How to enter: Comment on the Novel Matters blog anytime between Monday, September 6th, and Friday September 17th. At the bottom of your comment type TABEC (short for Teeth and Bones Editing Contest). Only comments with these letters at the bottom will be eligible to win (we understand that not all our readers are interested in this level of editing, but would still want to be free to comment and discuss editing - that's the reason we require interested people to please use the TABEC letters at the bottom of their comments)You many enter as many times as you like over the two weeks. Each comment counts as an entry (but don't forget to type TABEC at the bottom of each comment).
Winner: One winner will be announced on Friday, September 17th at 5:00 PM pacific time.The prize: A teeth and bones edit of your first chapter and synopsis by Bonnie Grove. The edit will be on the substantive level (the overall concepts, characters, and themes, etc. of the novel). It will be Bonnie's teeth on the bones of your manuscript.
The winner will work one on one with Bonnie Grove via e-mail. The winner will consent to having the first paragraph of the work posted on Novel Matters in a before and after comparison. This means the winner will agree to have the first paragraph of your WIP appear on the blog, first as it was originally written, then in its edited form.
Awhile back, Kathleen Popa reminded us of the glory of Yawp – Walt Witman’s name for the primal seat of deep human truth present in every person. Her post nudged us to remember that exposing the primal yawp; this deeply experiential humanity is fiction’s goal. Yet, as we chip out our stories and arrange them on the page, we often meet not a yawp, but an ugh of failure. The brilliant images that will not flow from mind to fingers without transforming into cliché somewhere near the wrist. The aching metaphor that tangos in the imagination but flaps like a fish on dry dock when it meets the page. Yet we press on. We must keep writing the story – it’s fire in our bones. As Ray Bradbury tells us, we throw up in the morning, and clean up at noon.
And when noon arrives, we meet with another type of primal noise making; the editing variety. Somewhere on the pages, in the midst of our vomited yawps and ughs, there is a glorious, original, shining story. If only we can find it. Cue the editor.
Authors need editors because authors most often jump to the second level of editing, the line edit without first working on the comprehensive level. The level of editing that, as The Editorial Department tells us, focuses on: matters of story and content, including plot, pacing, story structure, characterization, dialogue, and anything specific to the target genre or age group. (Yikes!)
Author line edits are helpful to the process, but without comprehensive editing (also called substantive) line editing can be an act of polishing poop to a high sheen. Sure, it isn’t always a poop polishing exercise, but because authors lose perspective with their own work – are you willing to take the chance? Nicci Jordan Hubert is an extraordinary editor I’ve had the joy to work with. On her blog, she explains the three categories of projects she works on.
As an editor, I typically encounter three categories of projects. One: The overhaul. In this scenario, a book is well-intentioned, but in need of serious renovations. When I am hired for a project like this, it’s [time] to pick up a hammer and nails and help build the house. Sometimes I even have to do some demolishing [. . .]
Two: The Make it Work. In this case--the least desirable of the three--my job is to simply make sure the book isn’t horrible, but also, to not cause too much work on the part of the author. In other words: the author is typically either famous enough that s/he doesn’t want to put in the work, or the project isn’t considered worth fussing over.
But then, there’s the glorious third category: The Fine Tune. In this scenario, the book, in its original form, is already very good. My job is simply to be a confidant, a sounding board, and a brainstorm partner for the author. I get to help the author find ways to make a great book EXCELLENT.If you visit the link to Nicci’s site, you’ll notice that she aligns my work with the third category – the fine tune. So, ask me if I got slammed in editing. Go ahead, ask. The answer is: Big time. By the time Nicci finished putting me and my novel Talking to the Dead through our paces, I’d re-written my fingers to the nub. Ugh. But without those edits, without Nicci coming in and saying, “Bonnie, these scenes sound like preaching.” And, “Bon, the ending is flat.” And "B - what's up with this character who isn't doing anything important?" I would have never tapped my Yawp. I needed my editor to help me dig in deeper and truly sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.
Large level editing doesn’t necessarily equate to bad writing. It may be painful to hear that your novel needs a new ending, or that sixteen scenes need a complete rewrite because you have to drop a character and combine his workload with an existing character’s which means you have to go track that character’s entire arch. But. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a writer. It doesn’t mean your story can’t achieve its potential.
Uber publisher and hands on editor Amy Einhorn tells the remarkable story of how she acquired her imprint's second big hit book after The Help.
Originally I rejected it. It had a different title, the main character didn’t appear until page 150. I knew by page 90 that I was going to reject it because the storyline was a mess, but I loved the writing so I read the entire thing. Editors never read entire manuscripts if we know we’re going to reject them – we simply don’t have the time.
So then I wrote a rather lengthy rejection letter saying she’s a wonderful writer but the story’s a mess and I thought that was it. On to the next thing. But I couldn’t get the story – mess and all – out of my head. So a month later I called the agent, who hadn’t sold it (again, messy story), talked to the author on the phone to make sure she’d be on board with my editorial changes, and bought it – and then sent her a 17 page editorial letter. We ended up doing four major revises on the book – it’s completely different than when I first bought it. And I’m so glad I persevered. It’s a wonderful, wonderful novel.Any author who has received an editorial letter from an editor knows that 17 pages of notes are enough to induce a three-week Valium jag. It is ugh to the nth degree. 17 pages is a crazy amount of work. It’s starting back at the starting line. It’s feeling like a complete failure. But together, the editor who believed in the author’s Yawp, and the author who trusted the editor’s skill, produced a novel that has not only sold very well, but has become a favorite of many women around the country. Anyone know the title?
The contest we are running on Novel Matters isn’t a true substantive edit because I won’t be reading your entire manuscript. But the things I’ll be suggesting to the author will be on the deep cutting substantive level. The winner will feel teeth on bone – and will be challenged to either cry out an ugh, or allow the rise of the powerful Yawp to transform the story into the unique, meaningful novel it was always meant to be.
Tell us about your editing experiences - what works for you? What doesn't? How have you dealt with large scale changes? Or, if you haven't done this step yet, how do you think you will approach them when the time comes? Remember, you can enter the Teeth and Bones Editing Contest as many times as you like - but be sure you use the abbreviation TABEC on each comment so I can keep track!