The Editing Board #3: Drywall and Subfloor

Hey, everyone! Sorry that I missed Agent Hunt this week! I’ve been wrestling with a cold, and it just caught up with me. It will be back this coming Monday, though!

For this week’s Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at the next round of edits. To go back to my home reno analogy, this is where you get the house actually looking like a house. You get the drywall up, run the electrical and plumbing, lay down the subfloor and the carpeting. You put some meat on the bones of the house.

This round of editing works much the same way. Remember those rough transitions and jagged edges we left behind in the last draft? This is where you fix them. As before, I find it easiest to work from beginning to end. Sometimes I actually have to do this step in two passes; one to read it straight through and mark up what I still need to fix, and another to actually do the changes. So, since we did the big bones last time, what are we looking for?

  1. Continuity. Look for places where you’re inconsistent. Maybe an injury disappears miraculously, or a character who wasn’t there in this scene suddenly shows up. Any sudden, inexplicable changes that would snap a reader out of the story, flag and fix them.
  2. TensionThis is a great guest post by C.S Pacat, the author of the Captive Prince trilogy, about creating and maintaining the tension in your story from scene to scene. As you’re reading, look for places where the conflict lessens and you don’t want it to. Then decide what you can do to keep your characters on edge.
  3. Mood. Does your emotional ambiance match the scene? You’ll use different words, for example, if you’re giving your heroes and honest-to-gods lighthearted break from the high-stakes chase versus if they’re surrounded and someone’s cracking blackly humorous jokes. You’ll fine-tune this in the next step, but for now just focus on deciding what kind of feel you’re going for and laying the groundwork for it.
  4. Comprehension. Does the sequence of events make sense? Does each scene build on what came before it? Are important plot events and revelations properly seeded beforehand? You did most of this in the last pass, but this is where you check your work and make sure it’s doing what you intended. Make tweaks as you go to be sure you’re getting the mileage you need out of it.
  5. Chapter and Scene Breaks. Are they hitting in the most poignant spot? If not, what do you need to add or cut to get the resolution that you’re looking for? It sounds simple, but this is one of the things that establishes the skeleton of your story. Be sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

The Editing Board #2: Get the Bathtub Out of the Kitchen

Hello, and welcome to another Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot! Well, kind of. I sorta ran off on a tangent and started doing my own thing for a minute. But we’ll probably be back on track at the end of this series. As always, be sure to check out her blog for her view!

For today, I wanted to talk specifically about the first of the three editing pass I do when I’m sitting down to revise. This is where I tackle the big problems in the manuscript, the ones that are going to take the most mental muscle to resolve. Or, to put it in terms of home renovation, I get the bathtub out of the kitchen.

I don’t know when I started using that phrase for it, but it fits. You don’t want to start choosing paint colors and tile swatches when you haven’t even gotten the fixtures in place yet. Just like that, you don’t typically want to start fussing about word choice and cosmetic changes to the manuscript when there are huge overarching revisions to be made.

In my opinion, there are three major kinds of overhauls that you might have to make to a story, the problem being that they all influence each other. To continue the house analogy, this is like moving the bathtub to its new place, but then also having to move the sink and the toilet and then also having to rerun the water lines. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do it. Once you’ve identified that, yep, this entire subplot needs to be axed and replaced, all you can do is hold your breath and dive in.

The first is a setting overhaul. This is, in my opinion, the easiest of the three to fix. In an ideal world, you just need to heighten your sensory detail and make the setting more immersive. But in the event that you have to change your setting, things can then get tricky.

Let’s say you had conceived of the whole story taking place in a world where it never rained, and you built everything around that. And then you found out that it doesn’t work. This means you have to now restructure not just the physical worldbuilding details but also the culture that would have arisen. Easy enough in theory, but…

It can affect your characters, too. Say you’d originally conceived of your protagonist as a badass bitch, but the worldbuilding no longer supports the attitude you thought she had. You’ll have to go back through all of her interactions, actions, internal monologue and revise them to bring her more in line with your new concept (Or, conversely, you could amp up her BAMF quotient and change the backstory and the worldbuilding until she’s exactly what you envisioned. I usually do the former. I find that my understanding of my characters tends to mature and deepen as I write the first draft, so I tend to run with it). Hopefully, these will mostly be small tweaks, but they add up in the sheer volume of them that may need to be done. The problem is…

Character problems and setting issues can both roll into plotting complications. These are the ones that will probably make you want to scream. This is where wide chunks of text get moved to your scrap document and brand-new material has to be generated to take its place. This is where, yeah, your original character would have done X, but the new one does Y, which changes everything after.

