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Archive for the tag “editing”

Finishing touches: Getting your novel in top condition

This post isn’t about that final-final review when your manuscript has already gone through professional editing and proofreading. This is about getting your manuscript ready for the next step, whether that’s beta readers or your editor.

Getting to the end of the first draft and typing “The end” is a fantastic feeling and nothing should diminish that sense of accomplishment. But you’re not done yet. At least I’m not. Because I’m the kind of writer that appreciates momentum over all. If I’m writing a scene, I don’t like to stop and look up a fact, ponder a new character name, or go back through my story to verify a date or time. I type XXXXXXX and I move along.

So, once I’ve written my final scene, and after some celebration, I need to go back and fill in those blanks.

Filling in the blanks

Since I use the multiple X convention, all I have to do is search for it in my document and there’s a list of all my unfinished business. I can methodically go through and replace X’s with the good stuff. (Here are some tips on character names, btw).

Next up–and this is especially important in the mystery genre–is making sure all my dates and times match. Ensuring that the Time of Death pronounced by the medical examiner in the beginning of the book is the same window in which my suspects must account for their whereabouts. In short, if the victim was killed between midnight and four a.m., my sleuth doesn’t need to check alibis for noon to three p.m. To that end, I created two calenders: one shows all the action in the book by chapter and the second shows the details of the crime. What happened when, where each suspect was, and when evidence is revealed.

It's blurry by design. No spoilers!

It’s blurry by design. No spoilers!

Sometimes the facts that need checking are of the real world and not the fictional world I’ve built. For my upcoming book, Glitched, I’ve verified quotes from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Supertroopers, names of Pokemon characters, the color of Top Pot Doughnuts carry out boxes, tracks on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours album, the number of city blocks between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Police Department headquarters and whether one says “on Maui” or “in Maui.”

And, of course, as I go through this process (printing out chapters, making edits in pencil, and then doing corrections in the Word doc), I find stuff that bugs me. Awkward phrasing, or unnecessary sentences. Other times I make additions that clarify the action or make it more powerful.

This is the part of the creative process that feels most like work, but in the end will make my book better. And may even save me money! The less time my editor has to spend checking my facts and cleaning up sloppy shit, the fewer hours she’s going to bill me.

The most important part of this phase is to stay focused. Here are my top three techniques for the finishing touches:

  1. Bite-sized chunks. I do three chapters and then take a break.
  2. Block out the real world. Noise cancelling headphones, isolation booth, hotel room.
  3. Be extra nice to your spouse/housemates/friends. When you’re not hunkered down, nose to the grindstone with music blaring in your private headspace you’re probably thinking about the book and not really engaging with your humans. You are kind of an asshole right now. Once you hand off to your editor, please cook your people a nice meal, take them to the movies or otherwise reward their patience and understanding.

Working with an Editor and Proofreader

Right now my most excellent Empress of Editing Marti McKenna is deep in the weeds of a second pass on my upcoming book Griefed, getting ready to hand off what we believe is final copy to Proofreader Princess Stacie Magelssen. This is our third book together, and we’ve definitely got a system that works for us. Will it work for you or any other writer/editor/proofreader team? I couldn’t say.

The first time Team Lexy convened was for Schooled, Lexy’s debut crime novel. I emailed the Word doc to Marti and she shared it via Google Docs. Marti never rewrites my words. She’ll add or subtract commas, but always points out where she did it. She may suggest a way to rephrase something that has passive voice or awkward rhthym, but she never just goes into the doc and messes around. I love this because she’s respecting my role as the author and when I read the book on release I don’t have any weird guilty pangs like “Oh, Marti wrote that bit.”

Sometimes we would go back and forth in the comments, not really arguing but debating a point. We also joked around quite a bit. When Stacie took her turn with the book, the same sort of thing went on. I wrote a post about the things I learned from Stacie here.

The great thing about this way of working was that I got to know Marti and Stacie. The not-so-great thing was version control. I would make the edits and rewrites Marti and Stacie suggested in the Google Doc and then replicate it in my “Master” Word doc. It was tedious and through no one’s fault but mine, a small date mistake made it into the final version that is now out there in the world.

