Thursday, April 23, 2015

Anatomy of an Edit

with guest Melanie Dickerson.

Before I was published, editors seemed to be these mysterious beings who held sacred knowledge about writing and story and revision. I could hardly wait until I had my very own editor to glean from, someone who would love my story as I did and would help make it even better.

Now that I’m published, I haven’t changed my beliefs about editors very much, because from my (albeit limited) experience, they truly do have amazing abilities when it comes to seeing a story as a whole—the forest AND the trees—and knowing what would help to make it better.

But lately I’ve had a few people tell me that they don’t intend to ever try to get traditionally published because they don’t want an editor telling them to make changes on their books. They stated that it would be too stressful, and others said they didn’t want to give up control over their book or any aspect of it. Once they finish it, they plan to self-publish. Period.

So, I thought I would explain what really happens at publishing house when it comes to edits, and why an author would actually WANT to submit to this process. I’ll be giving examples from the three types of edits we did on my new Medieval romance, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, in partnership with my wonderful editors at Thomas Nelson.

There are basically three types of edits. 


1. Content edits, also known as macro, substantive, and developmental edits.
2. Line edits
3. Copy edits


Some might consider line edits and copy edits the same thing, but in my experience, the line edits were more in-depth, and copy editors proofread after the main edits were done.

The first edits an author receives are from the content editor, your main point of contact, with whom you also communicate about the cover, the back cover copy, and various issues that come up. This editor looks at the big picture of your novel and every aspect of plot and characters. They put their observations in the greatly anticipated “editorial letter.”

In this letter you may be asked to change characters, eliminate characters, to make changes to your plot, to eliminate a subplot, or to create one. But all these changes are usually stated as suggestions, not forced changes set in stone. Your editor will tell you what the problem is and allow you to decide how to fix it, while giving you some ideas about how you might do that. Ultimately, it’s up to you how to fix it, and even, in most cases, whether you even want to or not. You get to choose. It’s your book.

I will give an example from my editorial letter for The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. This was my first time writing for Thomas Nelson, and also my first book geared toward an adult audience rather than a Young Adult audience. I really wanted this book to be as “clean” as my YA books, but at the same time be a little more appealing to adult readers.

In my editorial letter, my editor, Becky Monds, stated that The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest “reads too young.” This was one of her main concerns about the novel and the one I’ll give examples about. And since I didn’t want this story to “read too young,” I listened.

(BTW, Dina Sleiman just shared a great post earlier this month about what constitutes YA fiction.) [Link: http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2015/04/so-what-is-ya-fiction-anyway.html]

Becky made a few suggestions about how to “age up” the story, and especially the heroine, Odette. The controlling stepfather made Odette seem more like a child than a mature woman of twenty years old. She suggested I eliminate the overbearing stepfather, Rutger, and the heroine’s passive mother, and make Odette an adult orphan who is independent.

As Becky said in her letter, if I were to make this change: “Odette becomes a much more active heroine. She is the one setting the terms for her poaching. She isn’t being manipulated by anyone.”

I mulled it over and knew Becky was right about Odette seeming too young and needing to be more in control of her life. However, I didn’t think I could make her totally independent and living alone. It wouldn’t be authentic to the Medieval time period. So instead, after talking to Becky on the phone, I decided to make Odette an orphan, as Becky suggested, but I replaced the controlling stepfather with an easy-going uncle-guardian who would allow her to make her own life choices, and he would retain the name Rutger. This would help Odette seem older and more mature but still preserve the historical authenticity. I was very happy with this change.

But now I had to do the work. I would have to change Rutger’s role in the story, as he had been the evil villain. I had to figure out who would do the bad stuff that Rutger had done. I used a combination of people, including Rutger, but from different motives this time. It actually worked very well and didn’t take that long to figure out.

I had to change every single conversation the heroine had with Rutger, as his personality was now the very opposite from what it was before. Sometimes this was surprisingly easy, but other times . . . not so much. I also eliminated the mother, which wasn’t hard since she was so passive and actually served no real purpose.

But I liked the changes. It worked very well and achieved my goals for the story. Also, on Becky’s suggestion, I made changes to Odette’s best friend. From Becky’s letter:

“I love the role that Anna plays as a confidant for Odette and eventually the ultimate confidant when she tells Anna that she is poaching. But Anna acts very young herself. If Anna is married with perhaps a child or two, it will help Odette feel older, even if she has never married nor had children. As it is now, when Anna and Odette get together and talk about Peter and Jorgen, it feels like two giddy teenagers. Putting Anna in a more mature stage in her life will elevate their conversations to a more mature level.”

So that’s what I did. It was also a more believable scenario for the time period, to have a 21-year-old woman married with children.

All of these changes had lots of repercussions. I had to do a LOT of work. But I believe it was worth it, and it all paid off. I think it’s a much stronger story, and the changes I made to Rutger’s character made him much more complex and set the story up for a really big plot twist near the end that I thought was much better than the way I originally ended the story. Yay! I love surprise plot twists, and even more when they surprise me!

Now on to line edits.

The second stage of editing is the line edits. My line editor for The Huntress was Julee Schwarzburg. She helped me with all kinds of things, like smoothing out awkward sentences, eliminating unnecessary and repetitious words, and lots of other things that editors are known for.

As an example, on the first page of Chapter Two of The Huntress, Julee deleted two unnecessary commas in the first sentence. She deleted an unnecessary speaker attribution. (These were all optional deletions, made in Track Changes, so that I could accept or reject the changes as I wished. But I usually accept, as I usually like the changes.) She also made this comment in the margin: “Somewhere in this chapter can you describe what Odette’s dress is like? For example, is she wearing a kirtle with a scooped neckline? Or whatever is appropriate for this time period and Germany.”

Since I know I am too sparse in my descriptions in my first draft, it was a good suggestion. I always find myself adding descriptions of dress and setting at this stage, and a good line editor will remind me to do that.

