Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Inside the Sausage Factory

Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?

- From Frank

Question for you, first -- do you really want to go inside the sausage factory?

Just kidding. It's not that gross.

My editing process varies depending on whether or not it is a collaborative effort or a solo work, but for the sake of this post, I'll stick with a solo project. For that, it is really quite straightforward, and it goes like this:

* LET IT SIT. I give it anywhere from a week to a month after that first solid draft is done. That's because I probably think the book sucks horribly at this point, so it's time to just forget about it, and work on something else. Then come back to the work with fresh eyes. Maybe even think it's good.

* FIRST REVISION. I read through, make the small changes, and note any large ones that require significant rewrite. Once I've finished the pass and made the fixes and tweaks, I tackle any sections that need a large rewrite.

* FIRST LAST PASS. When I feel like I have an actual first draft, I give it one last read to be sure. If I'm wrong, it goes back a step. If I'm right...

* SEND TO BETA READERS. I do this differently, depending on the project. I may send it to one particular reader with a certain skill set to get a last read before sending it wider. But most of the time, I send it to all at once. I usually use between three and six readers, which seems like a sweet spot. I get enough feedback without having too many cooks in the kitchen. Each beta reader (some are writers, some not) tends to have a different strong suit, so the story benefits from that perspective.

* DON'T HOVER.  My #1 reader is my wife, and she acts in that role on just about every book. I've learned a while ago not to hover while she's reading, although it is difficult. This conversation happens a lot:

"How's it going?"
"Where are you now?"
"Page seventy-seven."
"That means nothing to me." 
[It doesn't , and if she didn't immediately clarify, I'm sure I'd scamper to my computer and look up page 77. But she's a good egg.}
"I'm at the part where he meets the guy with the limp."
"Oh, what did you think about how he got the limp?"
"I'm not there yet."
"Oh." [pause] "Are you liking it so far?"
"What do you like?"
"Do you want me to tell you or read more?"
[tough question, but I take the high road].
"

[Five minutes later]
"How's it going?"

* REVIEW AND APPLY. Once I have all the reader feedback, I review it. Some is easy to apply -- typos, grammar mistakes, etc. Then I have to decide whether and how to apply what the readers have said. As a general rule, if more than one reader snagged on something, it needs addressing. If only one comments on something, I consider it (including the source). In the end, though, I always remember whose name is going under the title, and reserve the right of the final edit. That said, I'd estimate I take somewhere in the 95% range of suggestions. I mean, these are my beta readers for a reason.  If I used a larger group, that percentage would be lower, I'm sure.

* LAST LAST PASS. After I apply all the fixes and suggestions from the readers, I give it one more pass, preferably after a week or two at least (fresh eyes again). At the end of that, it'll either feel finished or need to go back into the meat grinder of revision again. If the latter, rinse and repeat (mixing metaphors here, but you get the idea). If the former, then I resist the urge to make it the latter...because if I do, a work will never be done. As you evolve as a writer, you will always find ways to improve a previous work. But at some point, it is done.

* PUBLISHER'S CRACK AT IT. If the book is with a publisher rather than independently published, then the editing process with editor kicks in. It runs about the same as the beta reader stage, though with more back and forth (and possibly some argument).

*DONE.  Feels good. I did it. Deep breath. Get to work on the next one.


Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

Another reminder that my newest release, At Their Own Game, was just released from Down and Out Books last month. 

This novel is the first in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. The second, In the Cut, comes out in January 2020.

At Their Own Game features Jake Stankovic, a former cop turned fence, who runs a two-man crew. He's doing great until he breaks his own rules and gets in over his head on a deal. Now he has to deal with a pissed off drug dealer, a pissed off police detective, a worried and possibly treacherous crew, as well as a dangerous woman from his past....and he has to find a way to beat them all, at their own game.  


Paul D. Marks said...

Sounds like a good plan, Frank. Especially the don't hover part.

Susan C Shea said...

I've never had the ability to hover and your snippet of dialogue makes me glad my beta readers do it far from my sight!