In today’s Behind The Rewrite, author Renee Wildes discusses having her romantic epic fantasy series picked up by a new publisher. She shares five important editing tips for authors to keep in mind when revising their manuscripts.
1: New Publisher/Title/Editor
The Guardians of Light series originated with Samhain Publishing and when they went out of business and I got my rights back, I had everything re-edited and Champagne Book Group picked up the series. Each book was again re-edited and renamed, with new covers. This book was originally titled Moonwitched, and was renamed A Guardian Redeemed. We chose a play on the Guardian theme for each book’s new title. Each subsequent book in the series is a spin-off from the earlier ones, featuring familiar characters mixing with new ones. The heroine, Mari, was Finora’s best friend in Book 3, A Guardian Revealed. The hero, Valkyn, was Aryk’s best friend in Book 5, A Guardian’s Destiny. The secondary hero, Matteo, was the villain in Book 3…but this is his redemption story arc.
We had a bit of a rocky road. When Cassie, the publisher of Champagne, decided to retire her editor hat so she could focus on the publishing end of things, I was initially assigned a new editor who turned out to be not a good fit for me. Sometimes, in professional interests, it’s necessary to stand up for yourself and negotiate a new deal. In this case, a new editor. I decided to ask for someone specific, and Cassie was gracious enough to agree. Jenna and I get on great, and it’s nice to have another house and editor who believe in me and my stories. NEVER be afraid to speak up if something feels wrong. It’s YOUR book and YOUR career, so look out for yourself.
Same when it comes to the cover—if it doesn’t look like your story/book, speak up. Not all publishers give the author the power to change something, but it never hurts to try and speak up and be selective with what you want to fight for. The initial cover had a scruffy dark-haired hero and a desert setting like Arizona. It looked like the cover of a Western. So I reminded Cassie that Valkyn was a blond Viking-esque warrior and the book setting was very “Africa.” (My editor Jenna said the setting looked like Mars, and now I can’t get “Cowboys on Mars” out of my head!) And I got a new cover that we all agree looks more like my actual book.
2: Fight Lesson Scene Do-Over
One of my favorite scenes in A Guardian Redeemed is when Valkyn decides to teach Mari how to defend herself. They’re going to war to overthrow an evil warlord and restore a boy-king to the throne. It’s a major turning point for Valkyn because when we first meet him (in A Guardian’s Destiny) he’s adamantly opposed to female warriors. But the thought of Mari dying because she can’t defend herself changes his mind. But she won’t kill, which complicates things. So I wrote this epic mock fight scene, where he teaches her a variety of moves I picked up on the Internet. Then I asked a martial-arts teacher fellow writer to vet it for me.
And what I got back was an epic DVD of her and her son reenacting the fight scene…showing me exactly why what I wrote would not work. But it was done in the best spirit of helpfulness and she gave me a variety of things that would work. Because I’m a visual person, being able to see both versions gave me exactly what I needed to rewrite the scene. And then I had the benefit of a professional editor who helped me trim the scene enough to fit in what was missing—all the romantic chemistry that kept it a romantic scene and not a how-to manual.
So whenever you have any kind of technical research, I highly recommend having an expert “vet” the bits in question, to make sure when you’re adding bits of realism it actually reads “real.”
3: To Tag Or Not To Tag: (Dialogue)
When I was with Samhain I used all kinds of dialogue tags, to get the exact inflection I wanted to color the tone of the dialogue. When I moved to Champagne, one of the first questions Cassie asked me when she was my editor was, “You really don’t like ‘said’ and ‘asked,’ do you?” Enter the notion of ‘invisible’ dialogue tags—and changed all statements to ‘said’ and questions to ‘asked.’
When Jenna inherited me, it was another learning curve. Enter the notion of NO dialogue tags/tag with action. Commas changed to periods. (Mentality being “We know it’s a question—see the question mark at the end? So you really don’t need ‘asked,’ now, do you?”) Just so we knew WHO was speaking, it’s good. Plus, scenes stay in motion, focus. Dynamic. Definitely a way to eliminate talking heads and static conversation!
Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!
4: How To Keep Track Of The Troops
(Large Casts Of Characters)
I write romantic epic fantasy—a blend of romance (first) and epic high fantasy (second). Otherwise known as romance with a couple of fantasy/action subplots. There’s always a lot going on, a lot of change on both a personal and grand scale, and a big canvas has a lot of people in it. My stories do not take place in a vacuum or on a desert island. Characters have friends and family, enemies, employees and servants, ex-lovers, and all the business owners who keep living realistic. Each of my editors has voiced concerns over whether or not a reader can keep it all straight, and has suggested cutting back the body count.
I have cut minor characters and trimmed scenes to increase the focus on the primary action, and been careful to only name important secondary characters. One trick I try to keep in mind is to not repeat the same beginning letter of names too often. Another is to use my baby name book (divided by nationalities) to pick names from the same culture to use within the same culture, to clue the reader in to a character’s race. Dialogue and terminology also help differentiate a noble from a stableman from a warrior from a bard. It also helps to make sure each person has a specific unique role to play, that only they can do, and give them each a memorable mannerism/voice/appearance/attitude/history that differentiates them from all the rest. And to periodically throw in their title/job with or instead of their name to reinforce the reader’s memory.
5: Heart & Soul (Romance Before Plot)
I told a friend of mine I’m a rabbit-hole kind of girl. Means I’m a chaser and a finisher, in a linear/visual sort of way. I tend to write the plot/action scenes straight through, visual-description heavy, and then have to add in the romance, emotion, and other multi-sensory details after. Missing the trees for the forest—too much big picture, not enough close-ups, as it were.
Be flexible, not rigid. Embrace change. Be aware of your personal foibles and work on them. A sense of humor about it all helps! Always use another fresh set of eyes to catch what your familiarity misses.
Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?
A Guardian Redeemed by Renee Wildes – He was bred for war. Her magic is only for peace. Together they must fight for love. Weapons stolen, comrades dead, ship burned and sunk, Valkyn is rotting in Lord Zurvan’s grim dungeon, wondering if he will ever again see his sons. Rescue comes from an unexpected source—the human witch Zurvan sent to patch him up between beatings. Mari can’t bring herself to let Valkyn die, never mind that the fearsome northern riever is the scourge of her homeland. Yet in him she finds an ally who could help restore the rightful boy king to the throne. And a man who reminds her body there’s life after widowhood. Their first kiss unleashes pent-up passion she thought was long buried, clouding all the reasons they shouldn’t get involved. But the blood on Valkyn’s hands is anathema to Mari’s magic. If she dares open herself to him fully, he could destroy her. Valkyn knows his heart has already surrendered to hers. When this quest is over, the real quest will be convincing her that polar opposites not only attract, they belong together— forever.
More About Renee
Renee Wildes grew up reading fantasy authors Terry Brooks and Mercedes Lackey and is a huge Joseph Campbell fan, so the minute she discovered romance novels it became inevitable that she would combine it all and write fantasy romance. Renee is a history buff and research junkie, from ancient to medieval times, esp. the Dark Ages. As a Navy brat and a cop’s kid, she gravitated to protector/guardian heroes and heroines. She’s had horses her whole life, so became the only vet tech in a family of nurses. It all comes together in her Guardians of Light series – fantasy, action, romance, heroics, and lots of critters!
Opportunities For Writers
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Line Editing Made Simple–5 Days to More Polished Pages – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips
Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1.
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Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable – Learn how to streamline the editing process in this affordable, self-paced online course that will empower beginner and intermediate writers to think like an editor so they can save time and money. A steppingstone to hiring an editor.
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