Last week I talked about getting that call and all that goes into the submission process to make that call become a reality.
The next step in the process is often edits and/or revisions. For readers, this may seem like a dry topic, but I have an interesting perspective that may surprise you. And while the writers in the audience may groan at the dreaded E-word, in my opinion, this is the most powerful step in the writing process to creating that bestseller we all dream about, second only to the original crafting of the novel itself.
For this topic, I’m starting well back in time, before I was even a glint in my agent’s eye. FEVER was originally written as a straight romantic suspense. I submitted the completed manuscript to ten agents and garnered ten rejections. My multi-published critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton, who had far more experience out in the publishing world than I, had an epiphany. She said that the reason my manuscript wasn’t getting picked up by an agent wasn’t because the story was weak or the writing was poor, but because the market for romantic suspense had tanked. She hypothesized that if I added a paranormal element to my novel, it would be both marketable and different enough from what was being sold to catch an agent’s attention.
Up to that point, I had never written paranormal, though I enjoyed the genre immensely. The thought of completely rewriting a hundred thousand word manuscript on the hope that the addition of a paranormal element would indeed be exactly what the work needed to sell was beyond daunting. But after a lot of thought, that’s exactly what I did.
Within weeks of resubmitting the revised manuscript, I had multiple requests for partials, followed by requests for fulls. In the end, FEVER brought me offers of representation from two amazing agents at the same time—one of those situations unpublished authors seeking agents dream about. (At least I did.) Within three months of submission to publishers, I had a contract for two books.
Why is this part of the journey important? Because it’s a real-life example of not only how readers drive the market, but how readers determine what writers write. Editors are on the front lines, selling books to booksellers. Booksellers are selling to you. If you lose interest in a certain genre and sales drop, then booksellers decrease their purchases in that genre. If booksellers decrease their purchases in that genre, then editors decrease their contracts with authors writing in that genre. If writers can’t sell their work in that genre, they stop writing that genre, and, like I did, shift to writing a different genre that will sell.
Readers are powerful.
Bringing the topic back around to the editing process, after an author has sold to a publishing house, there are a variety of scenarios ranging from minor copy edits to full manuscript revision and every level in between. The degree of editing a manuscript requires is completely individual and based on a variety of factors. Of course, the most influential factor is the acquiring editor. Editors are not all created equal. Even within the same publishing house, editors have different styles and interests. Some editors are very hands-on and love the editing process, working with authors on a micro-level, watching the growth, having input. Some are more hands-off, preferring to handle minor edits and passing over manuscripts they feel would need deeper changes.
In the case of FEVER, my editor, Alicia Condon, was very interested in the novel, but she felt it needed some significant changes in the later part of the manuscript for the story to reach its full power. When we discussed those changes, I could see how her suggestions for alterations in the story structure would strengthen the story as a whole, heightening all conflict, intensifying the climax, and deepening the resolution.
But not without a butt-load of work.
I could have taken another offer. Another house was interested in the novel without these major changes. But I am, at my core, a lover of craft. I am, and have always been, internally motivated by some tormenting force to continually better myself. It’s no different with my writing. And once Alicia had shed light on how much better FEVER could be, I was compelled to make the changes.
Those changes took months. I ended up rewriting the entire second half of the book. The result? Tighter pacing, richer characters, deeper internal conflict, more complex external conflict, a darker black moment, and a resolution that is both intensely satisfying and almost immediate—no dragging out The End.
Fast. Complex. Powerful.
At least I think so. I hope you’ll agree.
Now, let’s hear from accomplished romance author Kat Martin. Before she started writing in 1985, Kat was a real estate broker. During that time, she met her husband, Larry Jay Martin, also an author. Kat is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Kat Martin is the bestselling author of over fifty Historical and Contemporary Romance novels, has over twelve million copies of her books in print and is published in twenty foreign countries.
Joan: Kat, What level of edits were required for your debut novel?
Kat: I re-wrote my first novel, Magnificent Passage, thirty two times before I submitted it to an agent. It was rejected summarily by every publisher in NYC. Several months later, Pageant Books started a new line and chose the novel to become its lead title.
Joan: Did you have edits from both your agent before submission and from your editor afterward?
Kat: I had no edits from the agent and usually recommend against it. If you as an author feel the recommendations made will benefit the book, then do them. Otherwise don’t.
An editor at Avon who didn’t buy the book liked it enough to make suggestions. I thought she was right and did as she said. Though she still rejected the book, I think her suggestions made it saleable in the long run.
Joan: What kind of editing do you typically do now before submitting your manuscript to your editor?
Kat: Currently, I submit what I consider to be a copy-edit ready manuscript. That means I feel as if the editor can send it straight into production without changes. However, they usually make some sort of small suggestions, things I may have missed, and I am happy to make those changes.
Joan: Did you have a critique partner who helped you polish the manuscript before submitting to agents/editors?
Kat: My husband reads novels of mine that are particularly plot-heavy, looking for possible mistakes (fight scenes, FBI stuff, detective work, things like that.) Or he reads scenes that I think might contain erroneous information. So yes, I think it’s a good idea to have someone you trust read it. Just make sure if they suggest changes you make only those you believe are right for the characters and the story.
We all have elements in our lives that have needed alterations at some time. I’ve had many—multiple career paths, self-esteem, weight, etc. What was one of your most memorable alterations and how did it turn out in the end for you?
Remember to leave a comment to enter for a chance to win one of five Kat Martin novels. Visit www.joanswan.com for more details about the continuation of the Journey of a Debut Author Blog Tour and to keep up with the countdown for the release of my debut, FEVER, available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Booksamillion.
Update: 5 Winners will be chosen!! Contest is open internationally. Deadline to enter is Thursday, October 13th at 7AM EST. Winner will be chosen at random.