So, for the next two books we did it another way. Here’s the system broken down into steps:

  1. Hand off of “manuscript” to editor. I email Marti the Word doc.
  2. Editor returns first round edits in chapter chunks (3 or 4 chapters at a time).
  3. I return revised chapter chunks, copying and pasting from the Master doc into a new doc called something like “Griefed 7-10 – back to Marti”
  4. Editor goes through revised chapter chunks for a second editorial pass. Reviewing my changes plus anything missed in the first round. (There are always a few things. Nothing is perfect after one edit pass.)
  5. I revise the second round of chapter chunks, and create separate Word doc for any new additions or major rewrites since the last round.
  6. Editor reviews the “New Additions” content.
  7. Hand off the Editor-approved document to Stacie for proofreading.
  8. Proofreader returns “manuscript” by chapter.
  9. I make corrections to master Word doc

It’s a lot of docs to keep track of, so I use a folder system that looks like this:

Editing folder

An example of something I would return for a third round of editing is seen here:

Marti Addition Screenshot

Team Lexy also uses shared Google docs. Our Style Guide that Marti put together and updates for each new title, and the kind of massive and constantly growing Character List that I wrote about here.

One other thing worth mentioning: the Master doc is a clean copy. I do not track changes in it. When I send off a chapter chunk of rewrites, it is also a clean copy-and -paste into a new Word doc. When Marti receives it, she’s comparing it with the first version to see what’s changed. A pain in the ass for her, but that’s the benefit of paying a professional instead of begging favors from a friend or family member.

Griefed is coming next month. I expect to announce a release date next week!

Things my proofreader taught me


I’m a professional writer. By that I mean that since 1995 I have made my living–paid my rent, fed my offspring–by writing. You’d think I’d have words pretty much figured out by now, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. I still have a lot to learn. Here are some of the things I learned recently from my phenomenal proofreader Stacie Magelssen when she worked over my second Lexy Cooper crime novel Pwned.

All these are one word, no hyphen.

  • armpit
  • coworkers
  • debriefing
  • doormat
  • snickerdoodle
  • footprint
  • website

I also learned that the “web site” to “website” transition is FINALLY accepted by all who matter. Behold:


Stacie says, “Web site is usually one word these days–website. Also is website as per CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and (finally) AP style.”

Did you know there is a debate raging over “than she” and “than her?” I do now! Check this shit out:


So sayeth Stacie: “Okay, so…this is actually part of a hotly contested debate over whether or not this sentence should end with “she” or “her.” The best summary of this debate I’ve seen was by GrammarGirl (one of my favorite sites). You can find it here if you want to read the whole boring debate: Anyhow, the long and short of this is that I’d highly suggest a rewrite of this sentence or just change it to “…shorter than she was.” That ends the whole conundrum. ;)”

I wasn’t about to take up arms in this battle, so I rewrote the sentence. This is what I published in the final version:

Yi followed him down a narrow hallway. At five-foot-eight, she was two inches taller than Ricky and she couldn’t tear her eyes from his hair plugs.

Capitalization after a colon. Always, right?


Wrong. “Lowercase w (as per our style guide, lowercase the first word after a colon, unless it’s a proper name or it introduces two or more sentences.” Sigh. More stuff I learned:

  • Military titles are lowercase unless they come right before a name. I.e. “When Mike Malick was a young army sergeant” “Sergeant Mike Malick” Apparently you’re not supposed to capitalize Army or Marine, but fuck that, I’m a military wife.
  • Job titles are also lowercase unless they come right before a name. I.e. “Jimmie Vath was Xenon’s chief technology officer and media darling.” “The press loved Chief Technology Officer Jimmie Vath.”

Need another hotly-contested grammar debate? Of course you do! Stacie - lay laid debate That bit in pink says: “This is one of those grammar rules that makes my brain hurt. But I do believe this should be “laid.” In present tense, it would be lay, because she is the subject and her head is the object. However, you’re telling this story in third-person past-tense narrative. All other verbs are past tense. Past tense of “lay” is “laid.” Now, since this grammar rule always hurts my brain, I’d be perfectly fine with you rewording to avoid it all together. 😉 You know, something along the lines of: She rested her head on his chest… But your call!”