On the second and third pages of Chapter Two, Julee highlighted a large portion and said, “This is great information, but I think we need to move this to ch. 1 so we know what the stakes are when Odette is first seen poaching.”

Another great suggestion, which I complied with. We went through the entire manuscript together three times, making changes on practically every page, fixing our inevitable mistakes on the second and third passes from when we copied and pasted or deleted, and also catching other mistakes and awkward wordings, etc.

And I think that gives you a good idea of what a line editor does and how much work it is for both the editor and the author, but also how much it improves the writing.

Lastly, I believe I had at least a couple of copy editors on The Huntress who looked over the entire manuscript and made minimal changes and suggestions, including a couple of grammar issues. Mainly, copy editors fix the things the other editors and author miss.

For instance, there was a sentence that read: They were going about their normal daily chores and shopping, not knowing that just above them a young girl’s life was hanging uncertainly, doomed to a sordid, ugly life.

The copy editor said: As written, the clause "doomed to a sordid, ugly life" modifies "young girl's life," but it is Kathryn, not her life, that is doomed. Can it be reworked?

Of course. I reworked it. 


And there you have it, examples from the three types of editing from The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. This is why I appreciate my editors so very much. Editing a book is a ton of work, for the editor as well as the author, but it’s worth it. I believe the book is much better for the editors who worked on it and all their suggestions—and all the HARD WORK I DID! (Haha! I had to add that!)

So, questions for you. What do you think of having an editor suggest changes to your work? Do my examples help you see how helpful editors can be? And/or, What are some of the most major changes you ever did to one of your books? Come on, make it good, so I won’t feel like I’m the only one who ever had to make major changes! And I’ll put you in a drawing to win a copy of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. (Winner announced in the Weekend Edition)





Melanie Dickerson is the author of fairy tale retellings set in Medieval Europe, including two Christy Award finalists and a Carol Award winner. She lives in north Alabama with her two teenage daughters and all their angst, and her husband, who is the sole male in a house where even their two guinea pigs are females. She enjoys watching movies based on Jane Austen’s books, and she literally has no other hobbies, as she’s always writing. Or editing. Or a combination of the two.


 


 

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest

A beautiful maiden who poaches to feed the poor. A handsome forester on a mission to catch her. Danger and love are about to unite in Thornbeck Forest.


The margrave owns the finest hunting grounds for miles around—and Odette Menkels spends her nights poaching his deer to feed the hungry orphans of Thornbeck. By day, Odette is a simple maiden who teaches children to read, but by night this young beauty has become the secret lifeline to the poorest of the poor.


For Jorgen Hartman, the margrave’s forester, tracking down a poacher is a duty he is all too willing to perform. Jorgen inherited his post from the man who raised him, a man who was murdered at the hands of a poacher.


When Jorgen and Odette meet at the Midsummer festival and share a connection during a dance, neither has any idea that they are already adversaries.
The one man she wants is bound by duty to capture her; the one woman he loves is his cunning target. What becomes of a forester who protects a notorious poacher? What becomes of a poacher when she is finally discovered?

112 comments:

Carol Garvin said...

My hope is to one day have an editing team working with me. I can't imagine putting a book out into the world without the expertise of a publishing team helping to make it the best it can be.

I rewrote an entire novel, changing POV, not once, but *twice*. I changed tenses, too. It was an attempt to get the story into a deeper POV and create a stronger protagonist, but I still wasn't happy with the story. I suspect it has some fatal flaws. I decided to call it a learning experience, and put it aside. LOL.

Melissa Jagears said...

My last content edit was a doozy. I put in a brand new character, wrote out a character, gave a character a brand new motive, took out an entire subplot, added a new twist to work off the new character, changed another character's character, added more scenes to expand on a character, and changed the feel of the romantic tension of the H/H essentially I wrote a different book. So yeah, you're not the only one having to make a major change! I feel ya. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

I used to hear multi-published authors talking about how they looked forward to receiving their editorial letters and admired their positive attitudes. I wondered if I would feel the same way when I had a story contracted and my revision notes arrived.

I do indeed!

My editor at LIH, Emily Rodmell, really knows her stuff. Her savvy suggestions help me make my stories heaps better. I'm getting quite addicted to her excellent feedback and find myself eagerly awaiting it.

That said, slogging through revisions is still hard, but it's so worth it. I love watching my stories get better before my very eyes.

Mary Preston said...

I think you would have to be accepting & receptive of any changes recommended.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

STUNNING COVER. STUNNING COVER. STUNNING COVER!!!!!

Oh mylanta, you had me at hello!

:)

Melanie, what great examples of how to work with an editor! And Becky's a two-thumbs-up sweetheart, she was my editor on "All Dressed Up in Love" and she was beyond excellent. Her changes made so much sense, and they worked!! Yay, Becky!

I hear authors/writers talk about ditching editing, too...

There are probably a few who can do that, but honestly, I need fresh eyes, I need someone to see where I go astray and recommend changes.

That extra polish puts us in the driver's seat!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruthy peeks up from major cowboy revisions, waves in complete agreement with everything, and then re-buries her nose, determined!

Cindy W. said...

I have always believed that "one should listen to those that know". In every job I have ever had I always listened to everyone who offered suggestions on how to do things easier or better. You can always learn something new. I would imagine if I was offered suggestions by an editor I would handle it the same way. If it appears to make things 'work' then I would probably do it.

I love your books Melanie and the cover of your The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is beautiful! I would love to win a copy!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Kara Isaac said...

Hi, Melanie. Having just survived my first set of developmental edits and being about to receive my line edits this is perfect timing!

I'm told by those in the know I got off lightly with my developmental edits. A lot needed to be strengthened, quite a lot of new content and some reworking but nothing quite as major as you mentioned!

Even with just this first round I know my book is already much stronger because of my editor's expertise. I have to admit that I really struggle to understand why any writer wouldn't want access to such expertise to make their work as great a story as possible.

Tina Radcliffe said...

