How Deep Editing Changes Everything by Maggie Jaimeson

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Maggie will award one autographed cover flat to a randomly drawn commenter at each blog stop. In addition, she will award a $25 gift card to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner's choice) as a grand prize to one randomly selected commenter on this tour, and a $25 gift certificate to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner's choice) to a randomly drawn host. You must leave an email address to be entered into any of the drawings. Please click on the tour banner to see the other stops on her tour.

How Deep Editing Changes Everything

When I get to the end of my first draft of a book I’m filled with a combination of amazement at how the story worked, and trepidation as to if it really holds together. I know there are some amazing scenes that were truly inspired, and some pretty stupid, awful scenes where I was reaching for anything just to get to the next part in the story. That combination makes me wonder if it is going to make it in the market of hundreds of thousands of new books every year.

I always put the book aside for at least a week before starting the editing process. Many beginning writers, and many readers, believe that the editing process is one that corrects grammar, punctuation, misspellings, and uses the thesaurus a lot to find better words. That is a part of the process. For my first two books (which have never been and will never be published) that’s what I thought the editing process was all about and primarily what my critique partners, at that time, did for me. However, if that is the only editing a writer does, it is highly unlikely the book will be even half as good as it can be. It’s also unlikely the book will find enough readers to fall in love with it.

With each subsequent novel, and numerous craft workshops and readings, I learned there is much more to editing. In fact, I have a list of over 100 items in 12 broad categories I now keep in mind while writing, and go back to check if they are missing.

  1. Dialog (including cues, body language, emotion, and beats)
  2. Interior monologues
  3. Description
  4. Point-of-View
  5. Scene and Sequel
  6. Structure (including Show and Tell)
  7. Character Arcs
  8. Tension
  9. Proportion
  10. Emotion
  11. Theme
  12. Turning Points (including black moment)
Notice, not one of these twelve categories is labeled grammar, sentence structure, or anything close to the traditional concept of editing. Also, not one of the twelve categories is labeled “plot.” Good writing, basic grammar and sentence-by-sentence prose is expected of all writers. With editors available, even to self-publishers, there is not a good excuse for having poor basic sentence-by-sentence structure or a plot that hangs together. The difference between one book and the next, and the readers experience of the character’s journey, is really based in deep editing beyond the basics.

When I began to learn about these broad categories of editing I thought I might as well give up writing. There is no way I could keep all of it in my head. That meant it would take at least twelve passes—more likely twenty or thirty passes—to check that all these things were working together. The good news is, with each subsequent book, more of these items became automatic. They appeared on their own in the first draft or it was easy to pick up and enhance the story on my daily re-reads before taking on the next chapter. Do I still do multiple passes? Yes, I average around five editing passes before it goes to an actual editor. Do I ever get all of them in? Usually, in some form. Do I ever get all of them perfect? Never. But it gets better with each pass and with each book. Also, certain types of books lend themselves to the use of certain types of deep editing techniques more than others.

Most important, these deep editing changes make a huge difference in the way a reader is engaged. The decisions an author makes regarding when to add a visceral response, instead of telling how the protagonist feels, cues the emotional importance of the scene. The structure the author provides from one scene to the next—whether it’s building the tension or providing some relief—manipulates the readers experience just as it manipulates the protagonist’s perception of events and their importance to the plot or the character arc. The more time an author spends in a particular scene cues the reader that this is important. If the author chooses the wrong scenes to spend time in (example, 10 pages to drive five miles to get to the hospital where a major character is dying) then the reader loses trust that the author knows what is engaging and what the reader wants to see next.

If you are a writer, there are many books on these deep-editing opportunities. Also both online and in person workshops are available from many writer’s groups and individuals. One of my personal favorites is Margie Lawson’s EDITS system. Taking her Master Class solidified a lot of this for me and made a major difference in my writing. I don’t follow every single technique she suggests, but knowing they even exist and why they work on a psychological level was a huge “ah ha” moment for me.

If you are a reader, you may not be able to articulate why one character speaks to you more than another; or why you are rooting for someone that in real life you would never even associate with. If you take a close look, you may find some of these clues in deep editing. Is there a purpose to having the protagonist walking down the street at night instead of dawn or dusk? Probably. Does the use of certain words at the end of a sentence instead of the beginning make a difference? Yes, it puts the power of the word where it will impact you most. Is there a reason the author brought me to the brink where I was crying my eyes out and then cut to a scene that had me laughing? Probably. Probably keeping me wound up too tight would be exhausting and I would have to put the book down to recover. Authors prefer you never put the book down until the last page. It is all designed to put you in the head of a particular character and to experience the story world through that character’s eyes in every way. An author who can do that is one who understands deep editing and it’s importance to story. An author who can do that is an author who not only deeply respects the reader, but most importantly trusts the reader.

About the Author: Maggie Jaimeson writes romantic women’s fiction and romantic suspense with a near future twist. She describes herself as a wife, a step-mother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher and an IT administrator. By day she is “geek girl” – helping colleges to keep up with 21st century technology and provide distance learning options for students in rural areas. By night Maggie turns her thoughts to worlds she can control – worlds where bad guys get their comeuppance, women triumph over tragedy, and love can conquer all.

HEALING NOTES is the second book in the Sweetwater Canyon Series of four books. The final two books will be available in 2013.

