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Since this weekend I sent off the final-final-FINAL version of an anthology story, you get my thoughts on editing, revision, copy-editing, and proofreading: that is, what happens before a story gets to the reader.

Things that Get Bumped Around

Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas and I are putting out a historical romance anthology called Midnight Scandals.  We are self-publishing it, by the way, using a service provided by our agent that will allow us to get a pre-order button on Amazon. For various reasons, the anthology MUST be on sale in August or else not until November. And THAT means our final files must be uploaded to Amazon by a certain date if we want that pre-order button.

Schedules, Titles, Ack!!!

At first, the hero of my story was the earl of Daunt. I had a little joke going on about his country estate being called Dauntless because he was never there. I liked that a lot as a title for my story, and for quite a while it was my working title.

Then it finally dawned on me that in this anthology, one of the unifying elements between the three stories is that they all take place at Doyle’s Grange, a modest estate near the Exmoor mountains. Oops. Dauntless and Doyle’s Grange. That’s not going to work and Doyle’s Grange could not be changed.

So then I changed my main character to the Viscount Northword and called his estate Wordless. That maintained the play on the various meanings of Dauntless that I’d been using and still echoed characteristics of people. So, for another while, the title was Wordless.

Then I saw the titles for all three stories, and the other two played off the anthology title of Midnight Scandals. My one word title stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. So, late Friday — two days before one of the drop dead dates, I brainstormed ideas for a different title that matched the others and came up with One Starlit Night.


The three of us used the same editor for our stories so that we’d have a consistent hand across the stories. She’s a really, really good editor. The three of us shared our unedited stories with each other — necessary so that we could catch continuity issues etc. We’ve also shared the revisions among ourselves.

I’ve heard some authors say they don’t feel editing is necessary. To be blunt, I have heard this said on twitter and on a writing-related email list. One author gave the opinion that since editors are doing less editing, and since she had herself been lightly edited or not edited at all with her traditionally published works, then perhaps editing was not necessary. Another author in a different venue said much the same thing.

Maybe those two people are fantastic writers who really don’t need another eye. Rex Stout can’t be the only author to write a one and final version. But that writer is not me.

I can only speak about my own experience, but I know that my writing goes through a progression even when no one sees it but me. I’m pretty sure I’m hard on myself. I turn in a story that I think is good. And while it’s off in editor land, and I’m working on something new, things start nagging me. I worry about a certain scene or wake up in the middle of the night thinking, why didn’t I think of THAT? I will often start revising before I get a revision letter.

My editor may say certain things or make certain observations about my story. I read through all that, absorb and assess it and then I go back to work. When I am done, the story is likely to have changed in small ways that have a huge impact. It’s also possible that I will have done a massive re-write that uses almost nothing of what’s in the editorial letter. But many of those changes are unlikely to have happened without that editorial input.

What comes out of that is always better than what I turned in. Even though what I turned in originally was good to better-than-average. Suddenly, the story is tighter, the themes more cohesive, the emotions are alive. I always want a re-revision opportunity in order to assess the status of the revised story and make sure the story is doing what I want it to.

To writers who question the value of an editor, I say: How good do you want your work to be? Revision letters make me dig in and dig deeper.

One last remark: I have had three manuscripts that had none-to almost no editing. The editor of DX, my Crimson City novella, had only one fairly minor suggestion, and this person was famous for LONG revision letters. The editor of Scandal said she didn’t want to change a word. I did change a few things, and added once scene based on other input.  Indiscreet was also lightly edited, but I ended up rewriting the ENTIRE second half of the novel.

One Starlit Night was close when I sent it to my editor. But I knew it needed something to pull things together better. Based on the input, I did a pretty extensive rewrite, but I changed things that were never explicitly touched on in the editorial letter. I knew they would address the weaknesses.


I LOVE the Oxford comma. I think writing requires the Oxford comma. And I am CONSTANTLY abusing it. I am the em-dash queen. I often make mistakes with colons and semi-colons even though I actually know the rule. Sometimes I have read a sentence so often that I lose the ability to tell when I need a comma or other punctuation. What rules of capitalization are in place? Did I miss name changes? (Why, yes! Yes I did! I changed one character’s name several times and somehow, even with search and replace, I missed some.) Did I say “two weeks later” and then say something that makes it clear it CAN’T be two weeks later?


What new errors did I introduce during revision? Thank you, copy-editor.


No matter how many errors I catch, there are always errors I missed and so did everyone else.

Whoo boy. Errors get in there and the human brain very kindly fixes all those errors for you.

Concluding Thoughts

I can’t imagine, or more accurately, don’t want to imagine putting something out there that hasn’t been edited, copy-edited and proofread. An editor gets my writer brain going. I challenge myself, I see exciting things and I want to make sure that gets down on the page.

An editor does not write my book. I do. I make the decisions about how or even whether to solve any issues.