The way I work these changes is, for each scene and chapter, I make a list of the things I need to alter that fall into one of these three huge categories. Then I start from page 1. For each paragraph, I see if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked either based on my notes or based on what I just changed earlier in the draft. When I get to places where I have to write new material, I just plop it all in. I don’t worry about segues or transitions just yet; that comes later.

When it’s all done, the draft is usually rather ugly, if I’m telling the truth. I’ve dragged the bathtub out of the kitchen, but now there’s a huge scuff on the floor and a hole in the plaster. Don’t worry. That’s what we’ll fix in the next pass!

Swift For the Sun: A Path to Publication

Some of you may remember I mentioned waaaaay back here that a friend of mine from grad school had a novel forthcoming. I asked if she would be willing to share a little bit about her journey to the sale. Enjoy!

What was your inspiration for this story?

Pirates! I very specifically sat down to write a m/m romantic story featuring pirates. Dreamspinner author Heidi Cullinan, a member of my local National Novel Writing Month region, mentioned the press was looking for volunteer copy editors. I did copy edits on ten m/m romance Dreamspinner novels to gain some confidence and learn what the press published, found out they wanted more historical submissions, particularly featuring pirates, and got writing! Important note: This was six years ago. And yes, I had no idea the personal growth adventure I was about to have!

What was your process from concept to query-ready?

At that point, I had already written three NaNoWriMo novels, two fantasy and one science fiction, that were adventures with romantic subplots (m/f main characters and some LGBT side characters), and those were fun (it took me about four months including NaNo to complete each). So I thought it would be easy to transfer those skills and my creative-writing-master-of-the-arts chops over to historical m/m romance.

BOY WAS I WRONG. Here I will discuss how sausage is made. Avert your eyes, faint of heart:

Writing a romance novel was HARD. Writing a historical (i.e. no magic or space ships) was HARD. I created my two male characters whom destiny had brought together on a tropical island, guided them through their internal and relationship problems until they were a couple, then threw some pirates at them. It was good times, but at 27,000 words when complete, it was not a novel. I also knew it wasn’t a romance because there was too much adventure and complicated colonial politics of the 1820s Caribbean taking the focus away from the relationship. I loved it—but I didn’t know what the heck to do with it. After four months (January-April) of hard work creating the ~30k draft, disappointed by how long it had taken me to craft even that much, I thought about the ten novels I’d copy edited and thought it was not what Dreamspinner would be looking for. I had a few false starts of trying to rewrite it and make it novel-sized, or more romantic, but my self-confidence/skill wasn’t up to the task.

So I put it in a drawer. Six years passed, and I would occasionally revisit the draft, have warm, loving feels for my characters and try to edit it, enlarge it, and consider what to do with it, but come up with nada. What I was doing was self-rejection at its finest. I was blocked on this story.

Fast forward six years, six more NaNoWriMo novels, earning an MFA in popular fiction, and publishing about twenty short stories—my confidence grew more and more with each publication. I sent one of my other novels to a press and it was glowingly accepted, though the editor advised me to send it to a larger press because of the high quality (that email floored me! And gave me the confidence to seek an agent for that novel, which is currently under consideration). I looked through my other projects and remembered how much I had loved my 27,000 word m/m pirate adventure, re-read it and found I still cared deeply about the characters. I submitted it to one novella publisher and was rejected. On a whim, I visited the Dreamspinner site to see if perhaps they were publishing shorter fiction now, and noticed they were coming out with a new imprint called DSP Publications that was more LGBT genre focused (fantasy, sf, historical, mystery etc.) rather than romance. BINGO! I decided to send them a query and ask if they were interested in this as a short e-novella piratical adventure.

