It is said that a good editor is worth her/his weight in gold. I couldn’t agree more. And now that it is all said and done, I can confidently add to this statement “…and two good editors are better than one.”
In my second post of the Writer’s Journey series (A Story Grows Up), I talked about working with Cynthia Luna and how we tore apart and stitched back together my first completed manuscript of Against My Better Judgment, specifically to improve the pacing and pump up the mystery (there was also the added bonus of verbiage liposuction - we ended up cutting out over 30k words). This 6-week exercise resulted in a manuscript (MS) that was ready for querying to agents and publishers, that ultimately resonated with The Wild Rose Press (TWRP). I was like an excited kid on their first day of school eager to embark on a straightforward journey to Publish-City. So, imagine my surprise when I immediately hit a “Do Not Cross” road sign in the form of TWRP’s rejection and their recommendation to get a freelance professional editor.
Wait a second.
I already worked with a professional freelance editor to tighten and improve the story, and now I was being told to do it again? Sure, they did say that there was something special about my manuscript and that it was worth getting another pre-publishing editor. But by this point, I had read the MS countless times and really thought it was in great shape. I took a beat, looked at my roadmap, and decided that instead of blowing off their recommendation, I would embrace it. I contacted Jeni Chappelle, an editor I knew from the ShoreIndie Contest (and who came highly recommended by an agent I queried) and asked for her help. I absolutely loved my time spent working with Cynthia, but I also knew that the more perspectives I could get the better it would be for my story.
After Jeni read the MS, she sent me an edit letter that, thankfully, first addressed what she liked. Receiving edits on a piece of creative work can be tough, so the below opening paragraph of the three-page letter gave me a welcomed boost of confidence.
I really enjoyed AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGMENT. You nail the voice, and it’s so fun and quirky. To me, that’s the best selling point for this manuscript. Your readers are all going to wish Sarah was their best friend. I love that Sarah uses these tropes from pop culture as a filter for her experience. That’s a nice nod to your readers, who will have picked up these same filters ala measuring a car’s trunk by how many body’s it could fit. Or maybe that’s just me. Characters are a particular strong suit for you. Every character in this book feels relatable, distinct, and well-developed, and most of them have unique quirks that make them feel familiar and yet come across as fresh. And their relationships and reactions to one another seem natural and realistic, which makes them easy to connect with. The plot is engaging and has some great twists, and I love the dialogue.
She then focused on big-picture elements to address. These primarily concerned getting the plot jumpstarted early in Chapter One; correcting pacing issues that killed the tension I was building in other chapters; and expanding upon and moving up Sara’s investigation. However, the biggest and by far most challenging recommendation was to gear the story more to the Young Adult genre (YA) and away from New Adult (NA). To do this, I needed to take the main character (Sara) from being a twenty-one-year-old senior to a nineteen-year-old freshman. Among other issues that this presented, I had to scrub out most references to alcohol (and keep in mind one of the original titles involved the word Wineux). I didn’t realize how much of a challenge it was going to be until I was in the thick of it. After a good long think, I got on the phone with Jeni and together we brainstormed ways to age Sara down without taking away from the humor and other great aspects of the story. That call with Jeni had to have been one of my most productive calls because by the time the brainstorming session was over, I had a clear visualization of what this story could be and I was ready to dive back in.
I pulled out my story timeline (an actual 2017 calendar with plot points penciled in) and began writing a revision plan that would serve as my new roadmap. Once again, I was going to tear apart my beautiful manuscript and put it back together. With my map in one hand and proverbial pen in the other, I compressed the story’s timeframe down from two months to three weeks (not an easy task) which significantly improved the pacing. I identified new chapters to be written, existing chapters to move up, others to rewrite, and still others that just had to go, no matter how much I liked them. Over the next eight weeks, I ended up writing six new chapters, completely rewriting another five chapters, breaking apart several more, and deleting six in their entirety. From a pure chapters perspective, this represented a rewrite of over half the MS.
Keep in mind, all these changes were made to a story I thought months earlier couldn’t be improved any more than I had already done. And yet, somehow, the result definitely was a better MS.
With fingers crossed, I sent the revised MS back to Jeni for another read. Three weeks later, she sent me an email that started out with: “… your revisions are fantastic—it’s suddenly an actual mystery! I felt like you hit every one of my suggestions, and I am beyond pleased with the result.” Talk about a big relief! She went on to point out a couple of very minor things to address but advised the changes I made were a “huge improvement” from the MS that I thought was just about perfect.
After addressing Jeni’s minor comments, and before returning the MS to TWRP, I spent another several months self-editing using TWRP’s initial editing guidelines. It was absolutely mind-numbing, and more brutal than the rewrite, but I knew it also had to be done.
When I *finally* returned the revised MS to TWRP, I was beyond pleased with the result. Little did I know what was coming next…but that, my friends, is for the next post. Suffice it to say, a MS is never as good as you think. There is always room for improvement.
A good editor is worth her/his weight in gold, and two good editors are better than one.
Be safe, be happy, and have a great week.