Too many writers are making a big mistake. They’re not giving their manuscript the rehabilitation it needs, even though it’s suffering from the literary equivalent of bursitis, sciatica, an ACL tear, and plantar fasciitis.
Some writers believe their manuscript is much stronger than it really is because let’s face it, no one teaches you how to write a book in high school. Others aren’t sure what to do next, so they tinker without a strategy. Eventually, they might send the book to a freelance editor, and only then do they realize that one round of editing won’t be enough by a longshot.
Just like a single physical therapy visit won’t suffice for a person coping with bursitis, sciatica, an ACL tear, or plantar fasciitis—let alone ALL of those ailments at the same time.
Unfortunately, if you’re like most writers, your manuscript is a minefield of injuries and weak spots. It needs a comprehensive rehab plan and lots of TLC.
Free Book Editing Masterclass
If you are someone with a desire to help your book reach its full potential and give your story the chance it deserves, then I want to invite you to watch an on-demand recording of my FREE training: How to Create Your Editing Game Plan and Fast-Track Your Book: 3 Costly Mistakes to Avoid.
After this class, you will be able to identify the:
4 stages of editing
Types of editors and what they do
Average costs of publishing a book
You’ll also walk away knowing:
Why hiring an editor too early can be a costly mistake
The differences between high-level and low-level edits so that you can aim high
The basics of the self-editing framework I’ve taught to hundreds of authors
Intrigued? Sign up for this free book editing masterclass right here.
As a freelance developmental editor, I often send long editorial letters and suggest major rewrites. When clients are discouraged, I remind them that I’m an author, too, and can relate to difficult rewrites. However, I’m not entirely sure they believe me! So, I’m going to prove it in two Behind the Rewrite posts, starting with this one focusing on rewriting an old manuscript—my young adult ice hockey novel, Offsides. Watch for another post on rewriting my chick lit novel, Fooling Around With Cinderella.These books are about as opposite as you can get, but they share one thing in common.
I wrote the original version of Offsides, the sequel to my YA hockey novel Face-Off, back in 1992 when I was a teenager. Although Face-Off had been published with great success when I was eighteen, garnering positive reviews in Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, Offsides was rejected by my publisher. There had been a lot of turnover at the company, and all the editors I knew had left. Even though I was receiving fan mail from kids begging for a sequel, the book got rejected with a form letter. At the time, I was incredibly disappointed.
In hindsight, I’m relieved as that story wasn’t ready to be told back then. Twenty-five years later, I rewrote my original draft and published it. The hard copy had been buried in a drawer and I paid someone to scan it so that I could work with it digitally. The published version of Offsides is so much better than the manuscript penned by my 19-year-old self. Part of Face-Off‘s charm is that it was written by a teenager for teenagers. The characters grow quite a bit in the sequel, and I’m glad that I was able to bring a different level of maturity to the story, a maturity that I wasn’t capable of conveying as a teenager. It was also fun updating the book with references to texting and social media.
But more importantly, over the decades, I’ve grown as a writer and editor. My self-editing skills in 1992 and my self-editing skills now aren’t even comparable. Below is an unedited scene from my original draft of Offsides. I’ll let you read it, and then I’ll give you my editorial assessment before sharing the published version. The scene is between two of “my McKendrick boys,” twin hockey players Brad and T.J., the protagonists. They tell the story in alternating viewpoints for each chapter.
Unedited Version From 1992
That night, Brad turned on his side, the moonlight pouring through the window. In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted. “You awake?” T.J. asked. “Yep.” “Can I tell you something?” “What?” “I’m going to BC” “Even if you get accepted at Harvard?” “I’m not gonna get accepted,” T.J. said.“How do you know?” “I didn’t apply.” It was quiet except for a car passing outside. Its lights flickered against the wall. “What do you mean? You told everyone you did.” ”I didn’t want Dad to find out.” “But he keeps asking you about it. What are you gonna do?” “Say I didn’t.” “And let him think you weren’t good enough? T.J., you should tell him the truth,” Brad said. “Do you know how ticked off he’ll be?” “So let him be. It’s your decision, T.J. You’ve got to take a stand.” “I guess you’re right.” Brad rolled over. “How come you’re still awake?” T.J. asked. “I’ve been thinking about college, and if I’d still be going if I didn’t have hockey.” “Sure you would. I told you, your grades have improved a lot.” “I wouldn’t have a chance at BU.” “You don’t know that,” T.J. replied. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, Brad, just as long as you get there.” ”I guess. Now do me a favor and shut up. I’m exhausted.” “If you’d tell Dad about Harvard for me I could get to sleep.” “Forget it. I want to reach my eighteenth birthday,” Brad said, and T.J. pushed up on his bunk.