Much to my amazement and delight they wrote back. *cue party music*

They thought it was an interesting story with two fascinating characters. The editor asked me about my vision—was it stand-alone or part of a series? She said their reviewers recommended it be expanded into a novel. Was I interested in working with an editor to expand the story?

Me of six years ago would have been too afraid to take this challenge. Me of ten novels and an MFA and some short story and novella publications under her belt was all like YES, YES I WOULD AND THANK YOU. They sent me a reasonable contract that included an advance and nice royalties percentage, a beautifully macro-edited manuscript with wonderful suggestions for expansion that dissolved my blocks instantly, and gave me three months to expand the novel.

And how did that process go?

Three months to expand by at least 23,000 words? No problem! I’m a NaNoWriMo kid!

Again, I approached this with my usual odd mix of overconfidence and low self-esteem, but this time I had two very important tools. Someone important (an editor) had read my draft and said it was good and publishable, and had pinpointed for me exactly what I should do to expand it to something novel length.

I decided to get to work right away at the beginning of the summer just in case I had unforeseen obstacles or health issues. I’m so very glad I did. Even with editorial guidance, I felt I couldn’t edit the thing until I’d emotionally reconnected at a deep level with my characters—who were they, what were their hopes and dreams and histories, what were my hopes and dreams for their futures—because in order to incorporate her suggestions at high skill, I had to intimately know my story. If I didn’t agree with a suggestion, I wanted to be able to intuit what the problem was she was pointing out, and what would best serve my vision of both the characters and the story I wanted to tell. This is truly a Karen Bovenmyer story.

It was very, very hard to get that intimacy back. Not only had time passed, but I was a different person now and writing at a much higher level. I worked on editing every day, re-reading the original, making small changes, re-reading her macro-edit letter and all her comments, re-writing here and there, bringing up the skill and craft. It was taking a very long time and I started to get nervous. I took a week off work and called for backup. My 14-year-old niece camped out in my writing room with me for that week, making sure I was not only continually working my way through the draft, but also getting at least 10,000 steps, food, and 10 minute breaks every few hours. When she left, I had managed all the minor edits and a 10,000 word expansion (far short of my goal) but I’d fully re-bonded with the story and characters. The next six weeks, I wrote a total of 35,000 words and did an enormous amount of historical research (even at the vocabulary level because this is a first person narrative—the Oxford English Dictionary helped me select words only used before 1822). The novella I had written is now the middle of the 72,500 word novel and is still the heart of the story, and I am extremely proud of the expansions and how they shaped the character journeys and message of now well-researched book I turned in at the end of July.

What about the process do you wish you’d known sooner?

I’m lucky that I guessed it was going to be hard to re-bond to the work and bring the level of writing up to my current skill. If I hadn’t known that, there would have been a lot more stress and panic. Also, I was lucky that it was summer, and I had the extra time and lower amount of stress to deal with it (my day job is at a university and my family owns and operates a Christmas tree farm). It was the best possible time for me to work on it, and everything just sort of fell into place. Perhaps the one thing I wish I’d known sooner was remembering how useful a writing soundtrack is. After I had all four Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks in a playlist, I cranked that thing on while driving home to write and by the time I was home, I was ready to jump back in that world. I wish I’d thought of that in May rather than in July, it would have sped up my bonding time.

Another important note—I re-read a favorite J R Ward book at the beginning of July and lost valuable work time. I wish I’d remembered how obsessed I get when reading and discovering someone else’s world and how that robs my focus. Next time—playlist earlier and no other novel reading when facing the revision challenge!

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer will be released in the first quarter of 2017.

Summer, 1822: Caribbean Sea…

Benjamin Swift imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned hard-bitten criminal. Sinner extraordinaire. But first and foremost, a survivor.

He’s never considered himself noble.

When Benjamin is shipwrecked on a tropical island, fortune sends an unlikely savior: a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy, but pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo. They find their former slave, Sun, instead.

Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he has been exposed to and forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure their peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.