WELCOME BACK TO THE HOSTESS HOT SEAT, MELLY!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I agree Keli! A good editor makes you dig deeper inside yourself and brings out your best and it's really exciting!

Tina Radcliffe said...

A female Robin Hood story!! I love this, Melanie.

How do you like writing for the adult audience?

Tina Radcliffe said...

What shall we serve today? Bringing in fresh fruit and croissants for our author and guests.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Aw, Carol, about putting a book aside and calling it a learning experience, I know the feeling! But it's still a very big step forward. I wish you the best with your writing--and editing! It sounds like you are definitely willing to do the hard word it takes to get a book into the best shape it can be. That means everything!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, Melissa, you know my pain! Wow! I'm not the only one who's made MAJOR changes to make a book the best it can be! It is painful, yes, but it if makes the story better, we're willing to do it. I hope you are happier with the story now, Melissa! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Keli, you express it perfectly! It's actually addicting to get that feedback from someone who is wise and knows how to make a story better. And also very rewarding to think we are making our story better!!! You said it, girl!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Mary, you do have to be receptive and accepting, even, sometimes, if you are still unconvinced that it's all going to work out! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ruthy! Thank you! I love this cover too. It was so different from my previous covers--partially because they were TRYING to differentiate for the new series--that it took a while to grow on me, but I love it now!

Yes, Becky is really awesome, as an editor and a person, so it's WONDERFUL! Love getting her feedback!

Thanks for stopping by while doing your own editing, Ruthy! I have to say, it tickles me that you are doing cowboy stories now! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thank you, Cindy! You are in the drawing!
I have to admit, sometimes I look at the content edits and think, How in the world is this going to work? But the more I study on it, the more I can see it working and making the story better. But there's always a few moments of panic wondering, Is this possible? Can I even do this? How is this going to work? Once I can see how it will make the story better, I am more determined than ever to make it work! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Kara! Getting off lightly is great! LOL! Enjoy it! I do sometimes get off kind of lightly too. In fact, this was probably my most intense and extensive content edit I've ever done, especially since I didn't even tell you some other things I did! But you do what the story requires. Sometimes it's only a little, and sometimes it's a lot. :-)

Keep up the good work! From my experience, line edits are so much less painful! Ha! :-)

Kelly Bridgewater said...

It's nice seeing you here, Melanie! :) I pray that any future editor I have will offer suggestions that align with my vision for the book or to make my book stronger. I'm still my only editor. Haven't found the correct critique partner/mentor yet. Have a great rest of the week!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for allowing me to be here in Seekerville today, Tina!!! I got up early. Aren't you proud of me? :-)

I love writing for a YA audience, and writing for adults is not too different. LOL! Especially since I want my faithful readers to enjoy this book as much as my others. I stuck to my old style pretty much, I think, while still "aging up" my characters. For instance, I don't want to read a story in which the heroine is in high school, dealing with things I am not dealing with (and can't remember dealing with), so in that way, Medievals are kind of ideal, as I can show universal types of problems and situations. I don't know if that makes sense or not! LOL! It's early!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Yes, I'm promising myself to eat healthier and wiser, so I have brought hot, soothing oatmeal and some honey and butter (okay, so butter's not healthy, but we will just go light on the butter) to put in it. That should go well with the fresh fruit. And for protein, I have turkey sausage and some lean ham. Help yourselves! I'm fixing myself a bowl now!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Kelly!!! It is good to see you here too! (Kelly's on my street team, which I just started last week!)

Kelly, keep doing those self edits!!! Self editing is really important. You know what you want to accomplish with your story, so keep learning and working at making it do everything you want it to! A great critique partner can also help, but you have to know what to listen to and what to reject regarding those critique partners' suggestions, and one day, those editors' suggestions! (I probably should have said something about that in this post!) I editing my first book, The Healer's Apprentice, for three years--yes, THREE YEARS!--as I was learning more and more about the craft of writing, before it ever got picked up by a publisher. And guess what? My content edits were very light with that book! So self editing is really important.

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

YES. YES to all of this!

Thanks for examples, Melanie. (I understand much better with examples.)

I don't know if this is splitting hairs or not, but I'm independently published and view this as slightly different from self-published.

When I'm working on a story, I have a team of first readers (fans of May's series) who help with plot holes, characters, basically if the story works or not.

When the draft(s - many, many drafts...) are finished and its as polished as possible, I send it to my amazing professional editor who works on content and development. Like you, I LISTEN, in my case because I'm paying her well for her time and expertise.

For myself, I would be hard-pressed to release a May the K9 Spy book without her because she's been with me from the get-go, when May was a twinkle in the eye 10 yrs ago or so. She KNOWS May and she knows what makes a great book, being a best-selling author of about 50 books in her own right, plus editorial experience of her own. And, she's a writing coach. What a gem!

So - it makes me wonder when people say (and I've heard it too) that they don't want to lose control or make changes...

When you find a good team, wherever they are, you listen! I DO maintain ultimate control but it is a rare suggestion I don't take to heart.

Once that phase is completed, then I have another team, some paid, some not, who proofread and line edit.

Even with all this, when I get the galley, it's amazing what I find. /sigh/

With your TN team, you have things all in house and I'd think it flows better.

It's still so much work, Melanie, but your writing is just terrific and continues to improve. What a wonderful gift you have and I'm just excited as I can be for your continued success. (And to see the subtle changes in YA v Adult in these next books.

Still remember that photo of you with the lovely smile as you were signing the contract!!! GO MELANIE!

And thanks for this post. It helps those of us indies who want to be sure we have the bases covered as best we can.

Thanks!!! See you on here and on FB. Write on!

/waving to all/
I've been "away" working diligently on Speedbo manuscript. Deadline to said editor LOOMS LARGE before me! Must. go. write.

Rhonda Starnes said...

Melanie, thank you for this wonderful post. I am one who is seeking traditional publication, and I look forward to the edits for the simple reason that I expect them to take my story stronger.

