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From First Draft to “Final” the editing of a novel

Before I get on with it, I should mention, I put the word final in quotation marks because the longer I do this, the more I realize, that there may never really be a final version. In an age where modifications can be made at any time, the word final is nearly obsolete. I’ll explain this more in another post, but for this one, I’ll just refer to it as a “working final” when I get to that step.

1. First Draft:

The first draft can either be the easiest part of writing the novel, or the hardest. Whichever it is, for me, the editing is just the opposite. Some books just write themselves, but because I’m so caught up in “the story” and getting it on paper, I make more mistakes or I leave more comments for myself in the margins that I have to go research later, which only adds to the painstaking task of editing–making it nearly unbearable. Or, sometimes books are slow in the making. Words don’t come as quick or ideas are harder to explain. I’ve noticed though, when this happens and it takes longer to get the story on paper in the first place, the editing is far easier. It’s odd, but of the eight books I’ve completed so far, I have four that fall into each category. I have one book where I got the entire first draft done in 10 days–another three months. Those are both extremes, with the average falling into the 3-4 week timeframe. Is this common for all writers? No. It works for me for two reasons: 1. I don’t have a day job–writing is my job. I spend hours a day writing, so for me to get five to ten thousand words written in a day is not impossible. 2. I have a serious weakness for secondary characters so usually by the time I write so-and-so’s story, I already feel like I “know” at least one of the main characters, and of course, I then have an army of secondary characters who help me get to know the other.

So what goes into a book that was written so quickly to make sure it’s readable and of high quality?

A heck of a lot of work.

2. Second Draft

Once done with the first draft of the book, I let it sit for a few days and work on something else: critique for a friend, update my website, being more social online, etc. I do this so I can “forget” the little parts of the story so when I read it again, my eyes don’t “glaze over” because I already know what happens next. This helps so I catch more typos. During this stage, if anything needs to be re-written, such as, when I first starting writing His Contract Bride, Regina’s mother was dead, then I thought, No, I’ll give her a mother and not the aunt. Half a chapter later, I thought, No, let’s go back with the aunt, because it’s easier to not have to bring her “on screen”, whereas a mother cannot be ignored. She’ll just be a spinster aunt. But a few paragraphs later I realized that somebody needed to have a very important discussion with Regina before she got married so her aunt needed to be a widow, not a spinster. So during the second draft, I had to make this match up. To help with this, as I’m writing the first draft, when I get these notions in my head, I’ll make a note so I know what to look for other than actual typos as I read through. Other things that might be on the list include: hair/eye color, nervous habits or pet phrases, changes in backstory, motivation, or personality. Really just about anything.

3. My Husband Shreds It

If you cannot tell by my posts by now, my husband and I have a very strange relationship. Of course we love each other, but we’re both very frank people and as being such, he’s not one who’ll lie to me about liking something when he doesn’t. Once I’m done with my corrections, I hand my precious baby over to him. Of course he’ll point out errors–but he’s also looking for, “A man wouldn’t say that” or “This line is just awful” type things. To me, this is invaluable. I’m not a man. Sure, I pretend to be one when I write in their POV, but at the end of the day, I’m not a man, so it’s always a huge help when he reminds me that my audience might be women, but the character is still a man.

4. Correction time again

When Bob’s done making comments–some fun, some ridiculous, some helpful and some just plain infuriating–I go back through and fix any typos he’s found and sometimes will make changes to dialogue or actions based on his suggestions.

5. Critique from outside sources

I’ve used loyal readers, other authors, critique partners and sometimes total strangers for this step. It just depends on the book. However, the result is essentially the same: I send the book to a few selected people and they read it then respond either to a list of questions I have for them or they make up their own feedback. Often times if I’ve made a mistake regarding a continued subplot, or someone’s eyes/hair suddenly change color or their personality/motives change, or glaring historical inaccuracies or inaccuracies between this book and one of the former ones, etc, this is when it gets brought up. There is always someone who doesn’t like that particular book as much as some of the others and I welcome their complaints as I feel it’s a good preparation for when I get a 1-star review,  I’ll know ahead of time what I should expect. This also helps in letting me know what plot points might need improvement, what subplot or scene needs to go or be modified, if the characters are likable and if their motivations are believable, what is and isn’t working, as well as repetition of “aha moments”.

6. Changes again based on critiques

Never have I not made a single change based on the former step. The information given is invaluable and I usually make nearly a dozen changes–some were minor, some were rather significant.

7. Professional editor

This is when I stop making changes. At least ones that are more than a sentence or two. I have a knack for making two errors while fixing one, so at this point, I stop modifying and send it off to an editor who catches typos, historical words/phrases, redundancy in vocabulary, awkward sentence structure and all sorts of other things I could smack myself in the face for missing. The fact is, as the writer of the tale, no matter how long I go without seeing it, I will still miss the majority of my typos. I wrote the book, not only do I know what happens next, but I know how I wanted that line to read, so whether it does or not, my brain will read it how I meant it to be. Just the facts.