In retrospect, I probably should have changed it to rested, but this was Chapter Twenty and I just changed it to “laid” even though it looks weird to me.

Then there were things I didn’t learn from my proofreader. Mistakes I just keep making, and will probably continue to make. One of the more amusing moments in this proofing process was a note from Stacie that said, “Did you omit the serial comma on purpose?” Um, yesssss, let’s go with that.  Commas are my nemesis. I either don’t use enough of them or put them in the wrong places. Sometimes my editor and proofreader disagree on when and where they are necessary or merely optional. It all makes me feel tired and I’m grateful I can hire professionals to wrangle my shit.

And so I push forward with Lexy Cooper #3. I will continue to write about sex and death, greed and video games, love and loss, and let the commas fall where they may, secure in the knowledge that Stacie will sort me out in the end.

The feedback a writer needs most

There are some people who can never, in good conscience, review an author’s books: the author herself of course, and anyone who worked on the actual text. In my case that’s my editor Marti and proofreader Stacie. But they are the people whose understanding of the book and characters are second only to my own. So in a significant way it is their opinion of the book that matters most to me. Of course I want readers to like it and buy it and tell their friends about it. But to get feedback from the professionals who’ve been deep in the weeds with me on two Lexy Cooper books now? It’s a big damn deal.

And I typically get this feedback while we’re working. I don’t get a phone call or an email–I find these little comments in the margins of the document like love letters. That’s how they feel to me, anyway. Like this one from Marti:


Well, that just gives me a writer-boner. Here’s proof that an emotional scene in my book actually made a real person feel something. Someone who is not looking for an escape or a distraction, someone who is mired in my shitty comma use and is going over the scene for the fourth time!!  That tells me that commas aside, I’m doing something right.

Here’s an example from my proofreader Stacie.


Here’s something from the other side of the spectrum. I made Stacie laugh. This is another kind of huge deal to me–and most writers, I’d bet. When people talk about books or write reviews they’ll mention if the book was funny or not sometimes, but they won’t often remember where in the text it was funny. They don’t remember what made them laugh. So a note like this is a sort of fly-on-the-wall moment where I can see exactly where Stacie snickered.

I would love dearly to be able to spy on a reader, to see where they laugh, where they have to backtrack and figure something out, and what scenes they linger on. This is almost as good.


By the way, my new book Pwned will be available on June 21! And you can sample the first chapter right now exclusively via the Gamertag Radio app for iOS, Android, and Amazon. Bonuses include a 2-minute audio snippet of me talking about my history in the games industry and the Lexy Cooper series. You can also download Lexy wallpaper. Check it out here.

The Culling – Step one in revising the novel


Starting the revision process is daunting. Partly it’s re-reading the book I just spent three months 24/7 with. I’m not ready to sink back into that world I created. So, I’m beginning the coward’s way: Culling.

It’s time to get rid of filler words, weak words, words that add nothing.

Let’s start with the word “okay”. Rarely is this word meaningful or useful. And I used it 56 times. Yikes. Take a look:


Not all of these need to be cut, but most of them will be. Next: “very.” An unimaginative word I used 42 times. Ugh.


All of those bad boys can be deleted. They add nothing. Especially the “very very” which may indeed describe a level of intoxication, but could be handled much more deftly.

My last example is “well.” There’s nothing really wrong with this except I overused it in dialog. Way overused it. How much? 42 times.


“Well,” as the beginning of speech adds nothing. “Might as well” is just kinda lazy. “Well-nourished” in the context of an autopsy report can stay.

Go ahead and run a CTL-F search on your Word documents and look for words you suspect you use too much. It can be eye-opening. Hopefully, I will be more self-aware of my weak spots when writing my next book and won’t use them.

A fantastic resource for any writer is Bridget McKenna’s book “The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers” It’s the best $2.99 you’ll ever invest in your writing career.

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