I wish I could stick around and visit, but I'm headed to the day job. Twenty-one (not counting today) school days until summer break! I'll try to sneak back in tonight and read all the comments.

Have a wonderful day, everyone!

kaybee said...

Hi Melanie,
At this stage of my writing journey I would love to work with an editing team. Wasn't always so, but it will be great to have more experienced eyes look at my work. I had a little taste of that with my plot consultation with Cathy Yardley last year, when she made suggestions that improved my Black Moment. My crit partner is very tough, so I'm getting a little taste of that this side of publication. We want to be the best we can, don't we?
Or we should. I used to be in larger writers' groups and heard some people (MOSTLY POETS) say, "This came directly from God and I'm not gonna change it." Love the poets, but it's not what I want for my work.
Kathy Bailey

Jackie said...

What a beautiful cover.

Thanks for sharing, Melanie. I went to college for a degree in pharmacy. People ask me questions every day. When I don't know the answer, I look it up.

With my writing, I've studied the craft. I've read books, attended conferences, taken lessons, and still I feel like there is so much to learn. One day I hope to have an editor who will love my story enough to help make it better.

I loved your post today. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Hicks said...

Wonderful post!

I would love to have an editor guiding me through to the finish of a stronger book. Everything in life I've ever accomplished was with the help of an expert—I expect publishing is no different.

I'm a 'show-me' learner, so I loved your examples.

Would love a copy of your book!

Kav said...

Squeeeaaaallll...so looking forward to reading this new one, Melanie!!!! I didn't realize it wasn't YA so that's an added anticipation factor as well.

And I love this post because I've often wondered what the different types of edits were and now I know. (You explained it very well.)

I'm not published so no editor input but I've had critique suggestions and love that input. Making those changes really improved my story for sure so I would be happy to accept advice from an editor as well. I think it's second nature to become so close to a story you just can't be objective anymore. Or you're so familiar with it you don't see the mistakes because it reads perfectly in your head.

I'll also admit to being somewhat of a reading snob in that I gravitate more to traditionally published books for just this reason. (Though I've branched out to reading indie pubbed known-to-me authors.) I'm not sure that I would want to read an author who isn't open to edits. It seems to me their work would stagnate without 'fresh eyes' (Ruthy's phrase) looking at it.

Melanie Dickerson said...

KC! Hey, there! Thanks so much for what you said! I am VERY impressed with your editing process!!! Yes, you are covering your bases well, my friend! That is the way to do it and do it well. You're hiring editors and utilizing the help of volunteers. It sounds like a very professional and wise approach. Keep up the good work!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Rhonda! Hang in there! I taught for 3 1/2 years before quitting to stay home with my kids, and I remember how excited I was to get out for the summer or for spring break! I was WAY more excited than the kids! LOL!
Yes, making the story stronger is definitely the goal! :-)

Wilani Wahl said...

I look forward to having a publisher editor guiding my work to the best it can be.

Your new book looks so interesting.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruthy Loves Cowboys!!! Pass it on!!!

:)

I am lovin' the rigors of the West, both contemporary and historical! I have never had so much fun in my life!!!!

YEEEE HAAAWW!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, kaybee/Kathy!!! That line about God giving it to them and they're not gonna change it! I've heard some very prominent agents say some really caustic things about that attitude! I will refrain, especially since these were poets. :-)

It is difficult to take criticism, but if we've studied the craft and we know what our story goals are, we should be able to be objective enough to know what will help the story and what is just someone else's opinion and style, and choose accordingly whether we want to make the changes. It takes a certain amount of wisdom. But just being willing to make changes is where it has to start! Sounds like you're there!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks so much, Jackie! I worried that this post might come across as arrogant. I am not boasting about my editors and the privilege I have to work with them, but I do want to help people see what a great thing it is to have editors helping you make your story better. :-)

It sounds like you are being proactive and working hard at learning the craft, and that is critical!!! And I also think that no matter how much we learn, we will still benefit from having someone else, someone who can be more objective about our story, help us see it through new eyes and see ways that would improve it.

I wish you the best, Jackie, with all your writing!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Mary Hicks! You sound like a wise woman! Sesame Street first taught me that it's a very good thing to ask questions when you want to learn something. ;-)
Keep up the good work!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Aw, thanks, Kav, for your enthusiasm! :D Can't wait for you to read it! The Huntress comes out in less than three weeks now!

You make a good point about being so close to the story that it's hard to be objective. That's one reason it's so great to have someone else give you their perspective. Because you better believe those reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads are going to give THEIR perspectives! Ai yi yi! They can be so vicious in their criticism. A good editor can help prevent some of that accurate-but-cruel criticism in those public reviews. Better to hear it privately and fix it before it gets out into the world! :-) Thanks, Kav!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Gotta take D1 to school! Be back soon!

Leslie McKee said...

Welcome, Melanie!

As a freelance editor, I have to agree that you did a great job of explaining the differences. I have encountered many authors who are confused about it, as well as the process in general. Sometimes it's much easier for the editor to see the "big picture." I always assure my clients that I have no desire to change their voice and that the suggestions I make can be accepted or rejected. I just like to give them something to consider. I find that many people appreciate it, and most accept my suggestions (though not always). I'm just trying to help make the story the best it can be.

I will be stopping in and out today, and I'd like to be entered in the drawing. Thanks!

Mz.ZeyZey said...

I love this article, Melanie! It is a very practical guide to what editors do. I know many self-publishers who use freelance editors for some of the same reasons that you have outlined. I dabble my toe in self-publishing (a non-fiction book) and I didn't use an editor. It took me a long time to do it, and I found a few mistakes after the paperback was released. I had someone look it over who told me they thought part of the opening came across too harsh, and it led to several changes of that section and others to tone it down.

