If you were following me on Twitter, then you know in the beginning of the week I was using the hashtag #greateditinglockdown. I have been working furiously on my upcoming release, Water, the third book in my Elemental Series.
I got the manuscript back from my editor and proofreader and promptly changed a few things in the plot and then sent it off to my beta readers. The thing about this book is that I finished it almost a year ago and I had read it so many times that I got sick of reading it. The other thing about this book? I didn’t sit down and write it straight through like I normally do; I left it and came back to it a couple of times while I was trying to edit Earth and Air. So what does that mean? At some point the damn thing went off the rails and I didn’t notice.
So off to the betas, now my two betas are very similar in some ways and so different in others, which is why they’re a good combo to read my books. For one beta this was her first time being a beta so she was really worried that she didn’t have the right to make corrections to the book so she mostly focused on her reaction to the story and characters. My other beta, the loverly Juanita, has done this twice for me now so she was much more comfortable being a little more analytical and editorial about it. Luckily the first beta really enjoyed the book as a whole, she had a few comments about wishing some stuff happened that didn’t but that’s about it. Juanita on the other hand let me know that the book lost its momentum at some points, though she wasn’t sure what I could cut because everything seemed important.
Well she was half right – the book did lose its momentum but not everything was important. Thanks to that one little comment I was able to take the book back, whip out a red pen and start shredding my book. My editor had the book for a very long time because I told her there was no rush and I knew she had other projects to get to. So this gave me enough time away from the book to be able to read it again and not hate it. Though I did kinda hate it because I finally saw where the book went off the rails.
So began The Great Editing Lock Down. Monday morning I went through each copy of my beta reader’s notes, page by page, agreeing or disagreeing with the suggestions. Then I made my own notes about how to correct the plot and the characters’ decisions. Then I went through the book and re-read the entire thing, word by word, page by page, with my trusty red pen and ripped it apart, hand writing paragraph after paragraph to knit the story back together. Then it was time to put those hard copy edits to the computer.
My book was originally complete at 98,220 words. After I got it back from my betas and went on a word killing spree, even with adding new scenes and paragraphs, I finished again with a new word count of 86,098. If we do the math that means I cut 12,122 words. Oh yeah, you read that right. I’m a very type-A personality and in order to get my books done I had to come up with a formula which is 5,000 words per chapter, 20 chapters per book. Obviously there’s a little give and take on those numbers, but those are my averages. So kids, what does that tell you? Yep, I cut over 2 chapters from my book by the time I was done with The Great Editing Lock Down. The book is still 19 chapters, but the original chapter 17 and 18 became one chapter.
The other big change in the book was fixing the characters’ behavior and decisions. Now that I’m published and have readers following the series and making reviews, I got a little hung up on reader reaction. I wanted to please you guys, or at least a lot of you guys. But that’s not fair to me, to the characters or to the story. Yeah, I’ve read plenty of books where I am mentally screaming at the characters but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the book any less, or even that I like the characters any less. At the very least the story and characters drew out an emotional response from me. And that’s very good. If writers start getting into the habit of people pleasing, for the sake of people pleasing and at the risk of hurting their book, then they aren’t really writing; they’re pandering. I don’t want to pander. After going into that place in the book and letting my characters be themselves I think I came out with something much stronger, cathartic and real. I know some of you may be disappointed, but hopefully you’ll forgive me and will still enjoy the book.
So, after spending nearly 18 hours a day for two days locked in my office with red ink smeared on my hands, I was able to come out with a nearly brand new book. I was exhausted. My body ached all over and my eyes were swollen, but it was worth it. At least, I hope it way. Luckily both my betas and my editor were willing to re-read the book after having so recently read it. I’m praying they agree with me and come back with good news: that I got it right this time.
Lesson of the day? Make sure you have different personalities reading your stuff with a critical eye. Make sure your betas know if they worry about hurting your feelings while they review your book, they risk hurting your work which would hurt a whole helluva lot more than being honest with you.