Author’s Note: The First Read-Through

It’s very exciting, getting a book ready for publication. It’s also extremely boring. The bits I like are the initial creative bits; these editing parts drive me crazy, but I’m buoyed by the fact that soon my book will be out of my hands, off to print!

Toward that end, on we go with the editing process!

Last month, after I finished researching what publishers would be good for my book, I started actually editing. It might seem a bit odd to research before editing, but I do it for several reasons:

1. It gives me some time between when I finish the rough draft and when I go back to re-read. The more time I can put between these things, the better. More time mean means a fresh set of eyes and that I’m more likely to forget what was in my head so I’m able to read it like someone new.

2. Certain things, like sex scenes, I leave out entirely. If most publishers are publishing fade-to-black scenes, that’s what I write. If most are publishing graphic sex, that’s what I write. There’s no point in writing it if I’m going to have to overhaul it later. This holds true for scenes depicting torture, battle, action, etc.

3. I need to know whether my word count is close to acceptable before I start editing. Do I need to add scenes to plump it out, or delete scenes to strip it down?

I used to feel like changing my writing for a publisher was selling out. I’ve since learned that I can write my perfect novel, and most of the details publishers care about don’t really matter to me in the long run. Do I really care how graphic the sex is? No. If publishers are printing books that are 250 pages, and mine is 350, well, if I can cut off pages without feeling like I’m betraying myself, I will. If I can’t, then I know I need to find a publisher who prints longer books, or I need to do a hell of a sales job. But most of the time, I can adjust without screwing up my story or feeling like a sell-out; I just need to know how to alter it. So, I research first.

The next step is editing. I go through several read-throughs before my book is done. I start with a general read-through, not fixing or changing anything, taking only occasional notes. What I’m looking for here is pacing: does my story have a complete arc? Does it end abruptly? This is my personal biggest flaw: by the time I get to the end, I just want it to be over. Usually I have to go back and wrap things up a little bit neater.

Because I don’t read very quickly, this first read-through takes me several days. I ignore all the spelling errors and awkward sentences, and only make a note to myself if I’m afraid it’s something I won’t catch again, such as a detail stated in the beginning that doesn’t match details later in the book. I’d only notice that if I was doing a really fast read-through.

While I’m doing this read-through, I also keep my eyes out for ways in which the word count could be tweaked. For instance, though you may not have noticed (yeah, right!) I’m a tad long-winded. My word count for this current novel is definitely on the high end of what’s acceptable, and I still need to write in sex scenes and lengthen out the too-abrupt ending. So as I go through, I keep an eye open for subplots that don’t add to the story or scenes I could cut out.

When I’m finished, my next step is the re-write. This is the biggest re-write I’ll do. I start by fixing the pacing wherever it needs to be fixed. For my as-yet untitled werewolf book, I need to lengthen the ending and give them some more “falling in love” time. I also need to do a fair chunk of re-writing at the end: my characters fell slightly out of character in my attempts to shoe-horn a typical romance novel twist onto it. I only noticed this because I left so much time between finishing the rough draft and the first read-though, but that time also let me look at it with new eyes, so coming up with an alternate (much better, more in-character) ending wasn’t difficult at all. It’ll require a deletion of some 5-10 pages, and an addition of probably 20 pages, but that’ll bring in the extra “falling in love” time I need, as well as straighten out the characters and get rid of that shoe-horned plot twist.

As I start this re-write, I’m STILL not worrying about details or fixing grammar or spelling. This re-write is in rough draft form, too, with lots of typos and plenty of notes to myself. I won’t start correcting detail work like that until my third run-through… which will be a while in coming. Re-writes don’t actually take me the longest, but they are the most intensive! It’s like going back to writing in the first place.

So I’ll head back to the drawing board, and meet you here in a month. With luck, that’ll be about the time I’m done with the new ending. Hopefully by then I’ll be ready for the next step!

JB McDonald is a published author and long time fanfic writer. You can learn more about her at jbmcdonald.com.

Posted on April 20, 2011 at 12:36 by JB McDonald · Permalink
In: Books, Columns, Columns, The Written Word · Tagged with: , ,