Find Maggie online at

Facebook: ://
Twitter: @maggiejaimeson

Forgiving yourself is the first step, but helping others forgive may be just too hard.

Rachel Cullen grew up in Scotland with a fiddle in her hand from the age of four. She couldn't imagine life as anything but a musician. When her husband brought her to America she was immediately embraced by the Celtic and Bluegrass communities. But after her divorce, Rachel's life is a mess.

A year of trying to prove to herself that she's woman enough for any man, and then a vicious rape while on tour with the band, leaves Rachel reeling. When she meets Noel Kershaw, an English teacher who is poetry in motion, she is definitely attracted. But he has a young child and he's suffering from his own divorce. The last thing Rachel needs in life is more baggage.

First, Rachel must reconcile who she is, what she wants, and how to get there. Maybe then she'll know how to be a part of the family she's always wanted.


Thank you for hosting today.
MomJane said…
Loved all your comments. Every new writer should print it out and keep it in sight as they write. You put a lot into each story you write. No wonder they are so good.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. The editing really is the bulk of the work, it makes writing a novel look easy. I know when I finish a novel it is often quite different than I start out with. Great point to put down your book once done and walk away for a while. That is what I tell writer's also. You need to put distance between you and the story. It helps with being a little more objective when you do the deep edits you mention. Thank you for sharing.
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I find it interesting to see the difference in how and when authors choose to edit their books. Some go chapter by chapter while some write, write, and right some more to edit at the end. I would have to go back and edit at the end or I am afraid I would get off topic. Write it out then polish it up.

On a bright note... I just received Undertones and Healing Notes in the mail. I can't wait to read them as soon as I finish the book I am on now! I especially love the covers of these books with to dual scenes and lovely photos of the musicians. It's a very different approach to most covers and I like it! :)
Ingeborg said…
Reading about the editing process was very interesting. As a reader I had no idea how much work goes into the editing.

Anonymous said…
Editing is usually such a big issue for me, especially in ebooks...your conscientiousness is appreciated!

Anonymous said…
Judy, thank you sooo much for hosting my blog post today. It really made me think about the process, which is always a good reminder for me too.

MomJane, thanks for your support and acknowledgement of my writing. I do try to put a lot in each story. Some are more successful than others.

Maggiethom, I hear you on the novel being quite different than you started writing it. That ALWAYS happens to me. Another idea is to print out the whole book and read it aloud. This is especially important in the dialog parts. You'd be surprised how much you catch that way.

Stephanie, I'm excited to see your reviews. Stephanie was a lucky winner in a GoodReads contest. It goes to show poeple really do win!

Ingeborg and Vita, thanks for continuing to follow all my blog posts. You are wonderful!
Catherine Lee said…
Maggie...Does this mean that you do ALL of your own editing? As a reader, it seems like I've come across more books recently that are poorly edited, or that I refer to as, "not yet ready for prime time." Poor editing will cause me to stop reading a book faster than almost anything else.
catherinelee100 at gmail dot com
Anonymous said…
Hi Catherine Lee. Actually I go through a process to edit. I edit it until I think it is readable, then I get several people to read it. Then I have them look at the plot is it good, make sense, any holes in it. Then I ask them to just generally edit whatever they feel might need work. Then I make the changes that I feel are right for the book and then I get it professionally looked at. Then I do more editing. It is a long process.
Mary Preston said…
I am impressed. So much more to editing then I had ever dreamed.

Anonymous said…
Catherine, I'm not sure which Maggie you were asking, so I'll throw in my two cents too.

All the editing I mentioned in this post is what I do BEFORE I hand it over to my beta readers. Beta readers are not necessarily writers (though they can be). They are giving me feedback on how the story holds together, if they like or hate the characters and if the pacing keeps them turning pages. Then, after I make changes from their feedback, I send it off to the publisher editor and he/she always has more edits. In the case of self pubs, I have an editor who has been a professional editor for more than 20 years. He's a demon (I mean wonderful). Usually, once an editor gets a hold of it, it's another two to three rounds depending on the story.

I easily go through my entire book about 15 times before it goes to print. Sometimes more.
Anonymous said…
Hi Mary, Thanks for stopping by! I think most readers have no idea what writers go through. Most people think you think up a good story, write it out, check it for grammar and that's it. (big smile) I only wish that were true. The good news is with each book you write, it gets better. I know I learn something new with every book--some new techniques to grab the reader, a new way to enhance the theme or the mood of scene. I figure by Book 100 I can say I may have an idea what I'm doing. :)
Cathryn Cade said…

I am not surprised by your thorough approach to making sure your wonderful books have it all!

I've made my writing craft much easier by taking the Deep Story class by Carol Hughes (online-you can Google it & it was inexpensive).

This incredible Hollywood writer showed us how to break each story down into the major acts, chapters and scenes that a good story must contain.

Then she taught us how to layer character arcs and the different plot lines(suspense, romance, etc) into the essential story elements.

I find writing and editing so much easier now, as I know just what each scene must accomplish, and whether I've done that.

Of course nothing can replace good beta readers, and professional editing. I have 2 editors and 3 beta readers, none of whom I'd trade!

Cathryn Cade
... red hot romance!
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Anonymous said…
Congratulations to Rita Wray, commenter #78 for winning the reader $25 giftcard in this tour.

Thanks to everyone for a wonderful tour of Healing Notes. I very much appreciate all of your support!