The emotional struggle of editing a novel - header

The emotional struggle of editing a novel

How much insight do readers have into an authors mind? Not much I imagine. I wonder what readers picture when they consider what editing a novel feels like. From what I hear, it goes a little something like so:

A common conception of editing

The writer drafts in fits and flurries until one day those final words strike the page and the work is done. The final sentence written thoughtful and poignant. They print out a stack of paper and hand it off to an editor who attacks the page with red ink until it’s awash of circles and strikethroughs. The manuscript is returned, the writer fixes each mistake then hands it off to publishers.

For me, it’s rarely this simplistic. It’s a disparate and multifaceted process not easy to picture in a scene. My editing state of might is a stormy place fraught with internal struggles and achievements, sometimes thrilling, sometimes horribly boring, sometimes frustrating to no end, yet often rewarding as line by line the work is massaged into close to what it needs to be.

In the trenches

Editing is freeing, daunting, difficult, and when a piece finally feels like it’s coming together, it’s even gleeful. As I edit my current work, a science fiction novel with the working title Grim Curio, I find myself acting as my own therapist as I continually push forward. It’s a dark, supernatural, multi-dimensional, post-apocalyptic story of the last city on a dying earth and how it’s residence deal with the existential crises of being left behind when the rest of humanity escaped to another planet.

I’ve been actively editing Grim Curio for six months. When I look at the early chapters, it’s finally doing the difficult things. The tone feels right. The writing style has the rhythm I want, terse at times and sometimes flowy, sometimes both. It feels punchy in moments as if chewing on the world’s grit. It’s provocative, doesn’t shy away from anything, but balances that with lingering moments of humanity and introspection. There are layers to this shit, man. And in those edited chapters, I feel like its all come together.

To me, that’s glee. I’m hyped on my own cool-aid. But there’s still a long way to go. When you’re writing your heart out, these things take a hellova long time. And I see the mountain of text ahead of me and I keep asking myself, how am I going to get the rest where it needs to be?

The daunting task

That’s daunting as hell, seeing hundreds of pages left to fix up, expand, contract, and otherwise make good. But I have plans, testing strategies. I’m returning to old standby methods when words get dicey and I need to make it right. Part of me is always stressed that I’m taking too much time. Pacing through a single chapter over and over just getting everything flowing can take weeks, can become monotony.

But every pass, I get to ask myself more questions as the work get’s closer too intent. What am I trying to say? What is that character thinking? Who wants what right now? How are they trying to get it? Did this really come from my messed up mind? Sometimes things get darker than even I’m comfortable with, but that’s ok because that’s the story I’m trying to tell.

My wierd existential angst

Then there’s this other weird layer of thought on top of all this, something I try not to think about often, but it comes up. It’s selfish and it’s dark. The most stressful thing about editing is time. It takes a lot of time. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder, what if the world doesn’t have enough time for me to publish my book? What if we’re on a downward trajectory, whether that’s environmental or political, that escalates to the point where another published book doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the most selfish way to think about our current situation. What if we break down as a society and I took too long to get the book to market? Everything I worked for disappears. 

Meh. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. I’ll keep planting trees in my yard, try to make choices that positively affect the world, and keep on editing cause that’s just what I do.

All wrapped up into a singular process

That’s what goes through my mind while editing. The joys and difficulties and angst. You know what? You have to enjoy the process because in the end, all you’re left with is a bunch of words on some pages that hopefully some people will read and turn into something more. But all you can control is the process, so you enjoy the hard times, turn the stress into a game, and hopefully create something you can be proud of. Soon this process will end and I’ll start over again with another book. It’ll be worth it no matter what because the process is worth it.

Banner image - How do I know when I'm done editing?

When is it time to move on to the next chapter?

As I’m neck deep in the editing process of Grim Curio, I continually find myself against the problem of knowing when a chapter is “complete”. It’s a weird thing because it’s entirely possible to edit too much. I know cause I’ve done it.

