Imagine that you have a lump of stone. It may be a very pretty stone. It may have fascinating gradations in texture or color. It may have an interesting suggestion of shape or form. But ultimately it’s still just a lump of stone. You have to sand and grind and chip away at it until it becomes something recognizable without destroying the whole thing in the process.
I’m finding that this is rather what editing a book is like. This is the first time in my life that I’ve gotten this deep into the process of Writing (with a capital W), so this is all new to me. Of course, I’ve got several books on how to edit, but as usual I just plowed ahead and tried figuring out how to do it on my own without reading any of them. I suppose that’s not entirely unexpected; each writer has their own way of doing things after all. So I wanted share how I’ve personally proceeded with the writing process on this book. Obviously my way isn’t the only way and I doubt it’s the best or most efficient way. But at least it’s an example of one possible path that you can take.
So, this is how the last 16 months spent with All’s Fair have gone:
October 2015: Outlining. I decided what kind of story I wanted to write, laid out the characters, hammered out a basic plotline, picked names, and prepped for NaNoWriMo.
November-December 2015: Writing. NaNoWriMo provides great motivation for generating vast swathes of prose in a short amount of time.
January 2016: Editing Draft 1. The first part of January finished up my first draft and then I edited it for major spelling and grammar errors, smoothing out continuity problems, and actually changing the entire end of the story, as well as dropping a major antagonistic force. The culmination of the work so far I labeled as “Draft 2.”
February 2016: Beta Reading of Draft 2. I asked three friends of mine to be beta readers, two of whom are familiar with and enjoy the genres of romance and steampunk, and one who is not as familiar, in order to get a more well-rounded view. I choose three so there is a tie-breaker in feedback. If two or more betas point out the same issues or have the same questions, then that’s a sign I need to fix something. Likewise, if two or more betas really liked the same thing, then I can probably keep it.
March-July 2016: Editing Draft 2. Once I received feedback from my betas, I began the revision process, which was… pretty extensive. As I said in a May 2016 tweet: “1/3 – cut entirely. 1/3 – extensive reworking. 1/4 – move and/or needs minor edits. 1/12 – keep as is.” I had to flip-flop the two halves of my story, add lots of scenes to flesh out characters and events that simply weren’t present before, and divided the story into five “Parts.” While editing, it’s easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed at the sight of the 300+ pages you need to tackle, but focusing on 40-80 pages at a time helps retain motivation. (With Ravens and Roses, I divided the story into individual chapters, but I don’t have distinct chapter breaks for All’s Fair quite yet.) Once this process was done, it became “Draft 3.”
August 2016: Beta Reading of Draft 3. Once editing was complete, I sent copies to three new beta readers, people who had not seen the previous draft, and awaited their feedback.
September 2016-January 2017: Editing Draft 3. I got tons of really good feedback on this draft, although one of my betas was delayed, so I could only work with the feedback from two of them. Still, I had plenty to work with. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not spend each and every month editing every day. Entire weeks would go by without me once opening the documents, but I think my subconscious still worked on the problem. (Writers never really stop working, even if we don’t have a pen in hand or aren’t sitting at a computer.)
February 2017: Beta Reading of Draft 4. This time I had an open call to all of my previous beta readers, asking if they wanted to read the latest draft. I wanted to get impressions from people who had seen the story at previous stages of development, and see how well I’d progressed. I secured the wonderful aid of four of my previous betas, plus got a ton of detailed feedback on Draft 3 from one previous beta, and had one new beta who hadn’t read any of the previous drafts, and in fact knew very little about the story at all to give me a fresh pair of eyes.
Now that we are on the cusp of March 2017, as soon as I finish receiving feedback from my betas, I shall begin editing Draft 4. Once Draft 4 is done being revised, it will become Draft 5, which will receive an oral read-through in addition to all the usual developmental and line editing. National Novel Editing Month will provide the impetus I need to keep up with the editing, which I hope to have complete by April 2017 at the latest. Then I have to decide if I want another round of beta reading, and if so who will take on the task. Over the summer, I plan to write a synopsis of All’s Fair, practice writing query letters, nail down a list of agents and publishers I want to pitch it to, and craft said pitch in preparation for the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City this August.
After that… who knows? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!