First round edits, part 3: Brainstorming

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

Probably the most awesome thing about having an editor (aside from the editorial letter itself) is that after you get the letter, you're not just left to figure out how to do everything on your own. Your editor is there to help you figure it out.

Step 3: Brainstorming

After all the intense suggestions in the edit letter, it was really good to be able to email back and forth with Sarah about how best to do some of these things.

There's an idea out there--especially in this day of DIY publishing--that an editor is an mostly-unnecessary evil, someone who cares more about marketability than creative integrity, someone who demands that you put sparkly vampires into everything you do.

I can't speak for anyone else, but that is NOT AT ALL my experience.

 From the beginning, Sarah made it clear that she wanted the edits to be a conversation between us. We talked about character backstories and sideplots, about which parts of my worldbuilding were't coming through and which ones could use more focus. And when I told her which parts of the story mattered most to me, she was able to give advice on how to make those parts sing.

(One thing that helped was that I had already decided on the core of the story. That freed me up to listen to my editor's suggestions without getting defensive.)

 All of which goes to show that a good book is not just about the writer. A good book is a conversation. A conversation between you and your editor. A conversation between you and your critique partner. And ultimately a conversation between you and your reader. If you hold onto your story too tightly, the conversation can't go anywhere, and your story will only ever be about you.

What do you think? Does conversation make books better?

First round edits, part 2: The editorial letter

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

So there I sat, with my manuscript all sorted out and organized, waiting for my edits.

And waiting.

And waiting some more.

It always takes longer than you think. But Awesome Agent Jenn had warned me about that, so I tried not to worry too much. (I actually spent the first couple months after the sale writing a NEW book, so that helped.)

And Sarah is fast. She would have been faster, but she was getting more editorial input from the awesome team at Harper's and then there was that little thing called Hurricane Irene. But finally, FINALLY. There it was. In my inbox.


Step Two: The Editorial Letter

As I said before, I was expecting a lot of what Sarah said. I was even expecting the editorial letter to be long.

And it was. So long. Eleven single spaced pages.

What I was not expecting, and what still blows me away, is how dense it was, how deep the edit suggestions were and just how much was addressed.

The way Sarah put it, my primary problem was too many good ideas and not quite enough exploration of them. Which meant I had to cut some things and deepen others, and THAT meant combining characters, refining and explaining the world better, exploring my main character's relationships in a deeper way and upping the suspense.

I was kind of expecting a normal manuscript critique, like you get from beta readers. What I got was an invitation to reimagine the story entirely. 

Faced with all this new information, my brain exploded. I had to put the document away for the weekend and not look at it, because every time I did, ideas started swarming like locusts on crack.

(It didn't help that Sarah had sent me a genius suggestion that I knew I could use to punch up the ending in a huge way. Of course it would require rewriting the entire last third of the book, but who worries about that?)

After a couple of days--when I had stopped vibrating--I sat down and went through the letter. I knew I had to pare it down, or I was never going to be able to get started.  So I made my own redux version, pulling out specific suggestions as a list, and filing them into different groups.  The idea was to streamline the information so that I could work on one chunk at a time.

Then I started chipping away at the list, fixing easy things first and gathering ideas for the big stuff, and here's what I learned.

A lot of people lately have been asking me if it was hard to be asked to change so much of the story. There's an idea out there that a book is your baby, and that you should guard its creative integrity. For me though, that question misses the point.

What the editorial letter did was push me to figure out what really mattered in my story, and how I could best communicate it.  When you're a writer, you have this story in your head and it's big and sparkling and wonderful. And then you write it down and it doesn't come out quite like you want.

By reimagining my story, I began to find it. By paring so much out, I started to see the story I was trying to write in the first place.  It wasn't about me doing things wrong, it was about figuring out how to do them better. Which, to be honest, was kind of awesome.

Then came actually doing it...but that's another post.

How about you? Do you find it hard to reimagine a story once it's written?

First round edits, part 1: Getting ready.

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

Before I even got the editorial letter, I was working on the book.

Now bear in mind that I had some idea of what was coming. (Not all, by any means, but some.) I had done revisions on the first eight chapters before I even got the book deal, and I knew that a lot of what Sarah was going to say was going to be a deeper, book-wide version of those changes.

I didn't know enough to get started on actually editing, but I did know enough to get organized.

Step One: Get Organized

My preferred way to get organized is to use Scrivener. I like Scrivener for edits because of the collections feature, which allows you to make "collections" of certain scenes, and put them in what basically amounts to a separate document. Then you edit all the scenes in one continuous flow, and the changes are automatically registered on the main manuscript. It's amazing for following plot points and working on character development.

So I sat down and and plugged my book into Scrivener, separating out each scene. (That took a while.) Then I made collections for all the changes I thought Sarah might ask for.

I made one for each main character, one for each important setting (there was going to be a lot of combining settings in my future) and a few for specific plot threads. When I was done, it looked like this:

If you don't have a program like this, there are other ways to highlight different threads in your manuscript. One is to go into word and actually highlight important threads, using different colors (see what I did there.)  Or you can use a symbol, like # or @, to mark them, and then run the search feature.

Search is also a good way to follow a character through your book. Simply plug their name in, and check every scene that comes up. It helps you keep track of what other characters are saying about them as well.

Everybody organizes differently. For example, Natalie Whipple waited until the editor letter arrived and then divided it up into colorful folders, tackling one at a time.  Some writers do lots of small passes, some make a checklist first and then do one big pass.

But when you're doing a full-on, fix-everything, manuscript-wide edit, you have to get organized. Otherwise the sheer enormity of what you're doing with sink in and you'll end up in the corner, rocking back and forth, muttering about romantic arcs and worldbuilding consistency.

