noodly shit that it is, doesn’t like to expend any more energy than it has to. It will often tell you that what you’re reading is correct, when in fact it’s the complete opposite.

My favourite example is from a pre-BoH novel. I thought I had written ‘britches’, when I had in fact written ‘bitches’, and when you’re setting someone’s pants on fire in a story, using the correct word is important!

The up-shot is, you need to go through these things with a nit-comb to find all the fuck ups and even then you will miss some. It happens in traditionally published and self published books. No one is immune, but these final steps are the best way to make sure your book isn’t published carrying a plague of errors that will wipe out any reader who picks it up.

As such, I may run BoH through one final proof reader after the copy edit, but I haven’t decided just yet.
 

6 – LET IT GO

I once heard a writer at a conference say that no one ever finishes editing; someone just takes it off you, and this is true. You could spend a lifetime trying to fine tune a book, and some authors do. Nine times out of ten though, that’s a great way to make sure it never sees the light of day.

At some point, you have to let it go.

You have to trust that you’ve done the best you can to deliver the best story, in the most polished form. You have to trust that the people who helped you along the way knew what they were doing, and you have to be willing to cut loose any who don’t have your best interests at heart. The people you need around you aren’t those who will tell you how good you are, or who will write the book for you. They are people who are unafraid to tell you what works and what doesn’t, and who can support you to make the book the best version of itself.

I genuinely hope this is what Blood of Heirs will be; the best version of itself, built with the sharpest tools I had at my disposal.

Now, back to torturing words!

AWB

 

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