One of my critique partners who is traditionally published sent me her revision letter and revised manuscript to see if she addressed everything, and an author shared one on the So You Think You Can Write SOLD! blog, so I've seen a few of these. I think most of the suggestions they make are in line with things I would like to see as a reader and make the story stronger. I think all writers need other sets of eyes on their work at some point if they want to write a book that others will enjoy more than they want to pat themselves on the back or feed their own egos.

Jeanne T said...

Melanie, I loved seeing the specifics of the editorial comments you received on your book! The visual is so helpful in giving me a better understanding of what the editorial process is like.

I am a complete proponent of get other eyes on your book. They see things we miss when we're so familiar with our stories.

Mary Keeley at Books and Such also did a post on editing today. http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/check-recheck-and-then-check-again/

I think God is speaking to me. :)

Great post today!

Jeanne T said...

Oh, sorry. I didn't know how to make that link click-able. Sorry!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Wilani, I wish you all the best! I can remember wondering if I would ever get a publisher, but it finally happened. :-)

Ruth!!! Way to diversify! I'm diversifying too--I'm writing a Regency! It's due July 1, so I hope I can get some work done on it today! :D

Connie Queen said...

I'm not published yet, but I look at a team of editors being a large group of professionals that works to make MY story better. Wow. Who can beat that?

I might do things a little different if I self-published my books, but I try to submit a work to a publisher according to their guidelines. So before we're ever published, we're already changes.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Leslie! Thanks for the freelance editor's perspective! Yes, my editors are the same way. They don't want to change the voice, and they just want to make suggestions that will help me think of ways to improve the story. I've heard horror stories, but that's how an editor should operate!
You're in the drawing!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Mz. ZeyZey! Yes, it is really good to get others' eyes on our work to help us know how our writing comes across! It doesn't even have to be a professional editor. Someone who reads a lot can be a great first reader to help us smooth out the places that didn't come across the way we meant them to! And many, many self publishers (or I guess the more politically correct term is indie. Sorry I forgot that!) are very professional about hiring editors to do the editing before they put their books out for the whole world to see. Others I know get the help of knowledgeable critique partners and readers to help them catch mistakes. These are all good things!
And like you said, it's all about creating a book that the reader will enjoy. It's not about us! It's about the reader. Great point!!!

Janet Dean said...

Melanie, always wonderful to see you in Seekerville!! Thanks for your great explanation and examples of the three types of edits.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest sounds packed with conflict and tension! Did you find edits with a new publisher was similar to edits with your prior publisher?

The biggest revision I made on a book was on Courting the Doctor's Daughter. My editor asked me to change the hero's nephew to his son. This necessitated making countless changes throughout the book and rewriting the last three chapters, but the change upped the conflict between the hero and heroine and made the story much stronger. Editors know what they're doing!

Janet

DebH said...

Melanie
First - I love your books.
Second - I would love to win your next book. LOVE the blurb and cover! (I'm partial to archery heroines - having done archery during college and having way too much fun with it)

This is a super-duper, uber insightful post. I really appreciate your examples and showing how the editors enhanced your vision and made your story stronger with their input.

I have the R&R letter from my Killer Voice MS and see how sharp the editor is. She definitely made suggestions and notes that were spot on. In fact, during the contest I got concerned when I didn't get as many notes and suggestions as I thought I should, being so new to writing. I think I was actually hoping for MORE suggestions than I got (how crazy is that?).
So now I'm plowing through MAJOR revisions, but with full knowledge that if I follow the editor's suggestions, it can only make my first book attempt that much better.

Thanks for this post. It's awesome!!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Jeanne T, thanks for that link! (And it's no problem to copy and paste! I don't know how to make the links live either!) I love reading what others have to say about editing. I can always learn something new.
It is so easy to miss our own mistakes! You are right.
BTW, I did get Becky's and Julee's permission to do this blog post today! In case anyone was wondering. AND Julee Schwarzburg is also a freelance editor, so if she has openings, you might be able to hire her. She does content editing as well, if I'm not mistaken.

Melanie Dickerson said...

That's true, Connie! If we're submitting our work to publishers, we're already making changes in accordance with their guidelines. I made lots of changes in my first two published books when I was submitting them to contests, in response to the judges' comments. That was an EXCELLENT way to polish up those first few chapters and gave me a taste of how to make changes suggested by others. Which is something we often talk about in Seekerville.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Janet, editors DO know what they're doing! So true! And those "little" changes like making a nephew the hero's son, or making the villain an easy-going uncle, force us to make tons and tons of other little--and big--changes throughout the book. A lot of work, but it does help increase tension, or whatever other story goal you have. And tension is always a good thing in fiction!

The editing process with Thomas Nelson was very similar to my previous publisher, but also different. Every publisher does things a little differently, I think, but I've had really helpful editors who seem to have a natural talent for seeing the big picture and knowing what would make the story better. So grateful for that!

Jill Kemerer said...

Fascinating post, Melanie! I really enjoy reading about your process! It's interesting to see how your publishing house handles edits. I was surprised that you and your copy editor went back and forth three times. That's great!!

I do love revisions. I also love critiques. It's rare that I come up with the best possible story on my own. Expert input helps so much!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Deb H, thanks for the encouraging comments about my books! I've never been more excited about what I'm writing! And next year I'll have THREE books coming out instead of one or two. Now THAT'S exciting! :-) But also a lot of WORK! But I love it!

Way to go, Deb, on getting that feedback and putting it to good use! You are a professional writer. Doesn't matter that this is your first book. Lots of first books DO get published, if the writer is willing to do the work. It sounds like you have talent AND perseverance. Very crucial elements to a successful author!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Jill! I was surprised Julee and I went through the book so many times. Becky and I had already gone through it at least a couple, but because I made so many changes, we really needed to go through it that many times. But I think that is standard for Thomas Nelson. The line editor and the author make three passes through the book. And THEN you still have copy editors proofreading it, and then the author gets to go through the galley before it's actually printed. It's a very thorough process! But I wouldn't have it any other way. It helps satisfy my perfectionistic tendencies!