For me, when a chapter is nearing completion I can read through it without being interrupted by external thoughts. I like to feel completely immersed. So if I find a clunky phrase, it’s gotta be unclunked. If I wonder about a logic gap, that gap’s gotta be filled. And if any scene or emotion doesn’t strike me as true, it’s gotta be truified.

The only way I can know this is done is by reading through my chapters over and over again, and that takes time. A lot of time. So my process is slow, likely imperfect, but when I get a chapter feeling right, I know it. That’s when I’m able to move on. It’s a feeling.

Now I need to work on getting to that point faster.

Announcing Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition (and how to get it for free)

Not long ago I announced I was done writing the first draft of Grim Curio. Now it’s time for me to switch gears while I give GC to beta readers and confidants for feedback. I’ll come back to it in a few months, but til then I have a few other projects lined up.

As many of you already know, the next project on my slate is writing the long overdue The Gin Thief: Episode 2. So long overdue, in fact, that I need a refresher on the subject material. So I’m rereading Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief: E1. Which leads me to the meat of this post…

Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition coming soon!

That’s right. I’m giving DA some love this year. The biggest criticisms it received were around mistakes in proofreading. So while I read through it, I’m revising and re-releasing it. In fact, I’m already 20% of the way through it.

What is the goal with this revision?

My plan is to keep my touch as light as possible while addressing it’s issues. It wont turn into a full rewrite. The structure and plot will remain identical. Instead, my goal is to simply clean up sections that need it, trim some of the fat, and fix errors.

Why are you revising it?

Simple, it’s weaknesses are holding it back. Initially the novel released to pretty strong sales, but they have declined to a trickle. I’ve tried to diagnose the issues and believe they are as follows:

  • Reviews that focus on poor proofreading
  • A convoluted first scene in chapter 1
  • A cover that doesn’t match its genre (possibly, will know after I address the issues above)
  • My own hesitation to sell a book with known errors

I need to address these if I don’t want DA to end up holding my career back. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be better.

Will it get a new cover? 

I don’t know yet. I love Discovering Aberration‘s cover. The team at The Book Designers did a fantastic job. They followed all my instructions and created a work of art. I have no complaints about the cover itself or their work.

But…. I’ve now been in publishing for a few years, and I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know then. In this case, the cover I told them to make DA doesn’t look like other books in its genre and that may be affecting sales. It’s likely that a new cover which better matches steampunk best sellers will entice more readers to give it a chance.

It’s a tough question, and potentially one with an expensive answer. Not sure what I’m going to do anything with the cover, time will tell I guess.

Will this delay The Gin Thief: Episode 2?

Just a bit. But as I said, I’m keeping my touch light and in just over a week and a half I’m 20% through it. I’m not rewriting, I’m cleaning up. So the delay should be minimal. I need to read through the book anyway to immerse myself back into that universe, and in the end this will be the best thing for my writing career. TGT: E2 is coming, and this is part of the process.

When will the revised edition be released?

Don’t know. I’ve given up with release dates. I’ve never once made an accurate prediction, so I’m not trying anymore. It’ll be released as soon as it’s done, hopefully not long. My goal is to have both DA: RE and TGT: E2 out by the end of the year. Is that goal realistic? I don’t know, but it’s what I’m shooting for.


If you want to receive a FREE copy of Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition upon its release, sign up for my mailing list. When it’s out, I’ll be gifting every one of my mailing list subscribers a free digital copy.

Quick Overview On The Many Kinds of Editors

Behind the scenes of favorite books can be a complicated place, especially when you’re talking about editors. There are so many stages of editing, so many kinds of editors as well as generous readers who give up their time to offer their opinion on works in progress. So if you’re among the many readers who doesn’t know the difference between a Developmental Editor, Proofreader and Beta Reader, this post is for you.

We’re going to break down editors into three categories, Editors, Beta Readers, and Alpha Readers. Editors are your professional brand of book doctors who get paid the big bucks to gut manuscripts before their published. They come in many varieties, and we’ll address the nuances below. Then there’s Beta Readers who are more or less hobby editors who volunteer their time to read manuscripts before they reach Editors and offer their advice. Finally, there are Alpha Readers who come early in the process often in the form of critique groups, writing workshops, etc.

