Kay: It’s a Process

The new cover: Design by Kim Killion/The Killion Group

The new cover: Design by Kim Killion/The Killion Group

I’ve had an eye-opening week. In my efforts to spend more of my time as a novelist, I decided I needed to update the cover of one of my self-published books. It’s a cover I did myself; it’s always been weak, but at the time, I just didn’t have the money to spend on a graphic artist.

[I’m not pushing the book here. Really, it’s all about process, not sales.]

So I hired a designer and decided I’d also go to paper as long as I was at it. That means your book has a “spine,” the edge that faces outward on the shelf. The designer has to know how many pages the book is to make the spine the right size to wrap around the pages properly.

So I thought I’d give the text another look. I realized right away that one of the two excerpts of other books that I’d included in the back would have to go. The second excerpt wasn’t for the same type of book, so the marketing would be all wrong.

And then I thought, well, I’ll just do a quick pass over the text, too. I’m moving to the second edition, after all. Might as well make sure everything’s good.

Old cover: Design by...well...me

Old cover: Design by…well…me

So I started a “quick edit” and—holy cow. So far, I’ve deleted 9% of the book. That’s 8,000 words, and I know by the time I get to the end, I’ll have deleted another 1,000 or so.

I’d struggled with this book when I wrote it. It’s got structural problems. The heroine’s conflict doesn’t show up until one-third of the way through the book. It’s possible that my protagonist is not my romantic heroine. And so on.

And the way that manifests on the page is by blah, blah, blah. Too many scenes that don’t further plot or character.

I stumbled upon some old notes from my critique group, including a fairly long analysis that one person wrote. Lucy is whiney; she needs to take a stand, my person wrote. What are the stakes? The subplots don’t tie together that well.

I got those notes and I made those fixes. I entered a contest, got feedback, made more fixes. I cut and rewrote at the time. I made that book as good as I could make it.

And now, rereading it, I can make it a whole lot better still. I can’t fix everything. The stakes still aren’t high enough, and I can’t fix that now without making the book completely different. But Lucy isn’t whiney anymore. She’s upset, sure. She’s got trouble. And her conflict is sharpened up. She’s a lot more focused about what she needs and wants. The subplots are tighter and tie in better.

In a lot of ways, this book has all the problems that McD taught us to see, avoid, and/or fix. I can tell by the edit I’m doing now that I didn’t waste my time in class. Still, it’s been, like I said, eye-opening, because I’m an editor and, hey, I’m trained to see crappy stuff in print. It’s just that it’s a lot harder to see your own crappy stuff.

So what did I learn from this? My critique group is never wrong. Whenever you think you’re done, wait a month and read it again. The problems in your work will stand out more strongly if you give it a rest.

But the other thing I learned? It’s a process.


5 thoughts on “Kay: It’s a Process

  1. LOVE your new cover! The old one was pretty cute, and you can’t go wrong with promising sugar and butter, but the new one is really attractive, and gives me a better idea about the story.

    Thanks so much for sharing this! When are you planning to have it go live?

    Also, haven’t decided if it’s super-cool that modern e-publishing lets us have second-chances, or if it’s a slippery slope to endless revising . . . . I know you know when the end of this round of editing is! Please let us know when you get it put up.

  2. Lucy likes to bake, so there’s a lot of butter and sugar in there! But I think you’re right—the new cover is so much more polished, and between the look of the model, the background of the kitchen, her holding her head with the oven mitt, and the tagline—every element really supports the story so much better.

    I also thought about the ease with which epubbers can change their work—what would Jane Austen have done? But overall, I’m fine with it. For one thing, anyone who buys the book now will get a better book. But remember that one textbook we used in class by Janet Burroway? I had the sixth edition, and there were several more after that. That was nonfiction, of course, but putting out new editions of older works has a history. When Lucy goes back up, it will be called “edition 2,” so I’m not lying about changes. As for a third edition—well, right now, I think I’m done, but I guess you never know. Mainly I want to move on to new projects, not revisit old ones, so I’m not going to make a fetish out of it, that’s for sure!

    I hope to have the edit finished by next week, but I’m giving the pages to The Killion Group for formatting, too, to see what they do with it. Overall, with luck, I think this one should be up in a month or so.

  3. Love the new cover, Kay, and can’t wait to read Loving Lucy, Edition 2. I think every book is a reflection of where the author’s craft and instincts were at the time of writing. You probably made choices at that time that you couldn’t / wouldn’t make now, so fixing the fixable parts without making Lucy into someone completely different sounds like the best of all worlds. It will be interesting to read her and see how your style has changed with Phoebe, and how it continues to change in your next books.

    I’m trying to finish up my first book, which I wrote Before McD. Even a year later (admittedly a year of intensive learning) I wouldn’t make the same choices, and I doubt I’ve kept more than 20k out of the original 100k draft. My takeaway from that? Finish the book and don’t take too long about it, or you’ll grow out of it and the re-writes will be never-ending 🙂

    • That’s so true, Jilly. When I got the idea for this book, I knew going in there’d be problems, but I thought I could work around them. It turns out, I really couldn’t. I don’t think the book is bad, but it definitely could be stronger. And the other thing is that if you know there will be problems, you can also hold onto the idea and see if there’s another way to approach the characters. I plunged ahead. I’m not sure I’d make that same choice today, but now it’s interesting to see how it worked out.

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