The Editing Board #1: The Basics

For today’s post with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at what to do once you’re ready to start draft number two. How do you decide which advice to listen to and which to discard? How do you keep moving forward with your edits when there’s just so much to fix? Your process may differ, but here’s how I do it!

Note: a few of these steps deal extensively with beta readers. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend first doing what I’ve heard called a self-crit. After you’ve let the manuscript cool for a while (at least a month, I’d say) go through it and mark it up as though you were providing critique for someone else’s story. Where does it lag? Where are sentences or images awkward? Then put it away to cool again before you start the edits in earnest.

  1. Go into the draft cold. Take as long as you need to between drafts to make sure that it’s good and cooled. Do not reread your draft yet. I usually have to take at least a month, sometimes up to a year or more, between drafts. Granted, I have the luxury of doing that since I’m not yet under contract to produce, but you can bet I’m damn sure going to take advantage of that while I can!
  2. Combine all your feedback and notes into one document. Especially if you have beta readers or if you took part in a critique circle. I find this helps me not feel quite so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of input I have to digest. That was always the hardest part of doing hard-copy workshops for me; the amount of paper that I had to flip through. Digital is definitely my preferred medium as far as editing work. It also helps me keep everything in one place so that I’m not flipping back and forth between multiple documents.
  3. Read all of your notes and comments in one fell swoop. Not your manuscript. Still not time for that yet, but it’s coming. Just be patient. You should still be abstaining from your WIP so you can look objectively at its faults. This is actually the reason I go through and read all of the beta notes at once–so that I don’t have time to dwell on it yet or to reacquaint myself too much with the draft as it stands. It forces my brain to look at the manuscript as a thing to be fixed and gets the ideas churning for how I want to tackle it. (Caveat: This may not work for you; if you have a lot of betas, for example, you may want to do it in smaller chunks.)
  4. Go back through the comments again and look for patterns. On your second pass through your comments, go slower. Watch for places where your readers agree. Where do they have the strongest reactions? Are there lines or images that you really love that they don’t? Where a wide portion of readers all come to the same conclusion, pay extra-close attention. It can give you a good idea of overarching changes you might want to make.
  5. Look for places where the feedback differs. Just as important as where your readers agree is where they don’t. Keep in mind that betas are people. They have different life experiences, levels of expertise, tastes, opinions. When you get conflicting views, take a step back and ask which, objectively, makes the story better. Not would be more fun. Not which would be less work. Which gets your manuscript closer to your vision of how it should be.
  6. Make a plan of attack. This is entirely dependent on your level of comfort. I make myself a list of things that I want to address as I go through the next draft, both big changes and small, and then start from the beginning of the story. I address each comment, positive or negative, no matter how major or minor, whether I’m following the advice or discarding it. Often as I’m going, ideas shake loose for things that the betas miss, or I can build upon what they started to create something new.
  7. Break the plan into manageable bits. It’s entirely up to you how you do this. Some people take just the top ten or fifteen things from their list that they want to fix and address just those things in the next draft. Some break it down by chapter. Some by subplot.
    Depending on the story and how much work it needs, I tackle this step one of two ways. If the bones of the manuscript are already pretty strong, I go scene by scene from the very beginning, not moving on to the next until the one I’m on is as close to ideal as I’m currently capable. I won’t lie; I very rarely am comfortable enough with a draft to tackle it this way. The second way that I do it is I break my list of things to fix into three categories: the huge; the moderate; and the minor, and I do one pass through the story for each.
    Huge changes are things that are story-spanning and will take the most time. Say you have to change a major character’s core personality or remove an entire subplot (Both of these, from experience, really suck). Moderate changes are a little smaller and can usually be tackled on a scene-by-scene basis. Things like smoothing out plot-holes or places the tension lapses go here. Minor changes are everything else. Making sure your protagonist doesn’t have green eyes in chapter one and brown in chapter nine fall into this category, as well as fixing issues of phrasing. 

That’s about the basics of how I approach editing! Next time, I’ll look at the huge fixes and how I tackle them!

Agent Hunt #5: Success! …Sort Of.