Editorial Notes To Myself
First, the scene is a bit choppy. There’s a lot of dialogue and not much description or internal thought to balance it out. By just reading this passage, it’s not clear whose head we’re supposed to be in. Probably Brad’s, since he is mentioned first, but we never get in his thoughts. Dialogue was always one of my strengths, but I didn’t master deep point of view until my thirties.
Another issue is that the boys, who are high school seniors, are talking about going straight to college to play Division 1 ice hockey. Nowadays, that’s not the typical route. Before joining a D1 men’s hockey team, most players need to delay college and spend time developing their skills in a high-level junior league. I’m not sure how it worked in 1992—whether thing have changed since then, or whether I just didn’t research it enough and got it all wrong. There was no Internet back then, so research wasn’t as easy as it is today.
The scene also lacks conflict and tension. Below is my final version. I’ll put some notes in bold so you can see why I made these changes.
That night, Brad lay awake in the top bunk, staring at the ceiling. A night light glimmered in the corner and shadows bathed the small television, TV stand, and student desk. All the discussion about junior and college reminded him how drastically his life was changing. His parents splitting up last December with no reconciliation in sight. Playing his final season of high school hockey with friends he’d known for years. And even though Brad believed he had a chance of making the NHL, the long winding road ahead scared the hell out of him. (Note the setting details and internal thought. These additions help us to visualize the room better and clearly establish that Brad is the viewpoint character of this scene.)
What if he didn’t like his host family? Even though they got on his nerves, Brad would miss his own boisterous family. What if he didn’t click with his new coaches or had a difficult time adjusting to a higher level of play? Then there was Sherry. His friends thought their relationship was a high school thing. Brad thought it was more. If he joined a junior team in the Northeast rather than the Midwest, could he talk her out of Florida? (Note that there is even more internal thought here to help us get deep into Brad’s head. The host family and junior team references were rewrites to reflect a more believable path to D1 hockey.)
In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted, and the mattress creaked. “You awake?”
“Yeah,” Brad said.
“Thanks for trying with Dad. I’m so sick of him pushing me about college. It’s probably better I’m not going next fall. I’d have no clue what to major in.”
“What happened to management and leadership?”
“That’s just what I’ve been telling scouts. You’re lucky to have your major picked out.”
Having an interest in broadcasting didn’t mean Brad would excel at it. As their father stated, academics wasn’t his strength, and college was harder than high school. Brad sighed, his stomach clenching in a knot. (More internal thought to keep the scene in Brad’s POV.)
“What’s wrong?” T.J. asked.
It was quiet except for a car driving into the resident parking lot. Brad didn’t know how much to admit. What was he supposed to say? That he feared getting homesick and not fitting in? That despite his big talk, he worried that he wouldn’t be good enough? (More internal thought. I have gotten much better at deep POV since writing the original draft as a teen.)
“Is it Sherry and the Florida thing?”
“Yeah. It’s Sherry.” Might as well confess that much since T.J. suspected it was bothering him. “I’m wondering whether she’d stay if I played junior locally.”
“You mean in the NCDC?”
The National Collegiate Development Conference was a tuition-free junior league in the Northeast, making it an attractive opportunity for players throughout the region. Brad rolled onto his side and peered over the edge of his bed though he couldn’t see T.J.’s face in the darkness. (Here I added some more authenticity about junior hockey and a little description.)
“It’s a good league. A lot of their guys are getting commitments. Trey wants to get on one of those teams.”
“Yeah, but I thought we were both going for the USHL,” T.J. said.
They’d selected the more established USHL as a first choice because so many D1 players and NHL draft picks had ties to the league. Brad and T.J. met some scouts at camp and had been corresponding with several over email. They might not get on the same team, but they’d agreed this was their ideal steppingstone. (Note how the dialogue in the rewrite has more tension than the original and hints at more problems.)
“What, I can’t change my mind?” Brad leaned up on his elbow, glaring down at the lower bunk.
“Because of a girl?” T.J. asked sharply. “You’re seventeen.”
“Sherry’s not just some girl. You have a new girlfriend every other week, so don’t go giving me relationship advice.” Brad and Sherry disagreed over how long it would take his brother to dump Kayla. Sherry expected them to attend Prom together. Brad gave it till mid-January before T.J. claimed she was too clingy and moved on to someone else. (This gets us into Brad’s head and also gives insight into T.J.)
