A book comes alive in editing. Unfortunately, editing sucks.
Editing is the time where you have face hard truths about your book, and as tempting as it is to tell yourself, ah, it’s fine, the reality is without putting in serious post-first-draft work, your book will probably stink. Stink real bad. And stinky books do not (often) get published.
I typically write three drafts before I show my completed work to anyone. There’s the free-for-all first draft, where anything goes. Then a very painful second draft, where I focus on high-level plot and character development, all in the attempt of figuring out what the book is truly about. Then there’s the third draft, where my attention goes to the writing itself, looking at each sentence and challenging myself to distill it into as few, powerful words as possible.
Then Jessica copyedits the manuscript and gives me a whole host of corrections and questions. Thank god for her.
Then it goes to my agent Pam, who brilliantly highlights all issues big and small. Sometimes this requires a come-to-Jesus phone call.
Then after all those changes are made, the book goes off to my editor, Anna. Anna is in charge of putting the book into the world, so the pressure’s on her to make sure the manuscript is in the best possible condition. Anna reads the book and puts together an editorial letter. Every traditionally published author gets an editorial letter, and these letters, upon receipt, often send authors into states of catatonia.
A typical editorial letter looks something like this:
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to review Operation Murder Zebra. What fun! Please find attached my overall comments on this unique mystery novel.
What I Liked:
I enjoyed that the character Ethan had a cat. Readers like cats. Perhaps the name Mr. Whiskers is a bit too obvious, though?
What Could Use Improvement:
In the following sixteen, single-spaced pages, I’ve outlined eight distinct subplots that could be introduced to help weave together a more cohesive narrative arc. Alas, this would necessitate removing most of the story in its existing format, including, regrettably, Mr. Whiskers.
Some books beget long editorial letters, others much less so. I’ve been pretty fortunate over the years, and I will say Anna’s suggestions are always spot-on. I can’t think of any major editorial request that I’ve refused, and I make these changes not to placate, but because her suggestions are GOOD. They make the book better, which is the singular goal of everyone on the publication team.
All this to say I spent the better part of 2022 making edits to my next book, including changing the entire manuscript from third-person past-tense to first-person present-tense. And I’m so glad I went through what was a very challenging process, because the story is SO much better.
You’ll be hearing much more from me this year about the book. In the meaning, I’m working on something new and having a fucking blast. Until I get to the editing.
|“The Dead Girl in 2A will grip you from the first chapter and never let go. A lightning- paced thriller reminiscent of Dean Koontz. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!”
—Liv Constantine, internationally bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
Making It Up
Newly added episodes of my conversation series Making It Up are out!
This month I chatted with award-winning horror writer Ronald Kelly (Southern Fried & Horrified), Nuzo Onoh, the “Queen of African Horror” (A Dance for the Dead), and Mark Stevens, who returns to the show for a second time to discuss his new novel The Fireballer.
All episodes are available on my website, my YouTube channel, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts.
Making It Up Highlight Clip!
Kelly J. Ford discuss the process of winging it.
What I’m Watching
Your Honor, Season 1 (Showtime, 2020) .
I don’t have Showtime but I purchased season one of Your Honor through Amazon Prime. Sometimes with a show I’m intrigued about on a platform I don’t have, I’ll just buy one episode at a time in case the season goes off the rails. With Your Honor, I purchased the whole season upfront. Why? Bryan Cranston. I’m only on episode five and the season could still well go off the rails, but I’ll keep watching because, well, Cranston is immensely watchable.
The premise is fairly basic but with a clever little twist. From Showtime: “A judge confronts his deepest convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. He faces a series of impossible choices and discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life.” Cranston is said judge, and an honest and fair one in what is established as a very corrupt New Orleans jurisdiction. His integrity is supremely challenged when he has to break every imaginable law to keep his son (and himself) out of danger from a soulless mob boss (the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg).
If it sounds a lot like Cranston’s role in Breaking Bad, you wouldn’t be wrong. There’s such joy in watching him try to play normal while falling apart inside; he might be the best there is at it. The show is full of angst, grit, and unapologetic violence, and you’ll be stressed out after every episode. Highly recommend!
What I’m Reading
The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, 2022)
DNF. In case you don’t know what that stands for, it means did not finish. The worst thing an author can see in a review.
I don’t know if it’s this book or me—probably some of both—but as much as I love some of McCarthy’s works (The Road is perhaps my favorite book of all time), The Passenger was too bloated and meandering for me. I put it down about a third of the way through. Maybe if I made it further it would have gripped me more, but life is short and when I read in bed at night, I want to be captivated. I don’t mind a challenging book, but I don’t care for a book that’s so deliberately obtuse as to only serve UP frustration rather than any kind of plot. The Passenger has indeed gotten some stellar reviews from the likes of The New York Times and The Atlantic, but it just didn’t resonate with me.
Photo of the Month
Flashback years ago to a summer storm near my house. This field is a subdivision now.
Update from My Kids
My daughter sent me this photo from college of her trying to study while her friend’s bearded dragon rested on her textbook. What the hell?
Update from My Cat and Dog
They play rough, but each shows restraint. Scully is now nearly twice the size of Guff, but it’s still Guff who could take her down for the count at any time.
Humor of the Month sent to me by a friend
Book-Love Instagram Post of the Month
The colors here are just lovely, aren’t they?
That’s it for now! Until next month…