Great news! After countless rejections and maybe a few requests for revision, you’ve finally hit the gold! An agent–or maybe even more than one–is interested in seeing more of your story. It could be that they’ve asked for just a small sampling of more pages (called a partial request) or that they want to read the whole thing (called a full). Either way, here are a few things to keep in mind!

  1. Don’t keep them waiting. You want your manuscript to be ready to roll as soon as you get the request for pages. Ideally, it’s polished to a shine and won’t need any tweaks before you send it out. But I find in my own experience that it doesn’t hurt to take a day and give it a quick once-over. Just be sure not to overdo it. Now’s not the time for huge changes. Just make sure that you don’t have any dangling sentences or glaring errors and hit send.
  2. Send ONLY what they’ve asked for. If the agent has asked for the first fifty pages, don’t decide they really need to read until the major turning point and send eighty. It smacks of unprofessionalism and indicates that you won’t follow directions later. That can make an agent leery of working with you.
    This includes supplementary materials that they may ask for, too, such as the synopsis. If they ask for one page, don’t send three. NEVER send cover mock-ups, drawings of your characters, maps, or anything else of the kind. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent on them; they don’t belong in the agent’s hands right now. If they manage to sell your book, the publishing house will work with you on all those things. If you feel they absolutely MUST have the map you spent a week on in order to understand your plot, you can mention briefly in your e-mail response that you have one if they want it. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t.
  3. Always thank them for their interest in the project. When drafting your reply, it should go without saying that you should be brief and courteous. There’s no need to write a long letter. Something along the lines of “Thank you for your interest in ‘Project Name’! As requested, I’m attaching ‘X materials’,” will suffice. You really want the story to speak on its own merits, now more than ever.
  4. Be patient. Don’t send follow-up e-mails to see how the reading is going, don’t tweet at to check up, and absolutely don’t call. There are two exceptions to this. First is if the agent already has an established pattern of responding to people on social media who are following up on requests. Some do. Most do not, and it’ll only annoy them if you do. Second, if the agent or agency page expressly says to follow up if you don’t hear back within a certain period of time. But don’t jump the gun on this. If they say three months, that means three months. Still, try not to do this if you can help it at all.
  5. Keep querying. A partial request–or even a full–doesn’t mean that you stop sending it out. Even with this response, get the next hook in the water. A request isn’t a guarantee of representation, and even an offer isn’t a promise that you’ll end up signing with them. Don’t lose valuable time on the off chance that this one agent sends you an offer. More options are always better than fewer.

Beta Tank #5: Listening to Your Betas

So I made one post and then I realized that it was actually closer to being about how I approach edits and not necessarily how I deal with my beta readers. That version’s gone to the big draftbin until I decide to do an editing post. But for now, here’s the–I think–final beta post, take two!

 

Sorry for the late Twin Thursday! My ankle had a minor disagreement with the curb a few days ago. The curb won. But I’m on the mend and getting back on track! For today’s post with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at what to do once your feedback has come in.

  1. Listen. We’ve said a lot about setting up the relationship with your beta, establishing expectations, keeping them to a schedule. But the flipside of that is that your beta reader deserves your respect right back. They’re giving you their honest feedback. They’re donating their time and attention to your project. Now that their share of the work is done, return the courtesy by listening to what they have to say. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with all of their suggestions, the last thing you want is for your reader to feel like they’ve wasted their time. Take their advice to heart and give it serious consideration.
  2. Ask questions. If you aren’t sure what a beta is trying to say, ask them to expand on it. Odds are, it’s perfectly clear to them but just somehow got lost in translation. Take the time to ask questions and clear up anything that you’re hazy about. Also ask about the story as a whole, their experience reading it, if anything was particularly memorable. Opening a channel of dialogue leaves a pathway for your beta to expand on things they may not have thought of upon first reading. This isn’t just for your benefit; it also keeps the beta engaged and shows that their work is appreciated.
  3. Assume they’re acting in good faith. Especially when you’re dealing with a written medium, it’s easy for things to come across the wrong way. We’re a largely non-verbal society. Body language and tone of voice often says more than the words themselves. If a comment comes across abrasive, assume at first that it’s just poorly phrased and ask the beta to clarify what they meant.
  4. Keep an open mind. Your beta doesn’t know the story like you do. For even the most diligent beta reader or your closest critique partner, your manuscript isn’t their baby the way that it’s yours. Yes, that means that they aren’t as familiar with the minutiae as you are, but it also means that your beta is uniquely situated to look for solutions that wouldn’t be readily available to you. But you can’t hear those solutions if you dismiss comments out of hand.
  5. Thank, thank, thank! Remember, they did a big favor for you! If they’re writers, too, you may offer to return the gesture one day. If they’re not, find another way to show your appreciation, no matter how small it may be. Ending the relationship well leaves the door open to maybe work together on another project or to create a lasting friendship. A good number of my closest friends and I got started in exactly this way.

