Sunday, April 7, 2013


When someone writes a book, a good one goes through a lot of revisions. Every time there's a major change, or I hand a draft to an editor, I bump the version number. This helps with merging later, and theoretically, if something leaks it to the web, I know who did it. I don't mistrust anyone I work with, but Stephanie Meyer had this problem with a planned Twilight book from Edward's POV. The thing people wonder is--how can there be twenty versions of a story? One word--rewrites. I'm not OCD or ADHD. This normal for a writer. Let's count, shall we?

RAW: The first draft captures the note, the tuning fork tone I hear in my head. This version is about running, getting the arc of the story out as fast and accurately as I can. I've had instructors in short story that told me to throw everything out after this draft and recreate from scratch. I don't buy that unless the original is really short and bad. More often, it's just a gem than needs to be polished and shaped.

FIRST READ: Since I only write about a single spaced page an hour, a chapter could take two days.
The next day, I comb through the first half of the chapter for embarrassing, obvious mistakes as I recapture the sound of the note in my head. Sometimes, something that SOUNDED good coming out will be an OMG, I'm glad nobody else saw that. This is okay--the first pass is about raw emotion and drive, not perfection. Repeated phrases, missing vital descriptions, lame names, and most brain-fart grammar gets caught here.

AFTERTHOUGHTS: As my subconscious chews on something, more details arise. For example, the types of crops growing in an area, the weapons and training of an assassin, the affect of empathic abilities on a person's relationships, etc. As I think of these, anything significant gets written at the end of the file, after the ###. Often, when I have fast action later, I want to walk the reader through the area once in slow motion so they know what everything is. That means a discussion about quantum locking, the dangers of wand over-reliance, etc. When I have enough major points saved up, usually on a Monday morning or a particularly long after-midnight note session, I back insert.

RETRACKING: I continue like this until either a) family interrupts the flow for several days or b) I hit a snarl where something doesn't feel right anymore. Then I reread from the beginning of this act/section, up to 100 pages, and fix small things while I search for the problem. This is realigning to the story arc/character baseline. It's like a plumb line held up to a wall. Most often, the fix involves throwing out the last half a chapter. While I'm here, I smooth out any bumps caused by afterthoughts. I always renumber and save both versions here.

COMPLETION: When I finish the complete book, I walk through the entire story, knowing what happened. Does it flow well? Sometimes I rearrange or split chapters. Whole scenes get clipped here. Then I reread for grammar/spelling/line-edits.

WIFE: I hand this version off to my wife and get her opinion. The count is usually at v6 by the time she's done.

CONTENT/DEVELOPMENT EDITOR: the person who looks at big-picture items gives me their opinion, and I adjust. v7

LINE EDITOR: Katy makes her first pass to fix details like spelling, grammar, formatting, and technical gaffs. She's very fast and invaluable, but I have to schedule her three months in advance. I do this first because, otherwise, the beta folks waste time finding grammar mistakes. v8

PITCH HONING/MAPS/SAMPLES: When I write the pitch for the story in preparation for the cover art, luring beta readers, and the snippets I would post on web sites, I sometimes tighten and polish subsections. Sometimes the cover design or a thorough map might require a tweak in the text. Instead of calling it the capital city of Intaglios, I now say "Fireton". The title is the most common change this late in the game, as it can make or break sales. v9

BETA-READERS: I don't like to release a book before five sets of eyes have seen it. That means at least two people who like this genre need to read the work, preferably four. This can take up to two months, depending on schedules of the volunteers. I bump the revision number after every set of comments. v10-13

WAITING: While I'm waiting for the others to respond, after a month on another project, I'll go back with a fresher set of eyes and adjust. Often, a scene that I loved when I wrote the book, even one that drove the whole project, gets cut here because it slows down the pace. By now, I'm holding the whole book in my head and think about it as I'm drifting off at night. I'll send out emails asking which variation people prefer. My editor and my wife want to use a tranq gun. v14

FINAL LINE EDIT: Katy makes another cleanup pass to fix problems I introduced while fixing other problems. I usually copyright this version. v15

E-PUBLISH: During the Amazon verification process, I often find small problems or adjust front matter/table of contents. v16

PAPERBACK: While formatting the paperback, I often find more quirks: unwanted spaces, indents, missing chapter numbers. v17

GIVEAWAY: The eve of the giveaway or release party, someone inevitably points out something to me. You used the N word here, the newspaper name is wrong, England uses pounds not euros. v18

SEQUEL: Before I write a sequel to a story, I reread (taking notes) to keep all the original in my head. I always find a few mistakes. I'm careful not to revise history, but I've been known to drop an excess adjective or adverb to give myself wiggle room. v19

ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY: After the story has been out for a year, I almost always reread. I have enough distance now to judge better, and I've learned a lot more about writing. It's a matter of pride. I usually cut 1000 words and fix three mistakes. v20

There you go, twenty versions, perfectly normal, nothing to see here. Move along.

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