Writer’s World: The Truth About Editing

editing2On this cold winter’s morning in usually warm North Carolina, as I slog through the second round of edits for the upcoming, Into the Wind, I thought I’d share a bit of the writing process seen through this writer’s eyes.  I’ll blog about the process as I experience it, and not in any particular order, but so you, the reader, can get a sense of what it’s all about.

There’s not much I love more than to hear a reader’s excitement when I post that I’ve just submitted a new book to my publisher, or that I’m working on edits for an upcoming release. Often the response is “Why is is taking so long???” Sometimes, honestly, it does photofeel like forever from the inception of a book until I see it in print. In truth, though, it’s usually less than a year from the time I write the first word until I hold that paperback author copy in my greedy little hands! The editing process itself takes about 4 months from first edits to release.

I am particularly fortunate to have a great executive editor I work with on my Dreamspinner Press books. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t looked any further than Dreamspinner when shopping my books around (there are many other reasons I continue to choose Dreamspinner, of course, but this is one of the biggest for me). The executive editor manages teams of editors who read and edit manuscripts before publication.  What does that mean for me, the writer?

Round 1. First, the main/supervising editor sends me a marked up manuscript. I call this the “ouch!” stage. Starting out, I remember looking at my manuscripts with all the markups and wincing. I’ve since learned that all those tracked changes and comments in the margin are good for me! imagesWe’re talking basic copy editing, but much, much more.  Then there’s dreaded “content editing” I’ve come to depend upon (and even enjoy). That’s the “I didn’t understand why [insert character name here] did this.” Or the, “I think you’re missing a connection here in this character’s development.” Or the, “This makes no sense at all!” Let me give you an example.

The Melody Thief is one of my strongest books. At least I think so. But I’m convinced it’s strong because it had great editing. It was also one of the first books I asked for content edits on. My first round edits came with a suggestion: show Cary Redding becoming less of a boyfriend living with Antonio and his young son, and more of a father. Not spoiling much here to say MelodyThief2LGthat Cary was nowhere near father material at the beginning of the story, but by the end he truly becomes a father to Massimo. My editor’s suggestion? A brand new chapter showing how Cary finally steps up to the plate. And Massi isn’t exactly in cute/sweet mode. That chapter, written during edits, became my favorite of the book. Massi has a hissy fit, Cary puts his foot down, and Massi is not a happy camper. But at the end of the chapter, Massi and Cary move into father/son territory. That’s not the first (or last) time I’ve added significantly to a book during edits, but it’s one of the best examples of how helpful an editor’s suggestions were.

Round 2. Round 3. After the first round of edits, we do a little back and forth dance at least twice more. Each round of edits is done by a new editor, supervised by the main editor. I respond to comments and questions, I make changes, I add new text as needed. Back and forth and back and forth for three rounds, then I get the “galley.”

Galley Proof. For those who may not know, the galley is a mock-up of what the actual book will look like including photos, fancy chapter headings, and even front and back matter (glossaries, dedications, that sort of thing). At this stage, it’s all about catching the obvious typos that we’ve missed and making sure the formatting looks all right. No changes made in the galley itself, I write my changes in a separate document (I use a chart with page numbers, original text, and suggested corrected text). At this point, it’s out of my hands. I don’t see the book again until it’s published, although the editing staff do at least one more check after that. I personally review my galley proofs by reading the book on screen and listening to it on my Kindle at the same time (I can upload Word docs to my Kindle, which has a text-to-speech feature). As a former musician, I find I catch typos better if I listen and read, rather than just read.

A good editor can help a willing writer improve his/her style of writing. I say “willing,” because if a writer is so convinced s/he doesn’t need improvement, forget about it! I’m convinced my writing style has changed for the better with my editors’ help. Style is not just about comma placement or sentence structure, either. It’s about finding a personal “voice” in writing that suits the writer. I prefer clean, clear, crisp writing. Active voice, simple or no dialogue tags so they don’t get in the way of the conversations between characters. I’ve refined my style with the help of my editors. Pick up a Shira Anthony book written in the last two+ years, and you’ll hear my voice, whether it’s a story about musicians in Italy or mermen in an alternate universe fantasy. It sounds like Shira.

Lest you think editing is all roses, think again. Editing takes hours of work, both on the editors’ part, as well as mine. Writing entirely new chapters while you’re trying to get your latest manuscript out the door (Dissonance and Into the Wind, *cough, cough*)? Hair tearing-out time! Rewriting an entire chapter from a different point of view because your editor (and you, begrudgingly agree) suggests it will help balance the different points of view in the book? Time to bang your head against the wall. Readers who say they love how easy to read your books are? Yep. Makes it worth all the angst, thinning hair, and head-dents. Truly.