Swearing under his breath, T.J. got up and crossed the room. He switched on the light, and Brad winced. “Damn it, T.J.”
T.J. paced in his Bayview T-shirt and sweatpants. They both wore exercise clothes to bed and worked out when they woke up. “Even if you two stayed in New England, how often do you think you’d see her? Your life will revolve around hockey. You’ll have games on weekends, a lot of them away games. She’ll be busy with school. I don’t get the logic here.”
“I’d see her a lot more than if she’s in Florida and I’m in freakin’ Nebraska,” Brad growled. (This dialogue is more interesting than in the original as it shows conflict between them.)
“All I’m saying is you’ll be wrapped up in the team. Do you really think it’s fair to pressure her to give up Florida? I get that you’ll miss her. But you’ll both come home sometimes. In between, you can FaceTime and text.” (I added the FaceTiming and texting to make it more current for today’s readers.)
Brad flopped onto his back, the fight seeping out of him. “You think I’m being selfish?”
“You’re just not thinking this through.”
“But long-distance is hard. It might not work.”
“Dude, it’s your high school girlfriend. Stop stressing over this. Who knows if you’ll even be together next year?” T.J. flicked off the light. (This is a much stronger ending for the scene.)
Want To Read The Book?
Face-Off’s McKendrick brothers return in this explosive sequel,an action-packed hockey book for teens and tweens.
Twin hockey stars T.J. and Brad have finally resolved their differences and forged a friendship on and off the ice. Now high school seniors, they focus on landing a commitment to a D1 school.
What should have been the best year ever takes a nasty hit when the boys’ parents announce their divorce, and Brad makes a mistake that could impact his game eligibility. Meanwhile, T.J. faces off against their father, who opposes his decision to delay college and pursue junior hockey.
Adding to the tension are a rebellious kid brother, girlfriend trouble, and recruiting pressure. The turmoil threatens to drive the twins apart just when they need to work together the most. With a championship title and their futures at stake, T.J. and Brad must fight to keep from going offsides.
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my writing and editing process! Maybe it will inspire some of you to rewrite an old manuscript. There are some manuscripts in my drawer that will remain there, but Offsides was one that I knew had potential.
You’re probably aware that I’m a freelance editor and creator of online courses for writers. (If you don’t know that, then feel free to explore my website!)
I’ve also written books about theme park princesses, teen psychics, U.S. flag etiquette for kids, and determined women sleuths. I’ve had novels ranked as #5 and #11 in the Nook Store and #30 on the Amazon Kindle Paid List. You can learn more about my books on my other websites.
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Do you know you need editing, but are worried about how you’re going to afford it? Would you love to do a lot of it yourself, but know you have blinders on when it comes to your own work and that self-editing may not be your strong suit? Never fear! Recently, my friend Liesel Hill interviewed me on The Prolific Author Podcast. The topic was self-editing tips for the indie author. You can also find the interview at the bottom of this post.
I’m an author herself, and as someone who also does a lot of editing for other indie authors and has created a self-editing online course, I have a unique perspective. Give the interview a listen to learn some self-editing tips and find out how you can improve your revision and rewriting skills. You just might save yourself tons of time and expense on editing!
If you haven’t listened to The Prolific Author Podcast before, you’re in for a treat. Liesel is a USA bestselling author and Story Clarity Coach, and her podcast is a wealth of information on everything from story craft to book marketing tips. Here is her description of the podcast:
Do you dream of making your living writing fiction, but don’t know where to start? Believe me, I understand. I worried and struggled over my writing for years, afraid it was cheesy and amateurish, and not TRULY resonating with readers. Meanwhile, at every turn, I was told I couldn’t make money this way. It takes too much time and hard work. It’s not a “real” job. I bet you can relate, right?
Well, I’m gonna let you in on a secret the traditional publishing industry—and let’s face it—most of society at large, don’t want you to know: it’s VERY possible to become a career author. To make your living writing stories full emotion, passion and morality.
With all the upheaval and negativity in our world, people NEED your stories more than ever before. Stories only you can bring to them. I created this podcast to show you how. And I promise it will take less time than you think. So, join the revolution of authors following their passion and changing lives, both their own, and those of their readers. WE…are prolific authors!
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 Redeemedis 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.