Wilani Wahl said...

I gave my mom the historical collection of with this kiss for her birthday. She just finished ruthy's. She told me it is the best she has ever read.

Wilani Wahl said...
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Sierra Faith said...

Don't want to be entered in the contest :D Already have an ARC!

I am trying to write and I have a friend who is a grammar freak! She helps me with all my grammar mistakes, and sentences that don't make sense :D I really like the criticism because I want to do the best I can! I also have two other friends who read it and tell me if anything is confusing, or boring :)So I don't mind them changing my work a little to make it better! And they are great to brain storm with if I'm stuck!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Melanie!! Thank you for this post! I have received my editorial letter and have been in a mild panic ever since. Hearing what you went through has helped - a lot!
I'm leaving on a writer's retreat weekend tomorrow and I know I'll have some HARD WORK ahead! But like you, I know the changes will make the story better.
Prayers appreciated for divine inspiration!
Cheers,
Sue

Janet Dean said...

Melanie, all this proves that writers must be teachable from newbie to multi-published. When I indie publish, I will use an editor to ensure my story has fresh eyes and someone looking at it with a grasp of the big and small aspects of story.

Janet

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, Ruthy!!! Did you see Wilani's compliment???

Melanie Dickerson said...

Sierra! Great to see you here! Yes, that's a wonderful thing, having readers who will help us fix our mistakes! Very helpful. :-)

Becky Dempsey said...

I admit the thought of someone asking me to make such drastic changes in my book scares me! I have only written one complete novel and half way through realized that I should have the hero's POV, too, so I had to go back and add in scenes for him and change other scenes from her POV to his. I am currently going through and strengthening parts. Today I changed a scene I'd added for my hero from 373 words to 1180 words.

I'm looking forward to reading "The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest". My review copy should be in the mail :D

Melanie Dickerson said...

Sue Mason, I KNOW that feeling of mild panic!!! And sometimes not so mild! Haha! I always feel that way at first. I read the letter and think, Oh my gosh, how will I ever do THAT!?!? Or I think, I can do that, that's not so hard. And then when I actually start thinking about it, I want to cry, because I realize how much work it's going to be!
Praying God will give you inspiration!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Becky! Yes, writing is not for the faint of heart! There's a lot learning, a lot of rewriting, adding to and deleting, that we have to do! But the end product gives us a sense of satisfaction--and other rewards, hopefully! Eventually. :-)

Janet, when I venture into the world of indie publishing, I hope I will find a great editor too! Some people might be able to get away with not having one, but I know I need one! :D

Julie Lessman said...

MEL!!! WOW ... what a premise for a book, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest ... I LOVE IT!!

Great post, my friend, with absolutely WONDERFUL examples of what our editors do for us!!

I agree with you that our editors help to make our books SO much better! So much so, that I was realllllly nervous when I published my first indie, A Light in The Window, because I missed my editors'keen insight, although I did have the benefit of my agent's remarkable feedback on that one. There is SUCH a good feeling in knowing that you have three different editors looking at your work from all angles. I'll be the first to admit that in the beginning, I wasn't crazy about some of the substantive changes I was given, but I've learned to trust all my editors now as well as my own gut.

I have gotten in such a great groove with my editors and have learned SO much from them all that I am still hesitant when indie publishing on my own, which goes to show you what a so there's definitely a huge comfort factor in being with a traditional publisher. :)

Hugs and more hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

CAROL GARVIN, NO!!! You rewrote an entire novel, changing POV twice and tenses too???

YIKES!! You're a better (and more patient) woman than me, girlfriend. :)

HA! "Learning experience," indeed! ;)

Hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

YIKES, MELISSA JAGEARS ... you too??? I'm getting cold chills just READING about all these changes. :(

I had a real shock on my 4th book when I learned that my editor did not like to read the synopses I included in my proposals because she didn't like to ruin the stories. After reading the book, she told me I could not do what I was doing with the plot even though it had been in the synopsis, which I'd assumed she read. Which meant I was looking at a total rewrite of a book that took me nine months to write. I about had a breakdown.

Well, I'm happy to say I did what I always do in cases like that -- cry my eyes out and pray -- and God truly spared me. Turns out by just changing one little thing, I could save the book, which meant a few minor edits and writing one additional scene. WHEW!!

I should ALWAYS be so lucky (aka "blessed") with my edits. :)

Hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

KARA ISAAC SAID: "I'm told by those in the know I got off lightly with my developmental edits."

Sounds like you did, Kara, but don't make the mistake I did.

You see, on A Passion Most Pure, my agent had one tiny edit and my editor had almost none, so I was feeling pretty smug about that.

UNTIL book 3 ...

Oh, book 2 had a few more minor edits, of course, but I wrote it in a month, so I expected more. Even so, I still was feeling pretty smug compared to the total overhauls I was hearing other authors had.

Then the ax fell on A Passion Denied, when my editor told me by page 400 she was thinking this was the best book I'd ever written and then BOOM!! I had plot elements that were so offensive to her that she said if she wasn't my editor, she would have put the book down and never picked it up again.

YIKES AND MORE YIKES!! Of course I cried and cried and prayed and prayed for all the humility I would need to revamp the book her way instead of mine.

And then book 4 was another wake-up call, which completely crashed my mistaken notion that I was a clean writer. I mean, one expects edits to get lighter and lighter with each book, after you become a more seasoned writer, yes?

NO!! A lesson I learned the hard way and am STILL learning. :)

Hugs,
Julie

Debby Giusti said...

Melanie,
Oh, the conflict in your story!!! Can't wait to read The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest! I love your heroine's courage! Also love the changes your editor suggested.

Thanks for showing that working relationship between a writer and editor.

I feel confident my wonderful editor, Emily Rodmell, will catch any mistakes I might make, and her suggestions always improve my stories.

