Editing Block

When I got home from work Friday afternoon there was a big yellow package waiting for me at my front door. I got excited for a moment.

“Did I order something?”

No, the boots I wanted are way out of my price range at the moment. And any books I might have ordered wouldn’t have come in a box that big. It turns out the package wasn’t a box at all and it didn’t come from any store. It came from St. Martins Press. From my editor specifically. It was my manuscript. My edited manuscript. All four hundred pages of it, along with a four page letter from my editor.

I had been waiting for it come for months. And be honest I was nervous about what my editor had to say. I know I have weaknesses as a writer. We all do. And I have been rejected before. I have had others read my work and give their opinion but this time was different. This time… I don’t know. It actually counts. This is my first book. The first thing I’m putting out there for the world to see and while I want it to be the best it can be, while I want people to love it I was afraid of having it picked apart. Of course we all want to get that note from the editor saying that this is the most brilliant thing ever written and you don’t need to change a thing. But that just ain’t gonna happen. An editor’s job is to point out what could be better in a book and push the writer to make it so.

I tore open the package, sat down at the my kitchen table and read the letter from my editor. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. And after reading it four or five times, it’s not bad at all. The letter was only four double spaced pages with headers and bullet points.

Sadly the title is probably going to change. I get the reason why. From a sales and marketing perspective Fat Bottom Girl doesn’t scream out romance. I know titles get changed all the time. Many authors have titles picked for them even before the book is written. Our big problem is that nobody seems to know what to call it. It was already changed once before submission to the publishers. I’ll probably be calling on all my writer friends to help me brainstorm a list. (So get your thinking caps on people!)

The great thing about having a good editor is that she pointed out little things in the manuscript that I didn’t think deeply about. And it had a lot to do with over reaching themes about trust and motivation and pain. Questions like why did you write that, or why is your antagonist the way he is, or what underlying thing makes them want to be around each other, threw me for a loop. Holy crap. I never thought about it. I assumed I knew my characters inside out but I guess I don’t. I have to go back and really get inside their heads.

Then there are the little things. The sloppy things I failed to clean up like random spaces before punctuation.I still have a problem telling and not showing. I’m supposed to show my hero in misery not just tell you he is. I also have a dirty mouth and it has been suggested that I clean up the descriptive language in my steamy love scenes. (Bummer.) Those things I have no problem fixing but it was those comments like, “I want to see more of an emotional connection between____ and _____. Or , you need to raise the stakes in their individual journeys that I have no idea how to tackle.

I actually lost sleep over it. How am I going to fix it? What am I going to change? How am I going to make it better? When am I going to have time to do it? For two days I stared at the huge pile of papers on my table avoiding it, like I avoid the dentist. But I can’t avoid it. Because my editor took a chance on a new writer and St. Martins Press is actually going to give me money for this book and two others.

So what did I do? I called my mother. I don’t care how old I am sometimes no one can make things better but mommy. She told me to calm the hell down and take a deep breath. I did and Sunday afternoon I sat down and started going through my book. Some things became clear to me others I’m still baffled by. But I’ll get through it because frankly there is no other choice.

What about you? How do you tackle editing? Enjoy it? Hate it? Any and all comments are welcome.


14 thoughts on “Editing Block”

  1. First of all, congrats on getting the contract. I’ve heard the publishing process only get more difficult as you reach each step in your journey. Those are going to be tough changes, but I’m sure they are going to make your story better. Wishing you the best of luck in working it all out and making that manuscript really shine!

  2. I’ve been very lucky and haven’t had to make any deep changes, but I did have to rearrange some scenes in The Undead Space Initiative. Usually, I do the same as you. Read them, put them down. Come back to them the next day, read them again. Then I tackle all the easy changes first as a warm up to the bigger edits. That way I have a chance to get my mind back into the story and re-introduce myself back to my characters. And you’re right, you will figure it!

    1. Part of me wants to take a step back and think about it but the other part of me is panicking and wants to get it all done as soon as possible. But I’m just going to take it one day at a time.

  3. First, you can do this. The hard part is done. The book is written. During my edits I actually had to go back to my story board too to tighten up the conflicts and make them make sense. It was long 14 hour days for two weeks straight, but in the end the story was so much better for it.

    Second, you can do this. You’re a writer and St. Martins Press saw that right away. It sounds like you have an awesome editor who is directing you in the right direction. They want your work to shine just as much as you do.

    And third, you can do this because you want it more than anything else. So you will do it and the story is going to rock and you are going to come away a stronger and better writer and you’re next two will show that.

  4. I’m in the boat rowing right alongside you, Jamie. I just got my first round of edits back for WANING MOON and lo and behold, I have to get rid of the first two chapters. “The story starts in chapter three,” or so I’ve been told. Interestingly, when I looked at my story board that’s where the first yellow sticky says INCITING INCIDENT…duh! Editor Suze is right on the money as usual. But that means I have to go back and find places to weave in all that backstory, setting, and description. It also means that I have to find and change all those details later in the story that have no frame of reference now. Yikes!

    Dealing with edits is like dealing with the obnoxious kid in your classroom that you would rather stuff in a closet and forget about. But you know that by investing time and patience, you can help that kid prepare to face the world and leave his mark and you want the best for him. It’s why you teach and why you write. So there’s no sense in procrastinating or losing sleep over it. We have to put our big girl writer pants on and dig in. I’ve been giving myself this pep talk for the past couple of days as I plow through these revisions and you know what? It’s making the story better. I keep saying this to myself, and now I’ll say it to you. You’ve written a book! You’re a writer…you can do this!

    1. Did I mention I have about three days to get this done before I have to send it to another editor for a second go round? Or that i now have major changes I’ll have to make to the short story prequel due for submission next week? I foresee a very long couple of days ahead:-)

  5. I hear ya, Jamie. It took a whole lot of trust to cut an entire chapter and re-write it in someone else’s point of view. I’ll find out on the 7th if it worked. Anxious, just a little. Putting ourselves out there shows our courage. Your book is great. The rock group Queen hit it big with Big Bottom Girls, something to think about. I also put down the editor’s note for a few days .Yes they all made sense when I came back to them. Good luck with your edits, I know you’ll fare well.

  6. Jamie, don’t you just love the writers’ community? So supportive. If you have specific questions about how to show a deeper emotional bond, or how to raise the stakes, be sure to flat out ask those questions too. You’ll find you do know how to do it for your specific characters once you’ve asked the general question that is scaring you. (Maybe not those words, some other words, IDK.) I’m self-taught because I quizzed out of all my college English classes. So when people use writer jargon sometimes I freeze up and don’t know what they mean. Or, I’m scared I don’t know what they mean. Like the first time someone said I needed to raise the stakes (about a play) I didn’t know what they meant until they said the obstacles weren’t big enough, it should be life or death. Anyway, reach out for all the help you need, because you are totally worth it. Your book is gonna be great.

    1. I sat through my college English classes and they never taught writer Jargon. I had no idea what GMC was until I joined my local writer’s group being around other writers certainly hepls you learn fast.

  7. Congratulations on the contract!
    I bet at first it was overwhelming, but, it sounds like your editor wants your story to be the best you can make it
    I know how you feel about wanting to call your mom, it’s been over ten years since I lost mine and sometimes I still pick up the phone to call her.

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