The last time I published here on the blog I announced some pretty exciting news — a book deal for my debut novel DAD CAMP.
What's been happening since then? Nothing, and a lot.
It depends on how you look at it.
For starters, I signed my contract! That means DAD CAMP and Dutton are officially in business together. It also means I received part of my book advance — real, actual American dollars for my written work, which is super cool.
Publicly, though, things have been extremely quiet. That's because I've been super, super busy working on editing my book (again!).
Now that I've turned in the latest draft and I have some time on my hands again, I thought I would write a little bit about the process of working with my editor on the first round of developmental edits for my novel.
What's an editorial letter / what are developmental edits?
At the very end of January, my editor at Dutton, Cassidy Sachs, sent me a "Round 1 Editorial Letter."
An editorial letter, if I've heard the tale correctly, is a holdover from the pre-digital age, when you'd mail a hard copy of your manuscript to your editor and they would physically mail their notes back to you — in a longform letter.
So there's a greeting, an introduction, and then a bucketload of thoughts on the current state of the draft, what's working, what needs work, and lots of ideas/suggestions for things to improve.
This stage of work is called developmental editing.
Most of the notes are big-picture, trying to get character arcs right, smoothing out or cutting or adding plot points, aiming to get the structure and pacing just right.
My first editorial letter on this project was about 4 pages long, for reference. I think that's about normal, though I've heard of 15-20 page letters!
To my relief, there was a lot in the letter that was complimentary about things that were working really well. And of course, for all the work that the manuscript needs, it's all underscored by the fact that the editor loves your book and has made a huge commitment to buy it. So even though some of the feedback can be tough to take, it's all done with love, with the goal of getting the best possible version of your story out there on bookshelves.
Along with the letter, I got a marked up Word document with notes throughout.
Most of the notes were related to points brought up in the letter, pointing out examples or offering suggestions.
But at this stage, we're not yet doing a detailed "line edit" — we're not overly concerned with specific word choices or spelling/grammar. Not yet. That comes later.
Finally, Cassidy, my agent, and I all had a call together to talk through the letter and the changes. It was a good brainstorming session to make sure we were on the same pages, I got a chance to ask some questions and discuss one or two things I wasn't sure I agreed with. It was really collaborative and left me feeling super optimistic about the next draft!
I went through a similar process after teaming up with my agent, Andrea Blatt at WME. We edited the book together for a few months before going out on submission (sending the book to publishers).
So it's kind of wild — at this stage I've been working on the book for 2 years!
The first draft took about 6 months and I have been revising and editing ever since. So the story has really changed and improved a lot, but it's still not quite done.
How I tackled the first round of revisions / Tips and things that helped
So even though my editorial letter wasn't exactly jumbo-sized, there's still a LOT in there to digest.
Tackling a big developmental edit like this can be really overwhelming.
Some things are cut and dry (cut this, remove that, shorten this). But a lot of it requires deep thought, or refers to things that are woven throughout the text and can't just simply be cut or changed in one swoop (don't over-explain things, changing a character arc, etc.)
But now that I've been through this rigamarole several times, I'm getting an idea of what works for me.
Breaking down the edits into chunks and easy wins
The first thing I'm looking for in the notes are easy wins or standalone edits.
For example, one of the first changes I made in this draft was removing a plot point that was muddying up the third act late in the story.
I was able to basically just delete the 1-2 scenes in question and then work on smoothing the transition between what had come before and after.
That was pretty easy to do. Even though I loved that scene, getting rid of it made sense and it felt like a better ending when I read it through again.
I also went through the document and looked for easy stuff in Cassidy's comments. If there was a suggestion to cut a line of dialogue, I cut it. Make a small tweak to a single scene, I did that. Reword a joke, done.
It's a good way to get momentum and feel like you're making progress.
Harder stuff -> Page one read-throughs
There are so many damn words in a book that it's hard to keep track of everything.
Sometimes, for more nebulous edits (like, for example, fleshing out a certain character), the best thing for me is to just start at Page 1 and read through, while keeping an eye out for opportunities to do what I'm looking to do.
During this revision, I must have read all the way through the draft 5+ times.
I'm editing as I go, because I've got all the feedback in my head from the letter and the notes that come later in the draft. I know what I'm looking for because, of course, I've given the notes a lot of thought, and I'm going along intuitively.
Of course, I can't help but change things that are still holdovers from earlier drafts, tweaking word choices and jokes and other things that occur to me.
This is not an efficient process, and that drives me crazy. But the goal isn't efficiency, it's to put out a great book!
This method of editing is really challenging to do in short bursts. You really have to immerse yourself in the story at some point without interruption.
I live in a house with 2 young kids and 2 loud dogs, so that type of quiet is really hard to come by.
So toward the end of this process I booked a writer's retreat up in the Georgia mountains to buckle down and try to finish.
(Before the retreat, I also did a very random thing — I've found that I really like working at Panera. It's convenient to my house and always has space. I joined their "Sip Club" for like $12/month for unlimited coffees and soft drinks. Pretty good deal, though I don't think my dentist will agree.)
It was at this point that, on sort of a whim, I started reading through the entire book out loud.
I knew I needed to try to consume the words in a different format to see them fresh, but I'm kind of sick of paying $50 to print the manuscript at FedEx or wherever, so I settled on this.
For the most part, I think it worked really well! I picked up on a lot of awkward phrasing or opportunities for jokes and things like that. And I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the story, I was flying through it...
... for a while, at least.
This is a pretty grueling process and eventually I hit a wall. I tried getting out, going for walks and hikes, but it was freezing where I was in Blue Ridge, and I started to feel really cooped up in this little cabin.
But eventually, I muscled through.
When I got to the back 25% of the book or so, the finale, my energy picked right back up and I flew threw to the end.
Again, I was thrilled with how much I was enjoying the story.
Finally, I was done!
... after reflecting for a while, I started to realize that maybe my energy flagging had something to do with where I was in the story and not just the fact that I was feeling burnt out.
Late on the last day of my retreat, I realized I wanted to cut and change some stuff in the middle of the book, where things were dragging and feeling repetitive, not holding my attention. I had one of those amazing writer epiphanies where suddenly I could see exactly what I needed to do.
(Editing can be so frustrating, but those Aha! moments are really awesome, like finding the missing puzzle piece that's been stuck under the couch for months.)
So once I got home, it took me a few more days to finish up those final changes.
And then I read through it again! One more time! Why not?
Finally, I felt really good about what I had. I could have continued tweaking forever and ever, but I really was feeling burnt out and exhausted. I had to hit Send and move on.
All in all, this round of edits took just about 6 weeks.
Now that I've sent off this draft, things are out of my hands for the time being.
Of course, I'm extremely nervous. Every time I send off a new version of this book I start to second guess everything about it. I think that's just a little bit of Imposter Syndrome creeping up.
I do think it's a major improvement, though it will still end up needing more work. We added some stuff in this draft, so we'll see whether my editor thinks it's working, or if we still need to shuffle things around.
If we're getting close, we'll do a line edit — that's a line by line revision getting word choice right, tweaking dialogue, making scene-level edits, etc.
The goal is to have the manuscript done this summer, about a year out from publication. At some point in the next several months I imagine we'll get to do some fun stuff like talk cover designs, blurbs (quotes from famous people/authors about how great the book is), marketing, and more.
For now, I'm taking a much-needed break and trying to give my day job some love! I'll be back to work on this book again before we know it.