On Editing: or playing word jenga.

We’re six months out from STORMBLOOD’s wide release (181 days, to be exact, and is up for pre-order!) and I’m up to my neck in edits. I wanted to give a quick update about how the process of editing is going, what its like to be edited by a Big Five publisher, and how I’m going about tackling it.

I believe it’s very underestimated how extensive the editing process is when it comes to traditional publishing. We’re not talking about cleaning up typos, chopping away gratuitous sentences and chapters , or even tweaking character arcs. No, we’re talking about digging down into the root canals of the narrative, the bones of what gives a book its identity. Fleshing out the ambiance, the structure, the voice, the style, and using this understanding in context to influence how you approach edits.

It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s necessary to see your work from a different light. And it’s necessary to take that mental stance when editing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minute, in one chapter, that you don’t take the necessary steps back and look at the book as a whole. That scene has great dialogue, but is it disrupting the pacing? That’s an interesting turn of events, but could it be entirely rewritten to be better? The tricky thing is, it’s not about what’s objectively better. It’s about whether it’s better for your book, your style, your voice. If I wanted to have my book have breakneck pacing from cover to cover, we’d be taking a completely different approach.

So that’s what we did for the first round of edits. In taking a step back and looking at the naked scaffolding of the book’s structure, we realised there needed to be some changes early in the book, in terms of character motivation, relationships and backstory. Which changes the way the entire book, and the main character, comes across. Not in a major way, but significantly enough. And that’s where playing word jenga comes in: because the wrong sentence in the wrong place can get your entire book to come crashing down around your head.

After we agreed to make the change, my editor worked on the first half of the book to reflect this. This meant tweaking characters, shuffling certain flashback scenes. At this point, I don’t touch anything on a sentence-level, any of the prose. This is all big-picture stuff.

I applied the changes, and sent it back to my editor. My editor then re-edited the first-half of the book again, because she’s a pro, and edited the second half in as a consequence of the changes we made in the first half. Because, if she didn’t, we’d be seeing two very different stories.

This is what I meant at the start, about looking at the bare bones of your book.
So I edited the second half again. Tightening characters, adding and removing world-building, checking for continuity, and in some cases, completely re-writing scenes, or the internal mechanics of a scene. This means I change what the characters go about doing in order to complete their goals, whether they accomplish them, what the consequences are. Big-picture stuff that ripples out. As an example, one battle sequence near the end was very run and gun. We retooled it to be a lot more about tactics and team co-operation. Other scene had a character try to get information from someone, blowing his cover pretty soon and searching the guy’s place. Instead, I had him remain undercover almost the entire time, slowly up the dread and tension the two characters play verbal cat and mouse, until one breaks.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy to take scenes that have written a certain way, been in place, for years, and strip them out and completely retool them, but it’s necessary. And it almost always means a better book.

Then comes my next pass. I make most use of my editor’s comments in this round. Plugging logic gaps, tightening sentences, adding or deleting sentences, making sure all the dialogue is consistent with the characters, chopping away the ugly word clay, fixing up the location of the scene (and moving it, if need be) making adjustments that impact the scene, but nothing else. This is where the book is more or less falling into place. It’s probably the part I enjoy the most, putting the meat on the bone so the plot, story, characters and descriptions read smoothly and consistently.

The next round is where I am now. Fixing up sentence-level structure, word-choice, prose, and descriptions. My editor’s mighty red pen has left it’s mark on every single page, so there’s no getting away from it. It’s tempting to call it purely cosmetics, but my work is first-person, very voice-driven, and the state of the main character absolutely impacts the prose. I don’t care too much about flowery word-choice or elegant descriptions, but I absolutely care about each word sounding like it could come from the protagonist’s mouth. So I make sure my sentences are running smoothly, so a heedlessly complicated word or turn of phrase doesn’t turn into a speed-bump. I ensure the sentences and paragraphs have a nice rhythm and balance to them. I deliberately purge any “flowery” prose, any words that detract from the tone I’m trying to strike, any poorly-timed metaphors. So words like “illuminate” and “sparkle” or any of their relations are chopped out. I’m trying to write sharp, razor-edged prose with a good dose of sarcasm and cynicism when needed. So specific word-choice, and how the words are conveyed, matter. I’m still going through it, and will probably be doing so for the first half of December, if not a little more.

And then, of course, when all’s said and done, there’s copy edits.

So there’s a lot of hours and a lot of work poured into editing a book, both by the editor and author. But here’s the thing about print: it lasts forever. So if a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or even character, is lacking, it’ll be lacking forever. And it’s my debut, and you know what they say about getting one chance to make a first impression. . .

For your listening pleasure. . .

A few awesome space-themed tunes to brighten your Sunday evening. I usually spin these up while reading, cleaning, or setting down to relax at the end of the day.

They’re great mood pieces that help make those bad days a little easier. I’ve been listening to them more and more, especially as something happened in my life (quite recently, actually) that made me so upset and so outraged that I went blind. I couldn’t see clearly for over five hours, and could barely stand up. Listening to these on repeat helped. A lot.

 

And, of course, one of the greatest pieces of music to accompany one of the greatest films ever made.

STORMBLOOD Cover Reveal!

The day has arrived. The good good people at Gollancz have revealed the cover art for my debut novel I’ve been jabbering on about for almost a full length of the Earth’s rotation. And it is gorgeous. Feast them eyes:

Stormblood

It’s very blue.

I had extensively input on crafting the cover. We agreed to go for the “Gotham in space” aesthetic. Dark and moody, but slick and adventurous. Containing a sense of noir mystery, underpinned by a sense of exuberance and widescreen exploration. And they knocked it out of the park and into orbit. I asked them to make it as screaming blue as possible, and they jumped the rail to outdo themselves. I mean, look at it! Those spaceships! Those buildings! That mist! All credit goes to Gollancz and Blacksheep for their stellar work.

I’ll do a write up on the finer details of crafting the cover, but for now, I’m going to bask in the blue glow of this very fine cover. Gollancz has a full proper write up, if you’re inclined to check it out.

Pre-orders have also opened! I cannot understate how disproportionately helpful they are for debut authors, and essential keeping us afloat. If you do pre-order, I’ll owe you a life debt (and by life debt, I mean buy you a drink or send you a bookplate). If you can, support your local bookstore, but you can also order it online:


Book Despoitry (free shipping worldwide): https://www.bookdepository.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/9781473227422?ref=grid-view&qid=1568803043304&sr=1-1
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/dp/1473227410
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/dp/1473227410

In the meantime, I’m going to look into framing this thing on my wall.