Edit. A Four Letter Word?

Since I last wrote I have been working on ‘structural edits’ of the novel.

Yes, this is still the first novel! (Not the second, as someone asked me the other day. Oh, if only….!)

I know this might seem strange. After all, hasn’t the book already been through a round (or two) of edits with the agent and now been accepted by a publishing house?

Well, yes. But this is the process. It’s why you have an editor. And it’s part of the reason that getting a book published seems to take forever. It doesn’t mean the book is rubbish! (Honestly!) But very few novels, especially first novels, are delivered to an editor without the need for a little polishing, at best or a complete rewrite, at worst.

If you’d like to read more about the ‘lost art of editing’, there’s a really interesting (old!) article on the Guardian website here which I came across when I was trying to find a witty title for this post. I failed, obviously.

Frances Quinn, whose debut novel ‘The Smallest Man’ has been published recently to wide acclaim, has admitted that she had to ‘scrap the last 30,000 words and write a new ending’, at her editor’s behest, before the book could be published. Ouch!

And just today, novelist Clare Mackintosh has tweeted that her first novel ‘I Let You Go’ was ‘rejected by Macmillan, Hodder, Harper, Michael Joseph, Random House and Transworld before finding a home with Sphere Books.’

Those other publishers are no doubt kicking themselves, as the book has sold over 1 million copies across 40 countries and is both a Sunday Times and a New York Times bestseller. However, she does admit that ‘it needed a LOT of work. More work than most editors were prepared to take on.’

It’s very honest of Clare to admit that. And, reassuring for the rest of us, that a book doesn’t have to be perfect in order for an agent or editor to say ‘yes’. You simply need to find someone who has that ‘vision’ for the book and you have to be prepared for what might be a heck of a lot of work. Because although an editor (or agent, for that matter) might make suggestions for the book, you still have to do the re-writes and tie yourself in knots (and untie yourself again) until it all makes sense.

I’d like to bet that Clare’s subsequent books (and she’s written 5 more, including her latest thriller, ‘Hostage’ which I have on my Kindle and I’m dying to read) haven’t needed as much work because you definitely learn, as a writer, from that editing process. I am hoping, for example, that I’m not going to make the same mistakes as I write my second novel, as I did with the first. (But, ahem, let’s see!)

The structural edits that were suggested to me were, apparently, a ‘light edit’ because the manuscript was already in pretty good shape. But it was still 4 typed pages of suggestions for improving it, including moving things around, bringing characters into the story earlier and giving all the characters – even some of the minor ones – more of a character ‘arc’.

It’s gone back to my editor (somehow in the course of the tweaking I’ve also managed to add 5000 words!) and will probably still need some work before we move onto ‘line edits’. (I’ll talk about those another time).

Writers & Artists Yearbook
In addition to their annual (free to enter) short story competition, which is open until 11th February 2022, those lovely people at Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook are running another competition to win a place on their ‘How to Write a Page Turner’ on-line course (worth £350).

You have to send the first chapter (max 2000) words, plus synopsis, of your unpublished, un-agented novel (could even be a ‘novel in progress’ because they’re not asking to see the rest). But this closes soon – 30th September, to be precise, so there’ no time to lose! Good luck if you decide to go for it!

30-word Mini Saga (Theme: AUTUMN)
Still time to enter the Evesham Festival 30-word (+ title) flash fiction competition, which closes on 30th September (at 5pm, note, not midnight!). It’s free to enter and there are book token prizes.

And I am one of the readers for that… so come on, impress me! (but it’s all done anonymously, so if you don’t impress me, I’ll never know it was you!)

Workshop: Saturday 13th November 2021 10.30am – 12.30pm, Evesham

If short story writing is your ‘thing’ and you don’t live too far from Evesham, you may be interested to know that I’m running at 2-hour workshop on ‘Short Stories – Catching The Judge’s Eye’ in November, which is aimed specifically at those who are entering, or who want to enter, short story competitions.

It’s a ‘hands on’ in-real-life workshop, costs just £15, including refreshments. It’ll be fun! And, hopefully, you’ll come away feeling inspired and may even have some ideas to start working on.

More details – and booking form – here.

This entry was posted in Books, Competitions, Kate Nash Agency. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Edit. A Four Letter Word?

  1. Fran Hill says:

    This is so interesting. I keep hearing this lately, that your manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect-perfect to get picked up, and it’s something I didn’t know. It’s encouraging! Happy editing 🙂

    • I didn’t know it either, Fran! (which is part of the reason I’m telling everyone!) Obviously, it goes without saying that you should get your book as polished and perfect as you can before attempting to interest either an agent or an editor but even if they can see flaws in it, they may still want to take you on.

  2. jbettany2013 says:

    Good luck with the editing, Helen. It will be worth all the effort.

  3. Sue Cook says:

    Good luck with the editing, Helen, I’m sure it will be worth it. All this constant rewriting, though, is one of the reasons I’m not sure I want to carry on looking for *the* deal.

  4. Sharon boothroyd says:

    I hope the editing process goes well, Helen. Sometimes, a piece of imperfect work can be considered in the womag fiction world. For instance, I was accepted onto a closed mag list, but I didn’t have my first sale with them for a year. Also, I’ve had 2 stories ‘passed up the line’ by one mag, so hopefully, I’m getting close!

  5. I really enjoy editing! My first novel ended up losing 30,000 words, and it was so much better for it.

    • Oh yes, Kathleen, I agree with you. There’s something very exciting about cutting words/sentences/pages (chapters, even!) and tightening up the whole body of work. I don’t mind that at all. It’s the moving things around (and then having to almost rewrite the whole thing!) that I find painful and hard work!

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