So, I got a call from my main contact at Amazon Encore the other day, and he told me he had good news. I’m thinking, “Did my first novel, They Never Die Quietly, hit the NY Times Bestseller list? Did we get an offer for a movie deal? Was there a sudden surge in sales?” Nope.
He said that they really have high hopes for the success of my second novel, Resuscitation, and they believe it has great commercial potential. He referred to it as my “break-out” novel, which basically means I go from obscurity to recognition. So far, I’m totally engaged.
Then I hear one of the most dreaded words in the English language (at least for authors): “However.” Doesn’t this word pretty much negate everything that was said previously? So, he explained that every book by every author, no matter what their status or popularity, goes through an extensive editorial process. I find it hard to believe that this is the case with Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Dan Brown, but who am I to question his claim? He told me that he wanted my book to reach its full potential, and that the only way to accomplish this is to perform a comprehensive edit. To be clear, I’m not talking about a copy edit, which is basically an edit for punctuation, sentence structure, grammar, etc. The kind of edit he’s referring to is a thorough—and I mean thorough—content edit.
This is a process by which an editor uses the MS Word “Review” feature to track, mark up, and comment on any and all issues with the manuscript, particularly to do with believability, plot structure, character development, continuity, pace, narrative, dialogue, or anything else that weakens the story. I knew that this process wouldn’t be easy, but figured that I could get it done in a week or so.
It’s worthy to note that the editor my Amazon contact referred me to worked for a major publisher in New York for ten years, but is now working freelance. So, needless to say, she knows what she’s doing. Well, when I began the edit—paying close attention to all her notations and comments—at first it moved along quite well. But as I delved deeper into the story, when the plot and characters developed with more complexities, when the subplots started to take shape, her comments and suggestions became more comprehensive.
The scariest thing about going through an edit like this is understanding that many changes require that more than one scene needs attention. There is a thread of consistency that weaves its way from beginning to end and maintains continuity. When you change one thing, it might now contradict something elsewhere in the book, or impact another area. So, with each significant change, an author literally has to review the entire manuscript to be sure that if on page 55 you change a character’s relationship with her mother from combative to pleasant, you have to maintain the same relationship throughout the book. Multiply this by a dozen significant changes.
Well, I must say that the editor I’m working with has a keen eye and a remarkable ability to find even the most obscure issues. This woman doesn’t miss anything. Although I’m working my butt off to get this edit completed and pulling out my hair along the way, I know in my heart that the finished product will be a much better book and a more compelling read. But I have to tell you, for those who think that writing fiction is an easy job, it’s less glamorous than you might think. It isn’t all cocktail parties and book signings. Much of what a novelist does takes place in the trenches.
FOOTNOTE: Just in case you’re wondering if my first novel went through such a comprehensive edit, the answer is no. Why? Let’s just say that it’s a long, long story. It did go through an editorial process, but not to the extent of my second novel.