A Writing Truism

Every writer dreads a revision letter that says, I only have a couple of changes. I’m sure this won’t take long. Revision letters like that mean you will need to rewrite the ENTIRE book.

The revision letter that’s 20 pages and contains apologetic language for the all requested changes, and if you need an extra month, that’s OK, because this will be a lot of work… Those revisions go like this: Delete three sentences and change the villian’s shirt from red to blue. Done.

Midnight Scandals

Cover of Midnight Scandals
Pre-Order at Amazon | Apple

Find out more about all three stories.

I’m nearly done revising Lord Langdon’s Kiss (my first book, published in 2000). I’ve tweaked backstory and motivations and cut about 13,000 words. The cutting has been very easy; fifteen years have softened any attachment I had to that old prose. I’d say I had no ego involved at this point, but I’d be lying, because I have been mulling the thought of buying up all the copies still available in used bookstores and burning them!

I wish someone had told me to tighten this book, but I suspect the acquiring editor’s workload did not allow much time to work on books (like traditional Regencies) that did not receive large advances. Once a manuscript was deemed good enough to acquire in the first place, it seemed to be a case of “candidate passes.”

And since that phrase bubbled up from memories of The Court Jester with Danny Kaye, here’s the relevant clip. Just in case anyone could use a laugh.

Only one of my traditionally published books received any editorial feedback, and that was from a young editor who was probably more energetic and conscientious than most. (I would have enjoyed working with her again, but Signet ended the Regency line soon after that book.) My increasingly experienced group of critique partners has done more to improve my work than any editor.

So I laugh when I hear arguments that traditional publishing is always better than self publishing, because of the editing. I personally see pros and cons in both models. (Courtney Milan wrote an excellent post on this topic: Traditional versus Self Publishing—Official Death Match 2014.) However, my experience (which is not unique) is that working with a large New York city based publisher is still no guarantee of scrupulous editing, unless perhaps a very high advance is involved.

Even their proofreading is suspect. For instance, I recently read a traditionally published novella that had 3 grammatical and/or typographical errors. In a full length book, that would have been 10 or more errors, way over my personal threshold for professional work, which is 1 or 2. This is the first time I’ve seen anything so error-dense from traditional publishing, so I don’t know if the quality of proofreading has declined in general. I’ve heard readers complain about it, though.

There’s a huge variation in quality in self-published work as well. An indie book I read recently had the same endless internal dialogue issues as Lord Langdon’s Kiss. There was a lot I liked about the book, so I wish someone had advised the author to tighten the pacing.

A lot of indie authors do use various forms of quality control. I’ve been using a combination of beta readers and critique partners, several of whom are traditionally published authors. It’s a challenge to process feedback from as many as 5-8 different people, but I find it worthwhile. Other authors I know have hired anything from developmental editors to proofreaders, free lancers who have often worked (or still work) for large publishers. So a lot of indie books are as polished as any others, and sometimes more creative because they tackle themes and settings and other elements that may not have been thought marketable.

I’ve also heard there are self published books that are selling well despite poor editing, grammar, typographical errors, etc…. I haven’t read any myself, but it is said that a lot of readers don’t care about those things, as long as the story grabs them. That may be true. I’ve definitely observed the same about historical accuracy.

What do you think? Has the quality of editing changed over the years? How much does it matter to you as a reader?


Lord Langdon's KissLord Langdon’s Kiss was the first book I wrote. Although some readers have asked about it, I haven’t reissued it yet because I thought it needed work. I’m in the thick of it now, about 5 chapters in, and I rather wish someone had told me back then to cut 10,000 words. Yup. 10,000.

Lord Langdon’s Kiss was originally published at about 85,000 words. My other traditional Regencies, the “Three Disgraces” series, are all around 75,000. And Lord Langdon’s Kiss has no more plot than any of them. What it does have is introspection. Tons and tons of introspection. What was I thinking?

I was thinking that it was so fun to get inside my characters’ heads.

And it is. Why people do things is still fascinating to me, and that applies to my characters as much as it does to real people. What I learned from the next story I wrote, a novella, The Wedding Wager, was that I didn’t need to use introspection to reveal everything. Writing a 20,000 word story taught me to tighten, tighten, and tighten some more.

I have a confession to make, though. I still love introspection, but I use it in a more disciplined way now. If a character can express him or herself through dialogue, action or body language, I use that instead. But there are times when a character has good reasons not to want to reveal his or her thoughts or feelings to others, and then I think a little internal dialogue is just fine.

Looking back over some older traditional Regencies, I see that I wasn’t the only one to write paragraphs and paragraphs of introspection. Perhaps one reason for it is the mores of the Regency, when it would have been improper for couples to express their feelings to each other before having an “understanding”. But I also think it’s a more old-fashioned way of writing.

What do you think of introspection? How much is too much? Can there be too little?


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