8. Accepting or Rejecting Editorial Changes

Document comes back from the editor, then I have to accept her changes. Most I do, sometimes… Shh, don’t tell her, but sometimes I don’t. This is rare as the majority I do.

9. Proofreading

At this point, I don’t read the book again. After I’ve read it while accepting the editor’s changes, I cannot read the book again or I’ll find something that’s absolutely fine as it is, but being who I am, I’ll want to reword it, then before I know it, I have 150 changes to input, so instead, I send it off to a proofreader to catch any mistakes that might have slipped through the cracks.

10. Input proofreader’s changes and format

After I get the document back from the proofreader with her list of corrections, I put them in, then format it and call it my working final. Why? Because it’s possible there might be a typo to fix or a continuation problem somewhere in the text. I’m a realist and the truth is, the majority of my books are 90K+ words, anything is possible. Fortunately, if there is a typo, I can easily go in and fix it. Likewise, as I write more books, I’ve gone in to my old ones and updated the front and back content to include blurbs and information about upcoming books.

 

Now for a few confessions:

1. This was not always my process–my first three books were not originally edited in the same manner as my last five and I have the scars to show for it. Eventually, I did have all three of them re-editied, but still, the damage was already done. So if you’re a writer looking for advice, my best advice is to find an editor you can trust and you can work with. Due to my lovely experience, I can tell you honestly that not all editors are created equal.

2. I didn’t have feedback from anyone other than my husband who didn’t really know anything about romance books or a close friend who only told me what I wanted to hear for my first few books. It was only after I’d built a small following that I was able to get these wonderful outside opinions. For as painful as it might seem, if you can have someone critique your work in a private setting, it DOES take the sting out of being criticized later and can improve your story greatly.

 

Keep in mind that all writers have a different process and what works for some doesn’t work for others. But also keep this in mind, nobody and I do mean nobody, purposely puts a story out there believing it’s unedited crap. We all miss something from time to time, it happens. That’s why I’ve accepted the fact that my final is more of a working final. It’s just the way things go.

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5 thoughts on “From First Draft to “Final” the editing of a novel”

  1. This was very informative. As I have said before, I had dreams of writing historical fiction once upon a time. I am not the best with punctuation and would always get marked down in my writing for it. I used to try and explain to my high school english teachers that when I actually wrote books for a living I would have an editor for that. They just shook their heads at me and smiled.

    I do find it amazing how many hands/eyes a book goes through before it reaches the “shelf” and still there are things that weren’t caught. Most of the time it isn’t a big deal, like a misspelled word or missing quotation marks, using hear instead of here. Sometimes it is a wrong name or like you said a different hair or eye color. I guess that’s why it bother me when people give bad reviews based on minor things like that.

    One book I read that was part of a series from a very popular Christian fiction author had the wrong character as part of the retelling of something that happened in a previous book. The character wasn’t mentioned just once but a bunch of times. It was quite confusing and I had to go back a couple of books to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. I figure things like that should have been caught. Oh well, I still enjoyed the books.

    1. Other than just me, I think about 10 (and sometime more) sets of eyes fall on the story before it goes to the virtual bookshelves, but yes, things do get by.

      I’m glad you found the post to be informative. There is a lot of work that goes into a novel and there is more to editing than just finding misspellings or missing punctuation. The thing about negative reviews about these things is if the misspellings, wrong characters, continuity or something is bad enough that it makes it unreadable, then I do understand. However, for silly things like ending sentences with prepositions–a rule that wasn’t even around for the time period I write in only to be introduced in the mid to late 1800s–is ridiculous. Moreover, novels are different than scholarly essays and allow for more freedom. Something to think about, I’ve noticed that books where writers aren’t afraid to break grammar rules in favor of getting their point across often sell better (and have a far more entertaining story) than those who insist on following all the rules. Not to say the rules should be dismissed entirely, but with novels they can be bent.

  2. Just reading all the steps make’s me appraciate all the work that goes itno books even more. I find it amazing that you can write as many books as you have in such a short time and follow all those steps with 5 of them. But as I have told you before I am not a writer nor do I think I could ever become one but this makes me appraciate authors even more. I am a reader and would be lost without my authors.

    1. LOL I’m glad you appreciate the process more now. This is just me. Not everyone does all this, but like I said, nobody puts a book out there thinking or knowing it’s total trash. We’ve all edited it to some degree–some more, some less. I know a writer who has five books completed and has had them all edited multiple times and still feels they’re not good enough. All you can do is your best and it really helps to have a system that works. This is my system and it works!

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