As you mentioned, copy editors check the details, whether grammar related or consistencies in the story. I once referred to a corporal in one of my stories as a specialist. Actually at that time, the two "ranks" could be interchanged, but the copy editor realized the different title would confuse the readers. I was grateful for her comment, deleted the specialist reference and used corporal instead.

Debby Giusti said...
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Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Julie!!! It really is very comforting knowing we have so many professional editors combing over our stories and making sure they are the best they can be! I think when the time comes for me to indie pub something, I'll be nervous, even if I do plunk down the big money to hire a stellar editor! Just thinking about it makes me appreciate my publisher more! Ha. :-) And it is so nice to realize how much you can trust your editors to make GOOD suggestions that will WORK. That trust comes over time, but also, I felt it with Becky the first time I worked with her. I recognized the worth of her suggestions right away. Or within 24 hours, anyway. ;-) I always have to have some freak-out time!!! That applies to covers and titles as well as editorial letters! Ha!

For those who don't know, freak-out time is the time, immediately after receiving big suggestions about your precious book that you spent hours and weeks and months working on and even sometimes crying over, when you fret and cry and rant and just generally freak out over how this is going to work. And then you let it soak in and grow on you as you mull it over. Before you know it (okay, well, it sometimes takes days or even weeks) you realize your publisher/editor was right and you're suddenly perfectly happy with those edits/new title/new cover. :-) Right, Julie?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Debby, yes, my copy editors always seem to catch at least a few things that the rest of us missed! It's kind of amazing. So glad you have great editors too! That seems to be the norm, thankfully. :-)

Sarah Claucherty said...
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Sarah Claucherty said...

I love this post! I'm interested in becoming an editor after college, so these delineations were really helpful. Definitely one to save!

I actually work as both a journal editor and a writing tutor currently, so I can vouch for the fact that editors are a necessary part of the Writing process and can really help the writer when the finished piece will be shaded with an audience.

I do all 3 types of editing in my work, though not to the extent that a book editor does.

I'd love to be added to the drawing, Melanie!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Wilani!!! OH, you just made my heart sing, I love "His Beloved Bride" so much!

(Of course I PAY Wilani's mother to say things like that, LOL!)

THANK YOU!!! BEAMING IN UPSTATE WHERE YES... IT IS SNOWING. :)

Love you, Wilani!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Leslie McKee, thank you for the beautiful review in Romantic Times!

As soon as I heard I e-mailed my editor Melissa Endlich and we did a happy dance together!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Here's what I know about editing: I'm good at it. When it's someone else's story.

On my own, I'm a good writer, but I need that outside view to make sure I'm not operating on assumption...

That's huge, like Melanie not seeing that her heroine read too young... I can totally see that happening! Because we're seeing them older, we're just not telling them "older".

Those extra eyes and viewpoint are clutch to me.

Melanie, this is such a helpful topic!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

For my indie work I use my daughter Beth as my editor. She's good, she's solid and she's reasonable, she's on facebook as Jamison Editing

She edited several of our Seeker novellas, she edited my "Running on Empty", and "Safely Home" and "Try, Try Again", so we've given her the gamut of shorter works and full-length novels. She's done other free-lance stuff, she got her degree from the University of Rochester, and she loves romance and novels, so it works!

It's important to work with someone you trust for indie work, and because self-publishing means the author accepts all the risk (I do that because I'd feel dreadful if something crashes and burns) it was really important to me to be able to work with someone who's honest with me.

AS YOU ALL KNOW, DAUGHTERS CAN BE WRETCHEDLY HONEST, LOL! :)

Jamie Adams said...

Love the cover on your new book Melanie! The other day my 14 year old daughter was looking for something to read and I gave her my copy of The Captive Maiden. After that every time I saw her she was reading the book. I asked her what she thought of it and she said, "I want to read all her books." You have a new fan :)

Barbara Scott said...

Melanie, as a writer AND an experienced fiction editor, it was so refreshing to see how much you appreciated the editing process. I wish all writers felt that way. Here's an example I use: the writer constructs the violin, but the editor polishes it to a high sheen to make it an instrument of beauty.

I'd love to win your latest book!

Heidi Robbins said...

I think editors are essential and amazing. Sometimes when reading I notice things that a good editor would have caught and it's distracting from the story. Thanks for sharing about the different types of edits and editors!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I'm brave. I've had Seeker Villagers Beta read my proposals! Honesty is Clutch. I am so appreciative of Them!

Candee Fick said...

I've just gone through a couple rounds on my first contracted novel and I echo the sentiment "Thank God for editors!"

Knowing I'm a newbie, my editor called first to remind me how much she liked my story, voice, and characters and to warn me NOT to freak when I saw all the track changes markups. The process was helped immeasurably by muttering to myself "we're making it better, we're making it better" as I faced all of the changes. That and thinking of this stage of the game as a team effort. We all wanted to tell the best story possible so any suggestions weren't personal.

I didn't have to make any major changes in that first letter, but I do recall being asked to make the first pages have a more compelling hook and to make the heroine more likeable on the worst day of her life. I had to pray A LOT about those because I could not count the number of times I had already rewritten and tweaked that beginning as a Genesis Finalist. My (short) pity party included a semi-rant (to myself!) about how if I knew how to fix it, I would have already!

With distance and some input from my crit partner about other possible openings, I figured out how to fix it without too much work. Whew!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Sarah! You're in the drawing! And I wish you all the best with your future as an editor! It's a difficult job, but I would also think it would be fun too, if you like to read. :-)

Ruthy, I can't believe it's SNOWING! Actually, I can believe it, because it's not very warm here today at all. :P Where did my nice warm spring go?

