by Amanda Renee
I was discovered through Harlequin’s 2011 So You Think You Can Write competition. It was the best experience of my life, but one that came with many unknowns. I was a new author in uncharted waters. I didn’t know a line edit from a copy edit and the word edit alone was enough to terrify me clear into next week.
Like most new authors, I naively thought that once you signed on the dotted line, you were good to go and the publisher took over from there. My work had just begun.
Enter revisions. My editor, Kathleen Scheibling, went over the bulk of my revisions on the phone. Minor tweaks here and there, move a portion of the story ahead a few chapters, that sort of thing. What I wasn’t prepared for was the three pages of edits that followed in an email.
Once I pulled myself up off the floor and read all three pages, I realized not everything was an actual edit. A good portion, if not fifty percent, were comments on how she liked a particular sentence or paragraph. My heartbeat returned to its natural cadence. I reviewed the edit requests; most were spot on, and while I didn’t agree with a few, it was only because I hadn’t explained that portion of the story clear enough. I never took any request personally.
Many of you are involved in the wondrous entity called critique groups. The one I was a part of when I wrote my first book guided me straight towards publication. But understand there is a HUGE difference between critique and criticism. If someone says, “I don’t get Adrianne’s motive for starting a mobile dog grooming service,” you have work to do in order to clarify your story. If they say, “You’ve got to be kidding me, a poodle parlor on wheels!” then they are criticizing in poor taste. Listen to your critiques because they’re usually valid. As for those criticisms, just walk away.
Without exception, one thing you must accept as an author: revisions and edits are the norm.
Yes, they can be a bit nerve-wracking. After all, you poured your heart and soul into each word. Now someone is asking you to cut parts of your manuscript and rework others. How dare they! You’ll get over it real fast if you want to be a successful author. You need to make your book the strongest it can possibly be. I know it took you three hours to write that beloved paragraph, but if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go.
You write your manuscript in a flurry of creativity, so you will have superfluous paragraphs that don’t really advance your characters to the next level. Before you send your masterpiece off to anyone for praise, edit your book and ask yourself with each passage, “Does this move the story forward?” Sometimes, no matter how pretty the prose, your words are just fluff.
But don’t despair. Every film has an outtake reel for all the scenes that never made it to the big screen. I have an outtake document for every manuscript I’ve written, for all those scenes that didn’t quite make the final cut. They’re not gone and they certainly won’t be forgotten. They’re just safely tucked away so I can revisit them whenever I wish. Some may even make it into another book at a later date.
No one writes the perfect manuscript in one shot. Some books will require a rewrite while others will have minimal edits, but each revision must move your story towards your characters’ common goal. One phrase that echoes through my head when I’m editing my own manuscripts is “when in doubt, leave out.”
I’m a judge in many RWA chapter contests. Through reading others’ work, I have grown as an editor of my own books. One of the most common mistakes I see in series romance entries is the characters not meeting in the first chapter. Put your hero and heroine together at the earliest possible point in your story and work their conflict, both internal and external.
I’m guilty in the lack-of-conflict department. In the first draft of the book I’m currently writing for the American Romance line, my heroine was so angsty, no one liked her. She had issues with everyone and everything. And my hero…what conflict? He was Mr. Puppy Dog, following Miss Angst around like the sun rose and set on her. Thanks to the sharp and witty critique of a fellow Harlequin author, that draft was destroyed before my editor ever got wind of it.
Ask yourself, “What are my character’s goal, motivation and conflict?” If you can’t answer that question, you have some more work to do. Make sure everything is character-driven and not storyline-driven: things can’t happen out of convenience just so your characters will fall in love. Put yourself in their shoes and read your dialogue aloud, speaking the way they would. You’ve heard of method acting? This is method writing. Become the role—just warn your neighbors beforehand so they don’t call the men in the white coats to take you away.
Editing your own work is difficult because you have trouble being hard on yourself. You wrote it, so it must be good. Edits and revisions are tough, but in the end the rewards will outweigh any doubt you had in changing those beloved sentences you created.
There is nothing wrong with a rewrite. I’ll let you in on a little secret…my upcoming second book had three complete and total revamps before it was contracted. The first, my editor knows about, the second we’ll just bury in the backyard and the third, well, you know what they say about charm and all.
Don’t be afraid to edit. Your book will thank you. Happy writing, everyone!