Want to take a peek at my latest book in edits? Here’s a passage from Into the Wind for you. Not the final version, I’m guessing, but getting close now. Is it better than the original version I sent to Dreamspinner in December? Damn straight! Hope you enjoy it! -Shira

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Blurb: Since learning of his merman shifter heritage, Taren has begun building a life with Ian Dunaidh among the mainland Ea. But memories of his past life still haunt him, and as the threat of war with the hostile island merfolk looms ever closer, Taren fears he will lose Ian the same way he lost his beloved centuries before. Together they sail to the Gateway Islands in search of the fabled rune stone—a weapon of great power the Ea believe will protect them—and Odhrán, the pirate rumored to possess it.

After humans attack the Phantom, Taren finds himself washed up on an island, faced with a mysterious boy named Brynn who promises to lead him to Odhrán. But Taren isn’t sure if he can trust Brynn, and Odhrán is rumored to enslave Ea to protect his stronghold. Taren will have to put his life on the line to find his way back to Ian and attempt to recover the stone. Even if he does find it, his troubles are far from over: he and Ian are being stalked by an enemy who wants them dead at all costs.

******

Taren transformed as he entered the warm tropical water with a splash. He’d grabbed an ax as he’d run, ignoring Ian’s shouts. He didn’t need Ian to tell him about the danger. There’d been no time to argue over the danger involved in attacking the brigantine from below. But if this worked…. He’d barely caught his breath when he had to dive deep to avoid a deadly blow to the head from the enemy ship’s keel as she passed over him. Pumping his powerful tail, he swam after the Phantom’s challenger. He knew Ian would be angry with him for taking such a risk—he could almost feel that anger burn hot within his own heart. He’d face Ian’s wrath later. Had the Ea become so complacent in their human forms that they’d forgotten what they were?

The enemy brigantine was sleek and faster than the Phantom. They’d been nearing the Gateways, the chain of islands just west of Ea’nu, looking for Odhrán, the pirate rumored to possess the rune stone, when they’d been set upon. Taren surmised the brigantine’s captain knew the Phantom would be in the vicinity, and had waited in the mist until she could gain the weather beam over them. Strange. Stranger yet, he’d sensed that the ship held humans when it passed over him. Why would humans pursue them? Had they learned of the existence of merfolk, or did they believe them to be pirates?

No. It’s more than that. This all felt so familiar, as if he’d dreamed it. Expected it. Sensed something he hadn’t understood until just now.

Several more cannon blasts narrowly missed the Phantom and landed in the water nearby, bringing Taren back to himself. He fought the rising swells and powerful current as the wind picked up speed, echoing his own growing apprehension and worry for Ian and the Phantom’s crew. He dove, pumping and flexing the powerful flukes of his tail to propel him toward the enemy ship.

He reached her rudder a minute later. As fast as she was, he fought to keep up with her as he swung the ax at the place where the pintles and gudgeons met to hold the rudder in place. He’d expected resistance when the axe struck the metal of the hinges. He didn’t expect the force that threw him backward and knocked the ax from his hand.

Magic? Vurin had taught him to sense it, but he’d been too distracted by his work on the sails to feel it before. But how would a human ship use magic? What a fool he’d been to assume Ian and the other Ea wouldn’t have sensed it as well.

Taren heard another explosion right before it reverberated through the sea, and he watched beneath the water as the Phantom’s keel turned sharply and she suddenly lost speed. Even with her crew’s skill, without the wind, the Phantom would have no chance of outrunning the enemy. Would Ian surrender to the humans? Could he? If the humans knew what they were….

Of course they know! They’re using magic. He needed to get back to the ship. Help them fight the humans. On the ropes, he could do something. Here in the water, he was helpless.

He broke the surface of the water and glided easily over a swell using his tail to keep his head above the waves. He couldn’t remain above the surface long. His Ea lungs protested the air, created as they were to breathe oxygen through water. But he needed to see the plight of the Phantom for himself.

He watched as half a dozen men climbed the brigantine’s masts. They were readying to raft alongside the Phantom and board her. In a minute, perhaps two, they’d swing from the masts and land on the Phantom’s deck. Taren’s heart grew cold with fear, and the air whipped around him as he prayed the wind would change direction. If the Phantom could gain even a modicum of speed, her crew might outmaneuver the humans.

