how many times can you possibly edit one book?
answer: the limit does not exist
As of April 7, WOMEN OF GOOD FORTUNE is headed to copyedits. For anyone who has followed my journey from the start, you’ll know that I have been complaining about edits since last year. I sold my book in October, and my editor followed up pretty rapidly with things that I’d have to change. I got my edit letter in November, and since then, I have been through so many versions of this manuscript that I have lost count.
I had no idea what to expect from the editing process; I’d already edited the book so many times: by myself, with feedback from my CP, with feedback from beta readers and my agent. People told me that the manuscript was polished. What else could there be to fix? I also didn’t know much about what working with an editor would be like. Most of the resources I read seemed so focused on getting your work to the point that an agent would pick it up.
Here, I will attempt to take several months of emails, texts, and Zoom conversations and try to provide a better picture of what my editing process looked like. I’ve learned that this can be incredibly different depending on editor preferences, imprint, etc., so just know that this is my personal experience.
November 2022: First edit letter
Normally, you get developmental edits then move into line edits. My editor combined the two into an incredibly long email. I just copied it into Word to see how long it was, and in total it was 5 pages and 2,700 words. It contained feedback on character development, plot, and relationships. The manuscript had so many comments and edits that every time I tried to change something, my Word paused to load for five seconds. Below is a snapshot of some of those initial pages. Note all the red and highlighted sections… and imagine that going on for 350+ pages.
January 2023: Revisions turned in, time for vacation??
I spent my winter break working on revisions and thought that they were in good shape. I expected that I’d get to sit back and relax, but within ~2 weeks, my editor got back to me with more feedback. We ended up calling to talk through some of the changes I’d have to make. When I took the call, I was in a Cracker Barrel, and I had to pace the souvenir aisle because it was too cold outside. By the time I finished (1.5 hours later), my friends were done eating, so I munched on some leftover, very dry biscuits while trying not to freak out about how I had to do the same amount of work as before, but with much less time.
February 2023: I discover I still have a lot of work to do
My editor and I reverse-outlined the plot, adding the right beats so that I could follow it as I edited. This outline turned into its own 5-page monstrosity. Among all the scenes and character traits I had to add, there were also a million interpersonal relationships I had to keep track of, as you can see in my editor’s very comprehensive list of all of them below…
We proceeded to tackle revisions piecemeal; she would send me comments for Chapters 1-10; I’d edit then send those back, then she’d read them and send me Chapters 11-20 in the meantime. February was extremely tough from a time management perspective. I’d race out of class each day so I could find a quiet place and make as much progress as I could on the book. I woke up early and edited. I edited during class. I edited up until I went to bed. By the time the end of the month came around, I had a newly revised full manuscript to send her. Even then, there were parts of the manuscript that deviated from our initial outline. Sometimes it was purposeful, but other times it was simply because I overlooked something. I’m not very detail-oriented, so I felt like I was constantly failing at getting things right.
March 2023: being asked a lot of questions I don’t know the answers to
March didn’t exactly lighten up in terms of work. Most of my edits had been on the first 2/3 of the book, but then we started doubling down on the mechanics of the heist. SO MANY QUESTIONS. Questions about why someone was in a certain place, what they were doing at a given time, why this more obvious thing was not happening… All of that has gone into making the heist in my book more airtight, but oh man was it excruciating to try to come up with answers to all those questions, then incorporate them into the story. My editor and I had an in-person coffee scheduled one weekend. We spent 1.5 hours of that meeting going through the entire heist timeline together so that all the timing lined up. This ultimately saved me a lot of time going through the whole thing on my own, and showed me that editing can be a very collaborative activity. It doesn’t have to be done independently.
April 2023: the light at the end of the tunnel
By April, we were finally done with adding scenes, and we were fully in line edits. It was such a relief to open up Word and not see a margin crammed with comments. That doesn’t mean that it was easy. I still had to further develop some characters or seed things throughout the story. But there were fewer comments and threads to keep track of, which made things more manageable.
After a bunch of smaller tweaks over the course of a week, my editor sent it off to copyedits. I could have cried. I don’t even remember what I did after. I think I had to do all the homework that I’d been putting off this entire time.
Conclusion: it will be worth it!!
This whole experience taught me to appreciate the magical touch of an editor. Not only did mine push me to think about each of my characters and develop a rich backstory for every single one of them, she also knew which parts of the book didn’t read as smoothly, and where a line of dialogue or movement could be added to help a scene coalesce. She also read my book like A BILLION TIMES, and she kept track of the tiniest details. Editing was very collaborative. We chatted live several times to talk through plot beats and characters. Under her guidance, I can say that this book has truly achieved its “real book” form.
I’ll be honest, I felt frustrated often. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever stop editing this book, and if I had died and entered a purgatory where I would continually have to create new versions of the same manuscript. I got sick of my characters. Chapters started blurring in my head, and I would remember scenes that weren’t there anymore or have vestiges of character traits floating around that were no longer true. There were days when I thought everything I’d written was crap. But I trusted in the process, and sometimes I would see a comment from my editor on a passage that said “Nice” and feel like maybe I was onto something.
After going through this, I can understand the hard work and effort that goes into every published book. Regardless of how WOMEN OF GOOD FORTUNE performs when it’s out, I’ll be happy knowing that it’s earned its place on shelves.
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Something I wrote today:
His family is there, waiting for a response, witnessing him in his failure. His wife and kids will watch him depart from the stage in shame.