Adventures in Editing

Last night I turned in my book to my editor, Kate, over at Candlemark & Gleam. This is a first for me. You know, editing a novel that will actually get into the hands of readers. I’ve spent lots of time editing my own books, and I generally enjoy the process quite a lot. I know many writers find it tedious and awful. And it can be, absolutely. But I have a good feeling about this draft; the second I sent it off to Kate, I missed it.

As I saved the file, I thought of the last two years. In late 2008, I completed the first draft of Pilgrim of the Sky; it was somewhere around 65,000 words. It grew from a flash of an idea: a female protagonist getting sucked into a Neo-Victorian/steampunk world that’s a near mirror to her own. Now, in 2011, that one idea is a 93,000 novel.  A real novel. And it encompasses so much more than steampunk now; it really doesn’t even fit into a genre. Speculative, sure. But it’s got elements of fantasy, the Gothic, romance, and some heavy mythology and philosophy. It’s layered, like a painting, which makes sense since Maddie, the main character, is an art historian. Her eye is tuned to read into things, and so the book–told in a very close third person–reflects that.

But the book itself has undergone a journey, and most of it has been through editing. I submitted the novel in 2009 to another small press, and it was rejected on some rather curious reasoning. You can read the post I wrote, “Novelfail: Facing rejection with grace, or learning to” if you want more of the story. At the time it really did feel like the end of the world. I was furious at being rejected for such a stupid reason. Yet now, thinking on it, I am so glad the book was rejected. Sure, at the time it was a good 80K of a book. I’d beefed it up since its first draft, and done a significant amount of editing. But it wasn’t there yet. And thankfully I’ve had a brilliant editor help me get it to where it needs to be.

And that’s the thing. Editing isn’t just about dialogue and grammar and pacing. Yes, those are all important things. But editing gives you a chance to dig deeper, to find the themes that you might have missed the first time, that bring the book from good to truly complete.

The editing process didn’t just help me fix dialogue and tighten up the plot. It revealed a better story. This last edit was no simple run-through. It took a ton more research, and an editor who had the ability to, on one hand understand the book, and on the other challenge me to make it better. There are elements in the current draft now that would never have been there if Kate hadn’t made me sit back down with the draft and consider a few things. Of course I went a little deeper than she probably expected, but it’s only because I found so much room for improvement, so many places to make broader or more delicate strokes.

And most importantly, in this almost final iteration, my main character is someone I’d actually like to take out to coffee. The first draft, Maddie was so acerbic. She was crass and had a foul mouth, and as a result wasn’t a terribly compelling heroine. But that changed in the course of edits. She became softer in some instances and stronger in others. And most importantly, I dedicated a whole new section of the book to her truly discovering her own power. Before, she was passive; now she’s active.

Anyway, that’s a long rambly way to say: pay attention to edits. Take the time. Work at it. Use your editing time to push your novel to its limits, to stretch it far beyond your initial imagination. There are bits of magic hidden that will only out with work. The book will reward you in the end, I promise. It will make you a better writer, and it will surprise you at every turn.

That’s the magic of creation. People so often bemoan the difficulty of it all. And yes, it’s a tough world out there. Publishing is rarely rewarding, and the book industry is turning on its head right now. But you have the power to do remarkable things, to be better at every turn, regardless of the details out there. Writing and editing are in your control, completely. And that is power. You can always get better.

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  1. You know, this is why I LOVE being an editor. I love the process of discovery, of pointing out things I’ve seen in a manuscript and seeing what the writer chooses to do with them. I don’t look at my job as “making a book better,” I look at it as pointing out strengths and weaknesses to the writer and setting them loose to make the book better. Different. More powerful.

    It surprises me, sometimes, what changes end up being made, and it’s usually pleasant surprises.

    I can’t WAIT to really dig into this draft. I’m so eager to see who and what Maddie has become now…

    (also, I really don’t understand that other press. They clearly had no idea what they passed up)

    1. @Kate Did I ever tell you why they rejected it? In the first draft, John in Second World was Matilda’s brother. Apparently that was just too weird for a publisher of speculative fiction. Shame they didn’t wait around to see what happened! Of course, I changed it to cousin this time around, worrying that future editors would have had their minds blown, too. But as it turns out, I doubt you’d have batted an eye!

      1. Wow, seriously? You’re right, I wouldn’t have batted an eye – in fact, I think you left it as brother in the draft you sent me on query, and I thought it made an interesting detail about how not everything carried over between the worlds…

        1. @Kate Yeah, I guess the editor just thought that I was going to go all incest or something. Which of course, I wasn’t. I honestly thought, reading the first half of that rejection letter that they wanted the book! Such a weird rejection. Anyway. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things, y’know? 🙂

  2. Natania,

    Wonderful to hear that you’ve turned your book in. I know that many hours and even more revisions probably went into your delivered book….. I look forward to eventually reading it. Ms R

    1. Thanks Ms. Roussell! You’ll be glad to know there’s even a little science in it. Okay, so it’s science fiction and it’s about chaos theory and multiverse theory–but hey, you can take a little credit. 😉

  3. You sort of hit a nerve with me on self-editing. I find it helps me rework chapters at times – certainly to polish them. Editing isn’t tedious to me either. My style seems similar to yours. I like to GET IT on the page and then come back to polish later. Good luck with your new book. The title sounds interesting. DCM

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