When edits turn into a re-write.
By Alexia Adams
I don’t think there are many authors who enjoy the editing process. You submit a book that a publisher loves enough to acquire and then they ask you to change it, substantially sometimes. You’ve already written the best book you could, so what do you do?
This spring I submitted a story (An Inconvenient Love) that I’d already rewritten at least 10 times. I’d tried to give up on it, but my critique partner and beta reader both said the characters were their favorites. So, I persevered and rewrote it one last time and sent it to my publisher. Within two weeks they got back to me saying they wanted to publish the book, but I needed to change the beginning. Okay, I could do that. I’d already changed it eleventy billion times, what was once more?
Then I got the edit letter (cue dramatic music, you know the one where you know someone is going to die). It wasn’t just the beginning that needed modification. The editor suggested eliminating one of the adversaries and turning the second one into a friend—bitch from hell to BFF. At first I was horrified. My story! But then I became intrigued by the suggestions. I could see how reducing a lot of the external conflict allowed the internal conflict to shine through. My characters grew and changed, became more complex and interesting. And by decreasing the external conflict, it allowed for more moments of lightness. My sense of humor, as reflected by my heroine, could shine through. It was a lot of work, especially with a two week timeframe, but I loved the storyso much more when I was done. By the time I resubmitted it, only 30% of the original story remained.
So, how do you go about rewriting a story based on an edit letter? First, read the letter very carefully. Then let it sit for a day while enjoying a bottle of wine. This is an important point. Allow yourself time to grieve the death of your story—get angry, write a rebuttal if you must about how your writing is sacred and shouldn’t be messed with. Then rip that up and get on with it.
I print out the edit letter and highlight the key points. Next, I read through my manuscript from start to finish, writing comments in the margin about first thoughts on how I can change it, what to keep, what to discard and possible ideas for alternate scenes. If I don’t understand a requested change, or strongly disagree, then I’ll go back to my editor and discuss these with her. Sometimes we reach a compromise, sometimes I stand firm, and sometimes I give in. Often the editor will make suggestions about a new direction. I use these suggestions as a starting point but let my characters decide how they are going to play out the new scenes.
Next step, drink another bottle of wine. Then I reread the edit letter and make a start. Before each editing session I reread the edit letter to remind myself of the goal I’m trying to reach. I try to do long days editing so I don’t lose the flow. Eventually, I have a new story that, believe it or not, needs more editing. I switch the track changes to “show no editing” and pretend it’s a brand new story. I look at sentence structure, word repetition, all the things that I’d do before submitting an original work. When I’m finally satisfied that I’ve got the best story I can write, I return it to my editor with a letter of my own outlining how I’ve addressed the issues she highlighted.
Then I drink another bottle of wine while I wait for my editor’s reaction. To date, they’ve all been very pleased with my edits (thankfully). If not, I’d make another run to the liquor store and start again.
So there you have it. My 3 step (um bottle) plan to tackling an editing rewrite.
Alexia once traveled the world, meeting new people, experiencing new sights and tastes. She’s lived in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, England, and France, as well as spent time in Panama and Russia. When life demanded that she stay rooted in one place, she took to vicarious voyages through the characters she created in her romance novels. Her stories reflect her love of travel and feature locations as diverse as the wind-swept prairies of Canada to hot and humid cities in Asia.