For a more detailed overview on these publishing heroes, read on.

Editors

Editors are professional readers, critiquer’s and proofreader’s. They are paid to offer their expert advice to an author in order to make the authors work more marketable (also better).

There are many kinds of editors including: acquisition editors, copy editors, line editors, content editors, and more. Rather than rewriting what’s already been written hundreds of times online, I’ve founds another source to do that work for me. Below is a quote from a blog post from The Helpful Writer. They do a great job of calling out the differences without diving too deep. You can read their complete, original post here.

Acquisition Editor

Most of you already know, or at least heard of, the AE. Generally, they are the ones picking up the books for a publisher, and the go-to for the author while prepping a book for publication.

Developmental Editor

Used by big publishing houses, and often ghost writers. You can find a few freelancing DEs. They are best with non-fiction writing, but can be hired by fiction writers. Their primary function is to ensure a book moves in a forward motion, watching plot and characterization. Think writing coach.

Content Editor

The very big publishing houses have Content Editors, the one overlooking all the plot, characterization, voice, and setting.

Copy Editor

The copy editor specializes in grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. The Copy Editor is used most often in journalism publications, but utilized by some smaller publishers.

Line Editor

Also known as a Copy/Content Editor, often employed by the small – medium publishers, and self-published authors. They do it all – grammar, fact-checking, spelling, formatting, plot, sentences, characterization, setting, punctualization, and voice. They go through every inch of an MS, word by word, line by line.

Proofreader

Many get a proofreader and an editor confused. A proofreader is the one who goes over your MS after an editor. They look for the glaring mistakes missed, generally in punctuation, spelling, and formatting. They look for the glaring mistakes that may have been missed during edits.

Beta Readers

Hey guys, I’m back! Let’s talk about beta readers. Beta readers are the salt of the earth readers who want to be a part of the process. And they’re awesome. They volunteer their time to read early access, unkempt, unpublished manuscripts. They then share their thoughts with the author in the form of notes and/or interviews. If all goes well, a better book is birthed kicking and screaming into this cruel world.

The beta reading process for me is a structured, chapter by chapter read through. My beta readers are given chapter deadlines and are asked to answer a series of questions to send back to me. Occasionally we may have one on one conversations where they share their deepest, darkest secrets… ahem, thoughts on my novel. It’s the semi casual version of Editing!

Want to become a Beta Reader? Send me a message through my contact form, and let me know. I’ll add ask you a few questions and potentially add you to the list.

Alpha Readers

To boil it down, Alpha Readers are to Beta Readers what Beta Readers are to Editors. Hows that for a flashback to the SAT’s? To clarify: Editors are a professional grade arsenal of long-range weapons. They get paid to read at a professional level. Beta readers are avid readers willing to share their thoughts. They’re your infantry.

Alpha readers, on the other hand, have access to some or all of the early versions of chapters, they may read it in order or random bits and pieces, and they are not beholden to schedules or deadlines. They come earlier in the process than Beta Readers, often before much of the book is even written. They are your spies.

For me, Alpha Readers help determine aspects of the novel while I am writing it. They share input during the drafting process. You can include in this group writing partners or workshops. Lately I’ve been using /r/DestructiveReaders for my alpha reading process (learn about how I used this community to improve my writing skills). Some readers there are professional writers, other amateurs, still others just readers wanting to share their input.

If you want to be notified when chapters are available for alpha reading, reach out to me through my contact form and let me know. I’ll email you whenever a new chapter is available to alpha read.

Conclusion

So there you have it. In short, all forms of editors are great but each serves a very different purpose. If you’re a reader who wants to get involved, find what works best for you and offer your services to an up and coming writers. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. If you’re an up and coming writer, keep an eye out for these kinds of readers and learn how to utilize them. It’ll be highly worth your time.

Mari Helin-Tuominen