The reverberation of multiple volleys of cannon fire radiated through the water and sent fear through Taren. The first missed its mark, but the second shattered the mizzenmast. Pain seared Taren’s heart and he knew Ian had been hit. Panic shot up his spine as he felt Ian lose consciousness. No! Goddess, no! Please, you can’t take him! Not when I’ve just found him again!

Taren prayed once more that the winds would shift. If the Phantom could gain some speed, he had faith their ship could outmaneuver the humans even with the damage to the mizzen—Barra, their navigator, knew these waters well, knew the reefs well enough to navigate between them, whereas the humans might not. If he isn’t too badly hurt. Even though his connection to Ian had grown stronger since Taren had come to live among his people, he could only sense that Ian was alive, nothing more.

The surface of the water rippled, although this time it was not on account of the battling ships. The wind. Had the goddess heard his prayer? He closed his eyes and imagined the goddess’s hand coaxing the wind to shift to favor Ian and his crew. He felt the wind stroke his cheeks, felt its fingers stir the water. Imagined the Phantom’s sails filling and the feel of the helm as it pulled against the rudder.

Taren felt the zing of magic caress his skin—a familiar sensation he tried to place—but his attention was drawn upward by the sound of an explosion. He looked up in time to see something dark speed toward him: another volley of cannon fire. He flexed his tail and swam down. The cannonball missed him by inches. As he sank beneath the water with a heavy heart, a flash of movement filled his peripheral vision, the outline of a tail. Before he could turn to get a better look, something hit him hard in the back of the head.

He valiantly fought the urge to surrender to the darkness, but his eyes fluttered closed.

Rest now, a voice in his mind commanded, and he knew no more.

 

 

Ian lay flat on his back, looking up at the mizzenmast—what was left of it. The mast itself was cleaved in two, the upper topsail was missing, and the lower hung from the ropes over the mizzen sail. With the help of a strong arm, he pulled himself up to a sitting position.

“Damn him! I should keep him on a leash as often as he sees fit to dive overboard.”

Renda frowned at him with concern. “Are you all right?”

“Of course,” Ian growled as he ignored the pounding in his head and the warmth of the blood that trickled from his scalp. “It’s Taren I’m worried about.”

“You’re not all right.”

“And what would you have me do about it?” Ian stood, swayed, then steadied himself on Renda’s shoulder.

“At least let me stop the bleeding.”

Ian ignored Renda and stumbled back to the wheel. He’d expected to see Barra there, since he’d been shouting commands to the other men while Ian steered, but instead saw Keral, one of the other hands. At least he’d the sense to take over the helm while Renda fussed over Ian like a mother hen. The ship bucked and shuddered as Keral turned sharply to avoid another cannon blast. Ian gritted his teeth and grabbed Renda’s arm, thankful that he was nearby.

They were out of options. Even with the mizzen sails intact, they’d been outpaced by the smaller ship. With the mizzenmast destroyed, they would be far slower and the Phantom would be more difficult to steer. Ian was just about to tell Keral to give the order for all but his officers to abandon ship when a gust of air brushed his cheek. For a split second, he sensed something familiar about the wind, as if it had stirred a memory buried deep in his soul. Then the feeling fled and he realized the wind had shifted to the northeast. A moment later, he felt the Phantom’s remaining sails catch the wind. The ship began to pick up speed, moving away from the enemy ship, which had slowed so its crew might board.

“Hard to starboard,” Ian ordered. “Now!”

Keral spun the wheel and the ship heeled dangerously close to the waves. “Fire!” Ian shouted to the men manning the guns.

The pain in Ian’s head, which had until then been just a dull ache, lanced with reverberations from the cannon blast. At nearly the same time, he felt another pain at the back of his head

Taren!

Ian dropped to his knees and clutched his head as his heart beat so hard against his ribs that it hurt. Goddess! Taren!

“Let me help you.” There was none of the usual chiding in Renda’s voice as he gently pulled Ian’s hand from his left temple. Ian felt the warmth of Renda’s healing against his skull. With the touch, Ian’s pain abated.

“Taren,” he moaned when he came back to himself. He reached out with his mind and felt the beat of Taren’s heart. Slower than before, but steady. Knocked out, perhaps, by the last volley?

“You felt his pain?” Renda asked, clearly surprised.

Ian nodded. “He’s alive. But he’s unconscious. Injured. I must find—”

“A hit, sir!” one of the men shouted over the howling wind.

With Renda’s help, Ian got back to his feet. He saw it now—the smoking wound in the enemy ship’s stern. She floundered, her rudder damaged and no longer able to control her course. Even if she used her sails to steer, the Phantom would be long gone. Ian murmured a prayer of thanksgiving to the goddess. Now, if he could find Taren, he’d rest easy.

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