Agent Hunt #4: Revise and Resend

The second thing that you can find in your inbox from an agent is the revise and resubmit request. Not as exciting as a request for pages would be, but it’s a step in the right direction. As with a rejection, the R&R is exactly what it says on the tin. The agent in question is telling you that the project isn’t right for them at this exact moment, but they see potential in it. They may even give you some suggestions for improvement. Which, granted, will sting the ego. But if you take the time to unpack it, the advice can yield rich rewards.

First, have an objective look at what the agent is advising you to do with the manuscript. As you would with a beta, sort through the suggestions and decide which you’re going to embrace and which you’re not. You’ll want to consider long and hard before shrugging off a suggestion from an agent (but there are times you’ll want to, which I’ll get into below.) Remember, they know the industry. They know what’s selling right now, and lots of agents have experience in editing as well. Also, try to keep in mind that agents are by and large extremely busy people. If they’re taking the time to not only recommend specific changes to you but inviting you to send it to them again, too? That’s a huge compliment on your work. Take their advice seriously!

Now, there will be times when you’ll want to ignore a suggestion or to pass on sending your manuscript back to the agent in question. Look at the core of the suggestions. Do they seem to be keeping with the spirit of your manuscript? Or are they trying to take it in a completely different direction altogether? This is a good way to see from the get-go if you and the agent in question would be a good fit. If you decide not, you don’t need to do anything else with the R&R. Just tag it in your spreadsheet as an R and move on to the next one.

But if you do decide to follow up, which in most circumstances I feel would be a good thing, don’t stop querying other agents while you work on the revisions. You might slow down your querying if you decide that the new direction you’re taking is overall a stronger manuscript and you want to send it to more than just this one agent. But be sure to keep the queries flying.

When you’re finally ready to send it back to the agent who originally made the suggestion, send it just as you did the initial query. This time, add a line to your query letter saying that you have made changes to the manuscript in response to their suggestions and are resubmitting it as they requested. Press send, sit back, and see if the edits are more to their liking. As always, be kind, courteous, and professional! You’re one step closer!

Beta Tank #4: Getting Your Fishies’ Worth

It’s time for another Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot (formerly Undivinelight, but I’m a dunce!), so be sure to click over there to read her take once you’re done here!

For today, we’re looking at how to get the absolute most out of your beta readers. A lot of this will be subjective; what works with one reader may not with another. So, with that in mind! Here are a few things to work out with your beta to be sure it’s a good fit for you both.

  1. Set the expectations. Are you looking for liner notes? Big-picture concerns? Pages of write-ups? Quick comments jotted in the margins? This is important for both of you; first to set up for your beta what’s expected and secondly so that you can make sure that what they’re offering and capable of meets your needs.
  2. Set up a schedule. I know, I know, you don’t want to be a bother. Your fishies are doing you a big favor by even giving your story a look. The last thing you want to do is nag them, right? That’s where the schedule comes in handy. If they agree to have chapters 1-5 done by next weekend and the whole story finished by the end of next month, then you don’t have to worry about pestering them for it. It also gives the beta a graceful way to bow out if they can’t accommodate it.
  3. Open the channels of communication. Establish whether you want regular communication with your betas or if either of you wants to be left alone until the work is done. Your beta may have questions or concerns along the way, and you’ll want to decide up front how to handle some of them.