No writer—whether newbie or multi-published—is capable of writing a perfect first draft. Even though we’d like to think our books are made of all sweetness and sugar, we only have to put our manuscript under the scrutiny of a skilled and objective editor or fellow writer to quickly learn that our book has faults—and lots of them.
Recently, Sally Hepworth sent me a few really great questions. She asked: "How much does a book change from first draft to when it hits the shelf? Is it recognizable? Are you embarrassed of your first version?"
While I didn’t keep detailed records of all of the changes in my first two books, I can give estimates. With my debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, about one-fourth of the book was changed in one form or another between my very first draft and what now sits on shelves.
With my second book, The Doctor’s Lady (releasing SEPT. 1st!!), I ended up changing much more than I anticipated. When all was said and done, I probably deleted and rewrote close to one-third of the manuscript—all in bits and pieces here and there.
You’d expect that with each subsequent book the need for editing would diminish rather than increase—and hopefully that will be true over the long haul as we strive to grow in our writing skills. But, ultimately, every author will need some level of editing. The exact amount will depend upon a number of factors:
First, some of the need for editing will depend on a writer’s level of experience. I’m a “young” author and am still discovering what my readers like. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to create likable heroes and heroines and other elements that comprise a satisfying romance. I’m also figuring out my publisher’s expectations. With our first few published books, most of us will have a learning curve. Agents and editors realize that newer authors will need more directing and shaping—which is one of the reasons they can only take on a certain number of debut authors at one time.
Second, every author has a different writing and self-editing process. Some write very precisely during the first draft and won’t need much overhauling of their stories. Others write loosely knowing they’ll have to spend an enormous amount of effort getting the story “right” during the editing phase. I happen to write slowly and carefully with my first drafts and so my own self-editing doesn’t involve any big changes. I also incorporate suggestions from my critique partner—which helps tighten my book, but again, usually doesn’t require major rewriting.
Third, every publishing house offers different levels of editing. Some smaller houses may not have a large or experienced in-house editing staff. Due to the tight economy, bigger publishers might be short-staffed. Once, when I was whining about my edits to my agent, she remarked that while many publishing houses are cutting back on edits mine has actually increased theirs—which says a lot about their dedication to quality fiction. They require about 4 different levels of in-house editing—which is a lot of work!
In summary, I think every book that makes its way to publication (whether traditionally or self-published) should look different than the first draft. If it doesn’t, then it probably didn’t receive enough editing. As I said, nobody can write a perfect first draft.
Am I embarrassed by my first drafts? Well, let me just say, I’m glad I didn’t rush to self-publish them! I’m grateful for all of the editing, even though it was painful at times. Are my stories edited so much that I wouldn’t recognize them anymore? No. The basic plots and stories are still the same. But the editing takes them from something readers will merely like to something readers can love.
The sign in the picture above sums up the editing process: We can't view having to do a lot of editing as failure. Rather, finding all of the problems within our manuscripts is an opportunity for us to take our books beyond ordinary and make them great.
What about you? Are you surprised by the amount of editing a book needs? How much have your books changed over time? Are they recognizable from your first drafts?
*Photo credit: flickr
*Photo credit: flickr