And no one wants that.

How do YOU get organized?

Total time spent getting organized: About an hour-and-a-half.

The truth about editing

I have always been the sort of person who obsessively researches things. So  when I knew I was going into first-round edits for House of a Thousand Dolls, I paid very close attention to what other writers had to say about the process.

Mostly, it boiled down to this:

1. You get a giant editorial letter.

2. You freak out and feel like a failure and possibly cry because your editor HATES YOUR BOOK OMG.

3. You let it sit.

4. You tackle it one thing at a time.

5. You realize your editor is a freaking genius.

6. You do the edits.

7. Your book becomes awesome.

So far in my experience, this is mostly true.  (Especially the part about my editor being a genius.) But nowhere, in any of the blog posts, videos or Twitter discussions I read, do I remember seeing this:





This is the core of my editing experience so far. It is the most difficult, most labor-intensive thing I have ever tried to do, even after ten years and seven books. (It's also the most deeply satisfying thing I've ever done, but I'll get into that in another post.)

Here's the thing about editing after a sale. It's work. Hard work. Harder than querying, harder than revising on my own, and way, way harder than writing the darn thing in the first place. And it's work you have to do because, hey, they paid you.

So as a good blogger, I thought I'd share with you the journey. I'm going to talk about editing for the next few posts. How I'm doing it, how it's working. Basically, my plan is to jabber about editing until you all tell me to stop.

Any questions?

What's been the hardest part of your writing journey so far?

Falling behind...

Guy in hat: "I'm winning, I'm winning...oh crap."

Ever had one of those weeks? I'm behind on comments, behind on blogs, behind on mailing things (really, it's getting ridiculous now and I'm so sorry) and WAAAAYY behind on laundry and dishes and all those other adult/householder sorts of things.

I could come up with all kinds of reasons (work, sickness, edits) but really, I just need to sit down and do this stuff. As always, getting started is the worst part.

Anyone else have this problem? How do you get motivated to catch up?

Lets talk about editing...

So for those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and it is IN-TENSE.

My work space on Monday.

So before I told you how *I* do revisions, I thought I'd take a poll.

How do YOU tackle revisions? Do you ever get overwhelmed by them?

Writing on airplanes

So this weekend I flew to Boise for a wedding. Flying to Boise is not a new thing for me, but generally I fly out of Spokane on a non-stop flight that takes about an hour.  This time I flew out of Pullman, with a layover in Seattle.

I'm always really entertained when I do things I haven't done before. And since I couldn't get any of the pictures I took that day to upload to Twitter, I thought I'd share some of the highlights here on the blog.

The nice thing about flying out of Pullman is it's only twenty minutes from my house. And when your flight leaves at 6:50 in the morning, that's no small benefit. 

Also, the Pullman airport is the smallest airport I've ever seen.

Tiniest of tiny airports!

Now I drive by this place on a regular basis, and I always thought it was endearingly small, but I'd never been inside of it.

This is it. All of it. Not even kidding you.

 Turns out the best thing about the Pullman airport is the bookstore. It looks like this.

My favorite part was the sign on the right that identifies this as a "book flea market." So awesome.

As much as I wanted to, I didn't buy a book. I had work to do later.

Boarding the plane was fun. Not only did it have propellers, but we had to board from both the front and back door to avoid a massive traffic jam.

Every time the plane banked, or I looked out the window and saw the propeller, I wanted to yell "Curse you Red Baron!" I never did though.

 When I got to the Seattle airport, this was sitting right across from my next gate.

It's a sign!

If I had sat there the whole layover time, I probably would have ended up with coffee. But then they changed gates on me and I had to walk all the way down to the end of the airport. Where there was no coffee.

I could fit the entire Pullman airport into this space.

So I sat there and worked for an hour, and then right before we were scheduled to start boarding, they switched the gates BACK. So I had to move again.  Fortunately, it was just after nine at this point, so the airport was pretty peaceful.  And I got a lot of work done!

This is what I did on the airplane. And in the airport. And then on the airplane again.

 Then it was back on another little plane.

 Up, up and awaaaaayy!

Then I flew to Boise, hung out at the Rediscovered Bookstore for a while, collected some books for future contests, saw a good friend get married and went to sleep around midnight. And then I got up at seven the next morning and did the whole thing in reverse.  And I learned some things about myself.

I love writing on airplanes.

Protein bars are my best friend.

And taking five hours to fly a one-hour flight is still better than driving.

The End.

Anyone else have an adventure this weekend?

A Public Service Announcement

The following is a test of the Emergency Miriam-is-editing Broadcast System. This is only a test.


This was a test of the Emergency Miriam-is-editing Broadcast System. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by flailing, distracted behavior and the disjoined ramblings of a crazy person.  Please do not be alarmed.

Thank you.

Comment issues and more talk about beauty standards.

So I finally figured out what was going wonky with my comments. Apparently, my Intense Debate plug-in turns off if anyone uses the Blogger comments. Which means half the comments I got on our intriguing discussion of beauty on Wednesday got turned off.

This is my "Oh crap!" face.

But have no fear! I still have access to them. And so for you viewing pleasure, I give you ALL the comments I've gotten on this post so far. Feel free to continue the conversation too. (I have turned off the Blogger comments to this post, so it shouldn't happen again.)

To recap, the question was: What do you think of this video's take on beauty standards? (warning, language and content) What are some other standards of beauty in the U.S? And are these standards common in places like Canada and Australia?

Let's see what the lovely readers had to say!  (My thoughts in italics)

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.