What Editing a Novel for Publication is REALLY Like


Take it easy, lady. 

It's what I wanted to say the first time Kari Sutherland, my agent at Bradford Lit, did the first pass edit on my book. Since she used to be an editor at Harper Children's, a division of HarperCollins, (which was one of the reasons I queried her to begin with), she knew how to whip my book into the best shape it could possibly be so when we submitted it to editors, I'd have a fighting chance. 

I had no idea I was about to get SCHOOLED. 

Sure, I'd written a decent book. It caught her attention, didn't it? But GRAVEMAIDENS was nowhere near the YA novel it is today, and that is largely because of Kari's keen eye and the follow-up from Kelsey Horton, my editor at Delacorte/Penguin Random House. 

The GRAVEMAIDENS Editing Process

Now, before I sent my book out to try to find an agent, please keep in mind that I'd already completed several rounds of revisions myself. The first draft of any book I write is generally slop, so I have to go back through and make it as pretty as I can. Once Kari offered to represent me, GRAVEMAIDENS went on to polishing with her. 

Revision One: Kari tore into the big issues in her first pass edit. She wrote a 12-page document giving me insight into all of the characters and major plot holes. And hooboy, did I have some plot holes. So, after rolling around in agony thinking of all the work I had to do, I DID IT because I'm a good student, and sent it back to her. 

Revision Two: Not quite. She had me go back through some of my revisions and consider Kammani, my main character's, persona. Apparently, I'd written a character with a little too much sass, and not quite enough--how do I put it--likability. That was a little hard to swallow, but I dug deep, cried my eyes out, got over myself, shoved my personal failings into a closet, and got to work. Kammani emerged bright and beautiful with more heart than even I knew she could have. 

Revision Three: Line edits and annotations. Here, Kari went through my book line by line and suggested different phrasings or suggested I get rid of redundancy or wordiness or generally bad timing. She also hacked apart some of my not-so-clever jokes and made comments on my logic. Which wasn't always sound. I adjusted much of what she suggested because she is quite brilliant. 

Revision Four: Copyedits. This is where the commas and em-dashes and other what-not come into play. For the most part, I tend to write pretty cleanly--I am an editor. myself, although you may doubt that after you get this blog in its hastily-produced format--but there was some stuff. Mostly, I used the word bright like 189 times. And I couldn't figure out another way to talk about Rabi, one of the helpful Guardsmen in Kammani's life, without mentioning his eye color. So, there was some fixing to do. 

Once I fixed all that, we went out on submission to various editors in editor-land. Kari carefully chose who she thought would best match up with my book, and voila! She was right. Kelsey Horton picked up GRAVEMAIDENS which comes out in the fall next year and a yet-to-be-named sequel, which comes out in 2020. 

Now, I'm deep in the editing process with my editor, Kelsey. 

Revision Five: Kelsey did the same thing Kari had done. She went through a first pass edit, giving me big ideas about what she thought I should highlight and what she thought I might be able to nix. Cool thing? She wanted me to focus more attention on the girls who are to be buried alive upon the king's death, so I got to put a lot of insanely nifty details about their transformations from ordinary girls into Sacred Maidens in the book.

Also, upon her recommendation, I SLASHED one of my major characters--The Boatman--as I'd written some of the story from his point of view. That broke my heart a little bit, but after reworking the story, I realized that she was right. Darn her for being right!

I submitted my revision to her three weeks ago, and now I'm waiting for her line edits (Revision Six), which will be coming next. Then, it'll be off to copyedits, which will be Revision Seven. 

So, if you have any inkling that writers like me just wake up one day and write a story, then sell it to a big publishing house like I've done without a CRAP TON OF REVISING involved, then you're sorely mistaken, as was I before I plunged into the world of publishing. 

But honestly? I wouldn't trade it for a bucket of gold. I've learned so much, and am having the time of my life.