I had a dream several years ago that resulted in a fiction novel that I finished writing in the spring of 2018. I’ve told about this experience in previous blogs and am continuing the saga today.
I submitted the first major draft to the publisher of my middle-grade mysteries on May 4, 2018. The publisher accepted the manuscript and the senior editor put it into his queue. A publication date of April 1, 2019, almost a year away, was set so the company had firm deadlines for the sequence of publishing steps.
My first meeting with my editor was on July 9th. It resulted in a list of 44 items to address in the manuscript. I worked the next two months on a new draft, growing it to be a little less than 70,000 words, which is small for a typical adult fiction novel but not unusual. I submitted my second major draft on September 5th. Fortunately for me, my editor was editing other books and had not started mine.
Meanwhile, the cover was designed by the publisher and the blurb for the back cover was written (by my editor), allowing the book to be listed on Amazon, to be available on the projected publication date.
I was fortunate that my editor was busy with other work. I wrote three different endings (the last three chapters of the book) that I sent on Sep. 12th, Sep. 26th, and Oct. 8th, respectively. I needed a good, significant, strong ending but just could not get it straight. I was figuring out the “meaning” of the story, and it was hard.
Knowing that my editor would soon begin, I dedicated a full week in November to rework the manuscript. I rewrote the first four chapters, combining them into three, cutting out 3,000 words, and finally found my ending, which summed up the actions of the story, made sense of how the characters thought and acted, and produced solid resolutions to the moral dilemmas that I had created.
My final draft was sent on November 11th (more than six months after the first draft), and my editor began his edit. He finished during the second week of January, so that’s roughly two months of going through the manuscript word by word, sentence by sentence, and remodeling the story into something readers would like to read. It was still my story, but I hadn’t told it as well.
As he went along, he sent me emails with detailed questions and I responded with answers and/or rewritten sentences or paragraphs. He was particularly interested in the logic of the story—that what I had written was not in conflict with what I had said in other places, nor was unnatural with how readers might reasonably think. In all, we exchanged seven emails, with 98 detailed questions and responses. Sometimes, the length of my response to a particular question would be a rewritten passage of multiple paragraphs long; sometimes it was a single word change. And, yes, one of the results was that I had to rewrite the ending.
After the editing was finished, I read through his version of the manuscript twice and changed the text in many places, mostly smoothing out passages where individual changes did not fit the surrounding context and fixing errors brought on by cutting and pasting from our emails. I kept reminding myself that it was my book, not his, so I did not hold back if I thought something needed to be changed. However, I was not trivial or foolish and left things alone if I did not have strong reactions; I did not rewrite the story. I probably changed only a very small percentage of the words.
I submitted my fixed version as the final manuscript of the novel on January 16th, with a last meeting between us on January 17th to resolve a handful of sentence conflicts.
With regard to my editor’s edits, he made many small changes regarding grammar, sentence structure, word choice, and paragraph structure; he amended some passages to increase the emotion, drama, or tightness of the story; he deleted extraneous sentences that didn’t move the story along, and added material to help complete the actions or thoughts of my characters.
Several passages came out much better than what I had written. He restructured two chapters in particular and made them simpler and more dramatic. He also made four changes that I did not accept; my original text was restored each time.
Overall, I’m a happy writer and the manuscript is far better than my November version. The story reads smoothly and well and feels complete. It has fast-moving, plausible action, is consistent and well-paced, the characters are well-fleshed and involving, and the story wraps-up with specific and concrete statements of values and principles that address the conflicts in the story. I want to repeat my encouragement to other writers to make the investment in a good editor. It makes all the difference in the final product.
The publisher will now have the manuscript reviewed by a proofreader, format the manuscript into proper paperback form, and have a few paper copies printed as “proofs”, at which time I and others will read the book for any typos introduced in formatting and as a final review. Several preliminary copies will be printed and sent to reviewers. I expect that the whole process will be done by March 1st.
I am looking for reviewers and will provide free books to the first twenty who volunteer. If you are interested, mail me a street address at Willerton@comcast.net and I will send you a copy. After you read the book, you can decide if you want to send a review to my publisher or put it on Amazon directly, or decide not to provide a review at all. You can be anonymous if you wish.
There will be a final print run and the book will be available on Amazon beginning April 1st.
Let me say up front that this is not an ordinary novel. I have seen few books with the structure that I use, and fewer still that deal with conflicting core values on topics as diverse as mine: I want you to consider doing something that you believe you would never, ever do. It also has a few scenes that may cause nightmares. This is not a kid’s book.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.