Editing hell / Monday, 23rd September, 2019

How one man rises early for four days to push himself through edits

I’m Ed. I write books. You’ve subscribed to this for some reason. I hope you enjoy it.


This week’s activity—the sole activity—has been dev editing The Black Isle, the third Craig Hunter novel. This is where a novel can live or die. I’ve got writer friends who’ve had books rejected at this point, or have needed an 80% rewrite. The first Cullen book, I did this to myself, so I feel their pain and have developed a method to avoid it. Touch wood, I’ve not had it in a formal publishing scenario (though I’m not mentioning my terrible sci-fi novel).

First I’ll give you a bit of education on the editing process, then get my angst out of the way, before I go through how I tackle things. Hopefully I won’t get a million unsubscribes.

In films, the author protagonist struggles through his/her writer’s block, then at the film’s resolution, having overcome the psychological trauma preventing them finishing it, they’ll courageously batter through a novel on their typewriter in record time, tugging off each fresh page and dropping it in a lovely whicker basket, before rushing off to their editor, who will read it in front of them and fawn over every line.

That’s not how it works.

Your book needs editing.

Yes, especially yours. And DEFINITELY mine.

There are two types of edits. First, there’s self-editing, which you get better at the more books you write and the more skills and techniques you develop. You won’t—and can’t—catch everything, but you can catch too much stupid to let your editor focus on other things, such as character, pace, tone, themes, etc.

The other side of the editing coin is when you edit with your publisher, which you should definitely do if you’re self-publishing, because it just works, dummy. Think of a big block of ice that you’re sculpting into a statue. First, you’re getting that block broadly into the right shape for your person, let’s say the footballer Christiano Ronaldo:

So legs, arms, torso, hands, feet and a wrong-shaped head. Then you’ll tweak that shape so it’s just right for him. Then you’re down in the detail, making sure each bit is correct. His face, for instance. Hard to mess that up. Then you’ll go through it all again, getting it perfect. (Rather than having to redo the head:)

Editing is very similar. The first phase, Development (Dev) or Structural editing is to get your story in the right shape. I’ve made huge messes of third acts before and sometimes I’ve had to merge characters, or shift locations. All that jazz. But once you’re done with that, it’s time to do Line Editing, where you’re looking at making sure the text is broadly right, honing scenes and paragraphs so they’re tight and focused, and crucially removing word repeats (which is worthy of a whole article on its own!).

The first two stages, you’ll be working with your editor on it (or a contracted-out editor) and it’s their job to push your manuscript to the best you can both make it, but down in the weeds is the copy edit. Done by a separate copy editor—you know the sort, a pedant with a bowtie JOKING—will tear apart. And the proof reader will be a separate pair of eyes.

Most times I can batter through the copy edits in a day—it’s just accepting or tweaking a suggestion by this time—but sometimes copy editing can be where my bete noir lives — the timeline check. One of my Fenchurch books needed two copy edits because I’d changed the timeline twice and got all three completely wrong. Fixing that was hell, I tell you. Hell. And last, but not least, is the proof read. Everything should’ve been picked up by now, but it’s a final check to make sure it’s A-ok, or just decent enough.

Okay, so with this book, THE BLACK ISLE, I got two dev edits and a line edit at the same time as a procedural check BECAUSE I AM NOT RIGHT IN THE HEAD.

Angst alert. This book was supposed to be a quick and dirty thing that I could get out there easily to have two books out in 2019. I’ve got *four* coming out in 2020, and I need balance out my income on a fallow year. I went a year between novels in 2015, I think, when I stockpiled Fenchurch 1, 2 and 3 for a back-to-back releases. I don’t regret doing that—though the gap between 1 and 2 was maybe a bit too short so enough people hadn’t read book 1—but it did leave me having to buy a Bookbub deal a month to keep my head above water financially (they cost £300 each).

Anyway, I commissioned four edits on this. Reader reports from John Rickards and Russel McLean, who are both excellent editors. I also got a line edit from Allan Guthrie (my agent, a stonking editor and a chess-playing fiend). And, last but not least, I got the usual procedural check from James Mackay, an Inspector in the Canadian police force (I want to say a mountie but that conjures up certain images of lumberjacks) and is such a good guy, despite questionable music taste.

This week I spent Monday going through Al’s and James’s line-level comments and fixing stuff there, but also cataloguing a few more general comments, which I lumped together with Russel’s and John’s into a big bucket of problems bubbling away in my big cauldron of woe.

On Tuesday, I went through them and, rather than fixing them one by one—with the exception of regendering a Fergus to a Fiona to avoid the book being a bit of a sausage fest—I create a list of actions. For example, “Chapter 1, Scene 1, stop the bus crashing into the wall and have it hit a car instead”. As I go through the list, I build up a sequential list of fixes to make, because some might conflict or, what I’ve found, some problems might be solutions to other problems.

In the end, I had 70 actions, of which I’d done one on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I fixed 52 of the seventy, though I’d missed two, so 52/72. On Thursday, I woke up at 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep so got up and did the rest. And spotted another two I’d missed. And rewrote the third act. But I finished it and it’s back to John for copy editing next week. I’ll have it back later this week, to batter through and send off to my proof reader. WAAAAAY in advance of the pre-order date — I got put in pre-order jail for a year by Amazon for shifting Cullen 7 back a month.

Hopefully that was an interesting little insight into the mad world of publishing, or at least into my skull. Frightening, isn’t it?

Photo of the week

This halfway through my hike on Friday evening. I’d got a bit carried away with some drumming after tea (dinner if you’re English) and so left it late, meaning I had to walk back to the car park with my phone torch. If I’d stumbled over a dead body, well that would’ve been the start of a novel.


I just finished reading Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough, and what a book. It’s incredibly visual (this has got TV series written all over it) and the sort of domestic noir scenario I’m just flabbergasted at. There were so many twisted details in there, the sort of novel that really stays with you after you’ve finished. It’s a compulsive read, so be warned.

And speaking of compulsive, Violet by SJI Holliday, was similarly more-ish. It’s a twisted train journey through China, Mongolia and Siberian Russia. I’ve read a fair few of Susi’s books and hosted one of her book launches, but this is a quantum leap forward. Some of the twists were jawdropping and the characterisation was spot on. (And I named a fictional (I HOPE) sex position in THE BLACK ISLE “Violet’s Train Trip”. I’ve no idea what that even could mean or be like.)


Same two things as last week, this week!

The Black Isle, the third Craig Hunter book, is on pre-order now! UK Link | RoW link

The first five Fenchurch books are on a £1 deal (or $1 or even €1) this month! UK link

That’s all. Week 2 was slightly different to week 1 and I hope was at least as interesting. Lemmeno what you think of it. PLEASE.

I wanted to thank you all for not only subscribing, but also reading. According to this app, I had an 84% open rate, which is insane. THANK YOU. And if you know anyone who’ll like this, forward it to them and encourage them to subscribe.

And I still need suggestions for what I should call this thing. Weekly Crime is terrible.


— Ed

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