QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Editorial Process - My Experience vs. My Misconceptions

Well, a lot has happened in my career since I blogged here last, which is why I haven't been around (Thanks QT blog author buddies for hanging in and waiting for me to resurface).

Since I last posted, I sold my debut novel, Shattered Souls, to Penguin, went through four editorial rounds plus copy edits, sold another book to my publisher, freaked out when I saw my amazing cover, celebrated when the Shattered Souls ARCs came in, was blown away when I got to hold my hardcover for the first time, and have had a fantastic and fun first publishing experience. I'm jumping up and down! I'm dancing in circles! I'm... I'm...

I'm exhausted. 

I'm also wiser.

Since this is a blog dedicated to "helping writers become authors," I've decided it would be fun to write a couple of posts about my actual experiences compared to my pre-published expectations in the hopes it will make things easier for someone else. 

I'll start with a disclaimer: Everyone's experience is different. Authors are different--as are publishers, editors, agents, and projects. Nobody's path will be the same. I can only speak to mine. 

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from aspiring writers is "How much revising did you have to do on Shattered Souls?"

My first reaction is to shout, "So many extensive revisions I was sure my head would explode and I thought about quitting every freaking day!" Then, I push that response back in favor of a more civilized answer: "I had major revisions. It was a lot of work, but they made my book much stronger. The process also made me a better writer." 

My agent specifically chose to submit my book to my editor because she knew I wanted someone who would work closely with me and was willing to invest a great deal of time and energy in the editorial process. 

I have a sick secret: I love to revise. I prefer it to original creation of the story. My agent knows this. She told my editor this. My editor took it to heart and proceeded to kick my butt. 

My Reality vs. Myth/Rumor

If you've spent any time in writers' forums or real life writing groups, you've probably heard lots of great information. Chances are, you've also heard some stuff that is just plain wrong--or maybe only half wrong. Below are some of my misconceptions going into the editorial process along with what it was really like for me. 

Myth/rumor: Editors only have time to fix minor grammar and punctuation errors and look for continuity errors. 
My reality: Sometimes editors will spend a great deal of time studying your manuscript and analyzing ways to make it stronger. Sometimes, they will ask you to take your story apart, delete 40%, reorder it, and write new scenes to replace the deleted ones. .
My reality: Copyeditors look at punctuation, grammar and sometimes continuity.  

Myth/rumor: Editors will rewrite your book or tell you what to write or say. 
My reality: Editors will make suggestions and if you agree, you might opt to make changes or even rewrite scenes. My editor never rewrote anything, though she did make suggestions. All changes were made by me. 

Myth/rumor: You have to do what they tell you to do.
My reality: You only have to make changes that resonate. In cases where I did not agree (and these were rare), I simply wrote an explanation of why the suggestion didn't work for me, and my editor was cool with it every time. It was always MY book. 

Nuts and bolts:

Some editors do everything electronically. Some prefer hardcopy notes, like my editor. My revision notes and comments were handwritten on a printed copy of the manuscript and sent to me by FedEx. I then made the changes in a Word doc and sent the corrected manuscript electronically. My copyedits, however, were done electronically. 

If you would like to read the editor's side of the process, my editor, Jill Santopolo, did post about the Shattered Souls revision process over on Books Complete Me. She even included screen shots of the actual revision notes on the manuscript (And her handwriting was hard to read--just saying'). 

Summing it up:

Every experience is different. Some editorial rounds are light and consist primarily of copy edits. Some are extensive and involve multiple rounds of revisions including new scenes, new characters, new settings...anything. 

Just like authors are different, editors are as well. Their preferences and styles are as distinct as those of the authors with whom they work. Notes and suggestions can be conveyed electronically, by hardcopy, and even over the phone (I received all three). 

The thing I learned to keep in mind through the editorial process (even when freaking out over yet another letter requesting more changes) was that my publisher and I have the exact same goal: to turn out the best product possible. 

It's great to be back on the QueryTracker Blog and I'd love to get your thoughts or questions in the comments. 

Have a fabulous week!



Unknown said...

Hey, Mary - Thanks for posting this and sharing Jill's comments with us. Fascinating to get that behind-the-scenes stuff and understand the WHY of it. Congratulations again.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thanks, Zooks! I've been so fortunate to have a first publication experience like this.

Unknown said...

Congratulations on the published first novel and thank you for sharing your experience/de-mythifying the process.

Jeanette W. Stickel said...

Thank you for sharing the inside story on your publication experience and for the link to Jill Santopolo's post. It was great to see the revision process from the inside. Now I'll have to go get your book!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thanks, Jan and Jeanette!

Kelly Bryson said...

Thanks for the post- As a control freak I appreciated the reality of how your editor worked with you. Good to hear that, it sounds more like a really really good crit partner!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

That's a great way of putting it, Kelly. Jill was great, as were Julie and the others who worked on the book. I had no idea how many people it took to get a book in publication-ready shape.

Vivi B. said...

Excellent post - always interesting to know what happens AFTER you get your agent! =) Thanks for sharing!

Leslie S. Rose said...

Hey, Mary. Thanks so much for letting us peek behind the curtain of your process. Very enlightening. I love revising as well. It's fun to find the golden nuggets that are hiding in a story.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thank you, Vivi and Leslie Rose. Publishing is such a strange and scary business. Going in, I had no idea what to expect. I don't think I'll ever feel like I fully get it (but I'm trying). Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Brandie said...

Hey Mary! Great post and thanks for sharing. My greatest fear as a writer is the unknown. Thanks again!