Even/especially in love scenes, I tend to start with ‘he did this’ then ‘she did that.’ And I’m guilty of certain overused phrasing I tend to fall back on without realizing I did so.Champagne has a pre-edit checklist for their authors that helps weed out certain common overused/generic/passive words to cut, but I’ve made a list of my own overused reactions. I still have editorial comments in revisions that go, “I know what they’re doing, but how do they feel about it?” (and a specific word count with yellow highlighter telling me exactly how many times someone ‘stares’ or ‘blinks’—told you I’m a visual person, it bleeds out into my characters, too—or‘groans’ or ‘shivers.’) You’d think my characters were making love in a refrigerator, they shiver so much! LOL (and a thesaurus only gets you so far before it becomes apparent that you’re usingsaid thesaurus in the hunt for alternative word choices!)
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!
Many beginner and intermediate writers find the book editing process overwhelming. That’s where I come in. I was recently asked on a podcast why I’m so passionate about teaching self-editing skills to authors. The thing is, I’m not just an editor. I’m an author who has received crushing editorial letters, letters that outlined everything I was doing wrong. I’d thought those manuscripts were pretty darn close to being publishable, but nope! Evidently not.
Those letters got my heart pounding, my blood pressure rising, and my eyes prickling with tears. Don’t get me wrong. The editors said encouraging things, too, but all I could focus on at first was the overwhelming list of problems to fix.
“I think in order to make us eager to get back to this place in future installments, you may want to dial it up even more to make the park a true character in the story.”
“We don’t know enough about what your characters want to allow us to get really invested in their story and the outcome.”
“I’m going to make a bold suggestion here. What if there was no Danielle?”
In that letter, I discovered my setting needed to become a character (huh?), my real characters were flat, and I should consider cutting the bitchy ex-girlfriend who drove most of the conflict. And trust me, there was more. Much more!
Good editors also focus on the positives during the book editing process, and this was an excellent editor whose suggestions helped me a great deal. She included paragraphs like this one: “I know these seem like a lot of notes, and I hope I’m not overwhelming you. I really think you have nailed the more critical elements that can’t be fixed as easily. You have a fluid writing style and a good sense of pacing, and most importantly, you write with voice.”
In the beginning though, all I felt was overwhelm. Of course, I thanked her and gushed over how much I appreciated her insightful editorial feedback, because I did appreciate it. She’d saved me from publishing a book that wasn’t ready. Thanks to her, I realized the book editing process wasn’t done yet. That didn’t make the truth any easier to swallow, though. I wasn’t almost finished with the book after all. In fact, I wasn’t even close to being finished.
I survived the rewrite just as I’d powered through the other tough rewrites over the decades. With a leap of faith, discipline, and peanut M&Ms. Plenty of peanut M&Ms!
Eventually, I became a developmental editor, coaching other authors through the book editing process, and found myself writing these kinds of distressing letters. I’d echo the words of my mentors, incorporating lines like, “PLEASE don’t be discouraged. You’re a talented writer and this story has so much potential.” I’d nervously await a reply, praying I hadn’t crushed a new writer’s dreams with my editing feedback.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that every manuscript has potential, but it takes good editing to transform it into the book it deserves to be.
I wished I had a fairy godmother to transform this early draft of Fooling Around With Cinderella, the book described in the above editorial letter.
And I really wished I could wave a wand and make things easier for my clients.
They were jumping from Point A (finishing their draft and revising as best as they could) to Point C (hiring a freelance editor) with no transition in between.
What they needed was a stop at Point B, which in my world stands for Blueprint. Everything I put into the course and the step-by-step guide that accompanies it comes from thousands of hours spent editing my own manuscripts and my clients’ projects. If you’d like to learn more about how Book Editing Blueprint can transform your writing and editing, watch the above trailer and then visit the course home page for more information. Hope to see you inside the course!
Does the thought of revising your novel seem overwhelming? If your manuscript could use self-editing, sign up for my free email course on revising and editing strategies: Line Editing Made Simple – 5 Days to More Polished Pages. It features bite-sized self-editing tips and assignments to help you kick-start your line editing, even if you feel as if you’ve been getting nowhere.
Here’s what you’ll learn inside this revision course, aimed at fiction and creatiive nonfiction writers:
* Lesson 1: The one thing that will jump-start your editing. * Lesson 2: Three mistakes you may be making and what to do instead. * Lesson 3: Five little words you need to start cutting now. * Lesson 4: The truth about editing. * Lesson 5: Struggling with wordy sentences? This will help. Bonus: The ten-step checklist you need in your editing arsenal.