Actually, my daughters edit for me too, and yes, they ARE VERY HONEST! If they don't like something, they tell me in no uncertain terms. My younger daughter especially likes to read my books as soon as I finish them. And she's a fast reader and has very strong opinions! LOL! I listen to her, though, because she's in my target audience, and also because if I don't, she'll never let me hear the end of it!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Aw, Jamie! Thanks for telling me that! I love it that so many moms and daughters are sharing my books!!! I even have one avid reader who reads them to her SONS! And they actually like them!!! That woman is raising her boys right. ;-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Barbara!!! That is a very good analogy! I like that. I didn't do so well with my analogies. I called this post the "Anatomy" of an edit, and then I mentioned seeing "the forest AND the trees." I probably should have gone with one or the other and made allusions to it all through the post. I needed an editor to point that out to me! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Heidi! I don't want poor editing to distract my readers! Yay for good editors!

Tina, love those beta readers you got. ;-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Candee, sounds like you had a great approach to those edits! "We're making it better." Good to remind ourselves of that! Laughing at your mini-rant! I've had a few of those myself! And glad you had some crit partners who could help you past the difficult stage of wondering HOW to do what they've asked you to do. :-) Way to get 'er done!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I'll be scarce this afternoon, as I have to take my daughter to the doctor for a post-op check-up--she had foot surgery three weeks ago. Will try to come back and answer any questions this evening! Thanks to everyone who commented!

Missy Tippens said...

Melanie, this is such a great description of editing! It's exactly what I've experienced. And I'm so thankful for it!!

I love the description of your new book!! Can't wait to read it!

Beth J said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Ruth Logan Herne (aka: Mom)!

Editing is a relatively new venture for me, although I have been proof-reading (and critiquing) Ruthy's novels for many years.

I am thoroughly enjoying the work and it's something I can do at home, while raising my cute, little kids.

I have been blessed to work with several of the Seekers on their recent novella collections, on Ruthy's indie novels, and on Helen Gray's recently published indie novels as well.

Thanks for the great post, Melanie. It was a nice read from my editing standpoint.

Mary Connealy said...

this is a really great post, Melanie. Thank you for defining all of this so well.
I love your work and have never thought it was 'too young'. I definitely works for me. :)

But this is a lot of great advice!

Sandy Smith said...

Very interesting, Melanie. I am just working on my first book, so no experience with editors yet. There are so many ways I could go with certain elements of this book that if I get so far as to have an editor, I would appreciate any thoughts they had. Please enter me in the drawing.

Lyndee H said...

Perfect timing, Melanie! And as always, your covers are great! Thanks for sharing.

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post, Melanie! I agree that editors are very, very important and helpful. They can certainly teach author how to improve their writing.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Missy!!!
Thanks, Mary!!!

Missy and Mary. Mary and Missy. LOL! I like that. :-) (Yes, I'm tired!)

Hi, Beth!!! It's nice to meet Ruthy's daughter! I think editing would be a nice job if you wanted to stay home with the kiddos. That's what Natalie Hanemann is doing, and she is my line editor for the book we're editing now. If I wasn't a writer, I think it would be fun!

Blogger is teaching me all about sushi, which I've only tasted once and did not like. LOL! I'm wondering how many times I need to confirm that I'm not a robot!!! (See? I'm tired!)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Sandy, Lyndee, and Cara Lynn!!! Glad you stopped by. :-)

Jill Weatherholt said...

Your cover is beautiful and what an awesome premise, Melanie!
I loved this post. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. I'm all for an expert telling me how I can make my story better. I've got tough skin...I can take it. :)

Marianne Barkman said...

I'm not the only one who shies away from self published books? I'm sure they're getting better, but I just read one from an author I liked who had gone that route, and was, to,say the least, very disappointed. Yay for SEEKERVILLE authors. Thanks, Melanie for a great post.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Jill, thank you! Yes, it takes having tough skin, but it's really a great thing!

Marianne, I'm usually wary too! But there are some good ones, authors who know the worth of a great editor. Tamara Leigh comes to mind. And great story trumps not-so-great editing, at least for me. I can handle a few mild editing errors if the story draws me in.

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL, on your daughter, Melanie!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Believe me, Tina, it's true!!!

Mary Curry said...

Hi Melanie,

Thanks for sharing your edit story. My edit was very similar. The first round suggested a few changes and asked a few questions. I made them and received approval with the caveat that there were a few little things we could take care of in line edits.
My experience differed here in that I had track changes from 3 different editors at the same time for the final round. I really really lucked out because I agreed with absolutely all of the suggested changes.

I tried to turn in a clean manuscript, but sometimes you're just so close to the story, or hanging tight to a cherished character who really needs to go. It's great to have a wonderful editor (or 2 or 3) to point those things out for you.

Melanie Dickerson said...

This is true, Mary!

Rachael Koppendrayer said...

Thank you for your detailed descriptions AND EXAMPLES! It helps so much to understand exactly what editors do.

So content editing is kind of like getting a house ready to sell? Lots of good advice from the realtor to make it more sellable, but ultimately, taking it is up to you?

Dana McNeely said...

Oooh, a story about Robinette Hood! I'd love to read it. I enjoyed your explanations of the different types of edits and how they improved your book. Thanks so much.

Julie Lessman said...

MEL SAID: "For those who don't know, freak-out time is the time, immediately after receiving big suggestions about your precious book that you spent hours and weeks and months working on and even sometimes crying over, when you fret and cry and rant and just generally freak out over how this is going to work.Right, Julie?"

LOL ... absolutely, Mel, and nobody knows about those crying jags better than you and me, the weepy twins!! :)

Hugs,
Julie

Deanna Stevens said...

I can imagine that an editor would be a lot of help. I would definitely want one if I were ever to write a story..I'm learning so much about what goes on behind the book in my hands!
toss me in the drawing please :)

Leslie McKee said...

You're very welcome, Ruthy :)

Olivia said...

What a great blog. Melanie,you really clarified what goes on during each edit and your examples provide insight into the nuts and bolts of our craft. Please enter my name into the drawing for what will be an amazing read!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Heehee, Julie, not that I would suggest that you freak out like I do. I just thought you might be able to relate a little bit. :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for all the comments! You're all in the drawing!

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Great post, Melanie! I'm always interested to see what all goes into the writing/publishing process. :)