A few people have noticed that I’ve been conspicuously absent from both this blog and Twitter. For the last few months, I’ve been busy writing the sequel to TOUCHED. And intermittently, I’ve gone through two rounds of line edits and a round of copy edits on IF I LIE. Before I went through this process, I’d often heard of authors complaining about edits. From my position of (a) having not sold a book yet or (b) waiting, waiting, waiting on tenterhooks for my edits, I wanted to kick those whiners to Siberia. Now that I’m on the other side, my perspective has changed somewhat. I thought I would share what the process is like. Just know this differs for every author.
The Editorial Letter
Even though, I love my editor fiercely, as I waited on my letter, I was secretly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was pretty sure my editor, Annette Pollert, would ask me to cut a character, or to do something I hated. At which point, I would be faced with the dilemma of going with the flow and caving to the desire to be published or making a brilliant stand for my story with guns blazing (like I own a gun that doesn’t use water as ammo). I got antsy every time I thought about this and died inside a little more each time I contemplated how much my editor must want to renovate my book like it was the Extreme Makeover: Novel Edition. As you can see, I worked myself into quite a state, while barely managing to keep the crazy under wraps from Annette.
So the letter arrived in May. I held my breath and clicked on the email, expecting to find the ten-page, single-spaced letter I’d heard so much about from my Apocalypsie friends. I started reading. And then I started crying because Annette opened the letter by saying my novel had made her cry six separate times when she should have been immune from tears by then. Of course, with that opening, any criticism that followed felt like glowing praise. (Well done on you, Annette, you brilliant mastermind.)
Quite frankly, the letter felt completely manageable. Also, I’m ashamed to admit I felt a smidge smug. After all, my editorial letter was ONLY THREE PAGES. Holla. My changes mostly consisted of adding new scenes. I don’t mean to say this was a breeze. I had to reorder the beginning of the book, not an easy thing to do with the structure this novel chose. In the end, though, I had Scrivener and four weeks to make the changes. The scenes really made the book better. A thousand times better. I finally confronted my trust issues and decided I was stupid to doubt Annette. She has my best interests and those of the book’s best interests at heart. We’re a team, damn it.
I go to Italy for school for a couple of weeks in July and some traumatic crap happens back at home, turning my life upside down. I’m basically a wreck when I return. I can’t write. It makes me cry, and I’m tired of crying. I take some time off. I actually look forward to my line edits to ease me back into my work. But my trust issues have raised their bastard head again. A niggling doubt insists that here – in the line edits – is where Annette will have me sacrifice a character on the altar of my writerly ambition. Here is where I will be forced to take a stand with my water gun. I tell the doubt to shut up and stop overreacting. It sticks its tongue out at me.
In August, Annette emails me the marked-up manuscript. I have a little under a month to make the edits and return them. I open the document. And pretty nearly faint. Holy *bleep*! Scrawled notes are on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. I suddenly remember when Annette said that she LOVED line edits more than the edit letter. How could I have forgotten that? So much for my smugness at my short letter. I’m not even sure how to begin to tackle the beast.
So I do what I do best. I get organized. I buy some bitchin’ highlighters, and I take my butt to Starbucks. One page at a time, I tell myself. Except, I look up four hours later and I’ve only conquered 13 pages. And my ego feels battered into the ground and I wonder if my editor really liked my book after all. But, hey, my highlighters got a helluva workout. The pages are practically bleeding pink.
I don’t know what this process is like for others, but I felt a bit bruised. It’s not a reflection on Annette. Dude, the woman worked her pencil to a nub with those edits. She put so much time and heart into them, and I will ever be grateful. But as I was making the changes, my emotions were all over the place. One moment, I was angry that a line I loved had been suggested for deletion or alteration in a way I disliked. The next, I was abashed at things I’d missed. Then, I was euphoric as a change that felt so right. For the mont, I worked on those edits, I was all jagged edges and bitten fingernails (plus jacked up on caffeine).
I’m baring myself here to tell you I did not have the best attitude at all times. It’s really hard to let go of your ego, and see the bigger picture. When your book sells, it is no longer yours alone. When you start working with an editor, your book becomes a collaborative project. You may have final say, but another person is making decisions and directing you in ways that you may not want to go at first. That seems like an obvious statement, but day-um, it’s a difficult realization.
But when the light bulb went off, I wondered why I’d been fighting it. My freaking trust issues had raised their heads again. I tackled my chaotic emotions the best way I could – WITH A HIGHLIGHTING SYSTEM and a SENSE OF HUMOR. My code: pink for changes I’d made; orange for compliments (because Annette did make loads of fun comments, thereby keeping me from falling apart); and yellow, for things I might not want to change. I even sent a picture of one of my pages, bleeding in pink, to Annette for a laugh and we shared our deep and abiding love for office supplies.
To salve my ego, I allowed myself to save favorite lines in brilliant yellow. Except, I decided that when I finished the edits, when I felt less battered by all the changes, I would look at those yellow lines again. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t being too precious about things, but I needed to be in a mental/emotional space where I could accept the change a bit more graciously.
In the end, my wondrous editor, asked to see my edits before they were finished. I sent over the draft and had to explain my highlighting system. And do you know what she did? She helped me work on those yellowed lines, to fine tune them so that I didn’t have to sacrifice them. She really did get it.
In my defense, I will say I hid my skyrocketing emotions during this time, except from close friends and family. I want so bad to be one of those authors who works for the best of the book and doesn’t let ego get in the way. I believe I accomplished this. I think Annette would agree. But I’d be lying if I said it felt good all the time. Oh, but how wondrous it feels to be on the other side! When I read my book, I’m blown away by how tight it is now. Annette challenged me, I stretched myself, and I’ve grown as a writer.
Growth hurts so good.
On Friday I received my copy edits, and last night I finished them. A whole week early. I intend to do another read through because this is my last chance to make any big changes. This is the version that will become the galley. And now is the time when I have to turn in the dedication and acknowledgments. Compared to line edits, copy edits are like chewing gum – a total snap. I’m still learning. I have some tics that I’m aware of now and will work on.
There were two big surprises in this pass, though. First, I saw my copyright page. I wasn’t prepared for how it filled me with pride. I did it. I worked hard and created something from nothing. Awesome. Even better, though, is that I’m perfectly content with the story. I don’t have that anxious need to keep perfecting, to edit one more thing. Annette really is amazing. It may have felt overwhelming at the time, but those line edits tightened the story up so much, that it feels whole and complete to me.
See, I’m still learning to trust, but I made a huge leap in this round. I am in great hands at Simon Pulse. This is the best version of the book that it could be, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. For you writers, I hope you are lucky enough to work with an editor like Annette and the team at Pulse. I will forever bleed pink for them. The editing process can be completely brutal. It may break you a little, but only to build you back up as a better writer.