Killing All Those Darlings, or Edit, Edit, Edit
So you've written a novel; now what? In this series, debut author-to-be Crystal King describes the traditional publication process from start to finish: the lead-up, what to expect along the way, and how building her social media platform has made a difference. In this installment of "On the Path to Publication" Crystal talks about the editing process both before and after the book was contracted.
If you have written a book, or are deep into the process of writing a book it's likely that you've spent many hours hacking apart every last part of that book. I personally find editing to be easy--easier than sitting down and writing the book in the first place. I think my very first chapter in FEAST OF SORROW went through at least fifty or more edits. I also changed the POV three times, writing the first twelve chapters over each time. When I met with my writing group I would take their edits and immediately start reworking the chapters. It made the process very slow.
I finally realized that if I were going to propel the book forward that I needed to stop editing along the way. I needed to just write the entire thing then go back and edit and rework it. The picture that accompanies this post is one that I took four years ago. It's a stack of edits from my writing group, just waiting for me to dig in. And dig in I did. I thought it was an awesome book.
Except agents thought it was too long. Agents gave me all sorts of suggestions for editing. I hacked more chapters apart in hopes of landing one of those agents. There is a lot of editing you can do on your own and I wish I had this tool, AutoCrit, at the time, but I learned of it a bit too late for book one. Eventually, I decided I needed an outside editor.
Hiring someone to be an editor of your book isn't necessarily cheap, especially if your book is long like mine. But even the most experienced authors can benefit from a professional taking a look at the structure, the plot and all the grammatical issues you might have just glossed over.
And even then, you'll still do more edits. And then some more.
After I landed my book deal I went through two rounds of deep edits fixing plot questions that my editor had, beefing up some scenes and cutting others. I did this in Word. Then I had one big round of copyedits that I also completed in Word. Then I had three rounds of edits in hardcopy, on the typeset pages.
One thing that I learned is that when publishers develop the Advanced Reader Copies (ARC or Galley), it's usually months before the book is final. Usually, the big glaring errors are cleaned up, but there may still be some fixes to be made. For example, I know that I have some character ages that are off in the ARC (and if you are a reader with an ARC, let me know if you find them--it's a book "blooper" of sorts!). I've done two rounds of copy edits since the ARC was printed, so hopefully we caught all those little random things.
What this process has taught me is that, for the most part, being a writer is less about creating and far more about editing. So get used to it. As Stephen King once said in his excellent book, On Writing, "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.comSee other articles by Crystal King