Things have been exceedingly quiet around here over the last month because I’ve been touring in Australia (further details on how that went over here) and also working flat out to get Half a War edited and then copy-edited. The downside of the quick publication schedule (three books in a year) is there’s always going to be a quick turnaround, and therefore high pressure on the edit for that last book. And so it has proved.
I cannot articulate how crucial a good edit is to a book. I finish a first draft knowing a lot of major changes I need to make, end up with a much tighter second draft and go through a whole round of further revisions focussing on secondary characters, on setting, on the detail of the writing, before turning it in to the editors, but even then new sets of eyes (and experienced expert eyes at that) will see shortcomings and areas for improvement you’ll never have thought of. It’s not necessarily the solutions you’re offered that are so important, as the problems that are brought to your attention and that you’ll work out your own solutions to – it’s important to maintain your own judgement. It’s also important to realise that your first reaction to every suggestion is to scream ‘fuck no!’ (preferably inside your head), and to give yourself some time to let things sink in, to see what you really do profoundly disagree with and what maybe hurts because it strikes a bit of a chord with some small doubts you’ve already had over a scene or character.
For the First Law books I had one editor, with the Shattered Sea books I’ve had four, plus three agents giving comments. That makes for a very different process, where rather than comparing one opinion with your own, you’re looking at a whole set of opinions, seeing what there’s agreement on, maybe discounting what there’s not agreement on, and trying to maintain your own judgement throughout.
The result was, in fact, not a lot of big changes, but an awful lot of small ones and also a general feeling that the book was a little loose and the writing not quite as sharp as it had been in previous books. There was concern about an event happening off-screen so I made an effort at writing a new chapter that brought it on-screen, but wasn’t totally happy with it and, indeed, my editors weren’t either, so I ditched it. There was one new one-page scene added and a few sections heavily cut and/or rewritten.
Otherwise it was a host of small tweaks, mostly centring on one of the three viewpoint characters, who, it was felt, was too sure of herself, too adult, and lacked a clear mission in the book. A lot of other minor issues to attend to, plus a thorough, detailed overhaul of the writing with an eye to cut, cut, cutting anything that made me the slightest bit uncomfortable. Ended up with a much improved book, I think, and one some 3,000 words shorter, despite all the additions of new thoughts.
The copy-edit, therefore, was pretty light, with just the usual hyphens, capitals and ‘z’s swapped for ‘s’s, and a few comments to consider, relatively easily dealt with. Job done. Half a War weighs in at 106,000 words, very close to Half the World in length. It’s due to be published late July, but I should know in the next couple of weeks whether that’s going to be possible. If not then, it should hopefully be very soon after…