All writers must endure the nausea-inducing process of editing to turn their ugly duckling first drafts into beautiful swans in order to submit to an agent (or editor). I’ve been writing ugly ducklings for years, but after being selected for Pitch Wars in 2016, I was introduced to some killer editing advice and two new concepts: deadline writing and edit letters.
In Pitch Wars, agented and published authors volunteer to mentor an unagented author during a two-month revision process, and once the mentor has chosen an author to work with, they send an edit letter with suggestions for making the story better, stronger, and swoon-worthy.
As I read through my edit letter a second time—because I cried through it the first time—I noticed the same piece of editing advice popped up throughout my manuscript. (Keep reading, I’ll share it a little later.)
I decided to reach out to other Pitch Wars romance mentors and get their top editing suggestions for problems they encounter consistently so you can apply (or not) their advice as you’re revising your manuscript, and possibly avoid an edit letter that causes nausea or ugly crying.
Big Picture Edits
There are two major considerations to cover when you edit and revise: pacing and characters. These two have the largest impact on your overall story, and without successfully addressing your big picture edits, the smaller ones such as typos, grammar, and filter words are meaningless.
Pacing provides the tension in the story, making it harder for readers to put down your book. Both your main character and story need to move through a specific arc. One tool you can use to ensure your story is hitting all the right notes at the right time is the beat sheet.
A beat sheet helps identify where the major plot points need to happen, such as the first kiss at the 25-percent mark, a more sexy encounter at 50 percent, the crisis at 75 percent, the black moment at 85–90 percent, and then the resolution.
Invest in Your Character
Readers want to connect with your main characters, not only as a couple, but as individuals too. To avoid your stakes and relationship drama from feeling forced, it’s important to step back from where you want the plot to go and decide if those choices fit the characters you’ve created.
“Trying to mold character actions to fit the plot you want to write is a common pitfall.” ~ Kelly Siskind, Pitch Wars mentor
Another reason to invest in your characters, Kelly Siskind says, is to assist you in writing in a “deeper and more consistent POV. If you know your characters inside and out, you’ll have an easier time portraying them on the page.”
If you want to get to know your characters, complete a character questionnaire for each of the major players.
If pacing and characters are the two pieces of bread of your sandwich, adding emotional depth would be the peanut butter and jelly. The ooey-gooey, stick-to-your-ribs stuff.
Readers want to connect with the characters, so as writers, we have to crack open our characters and show what’s going on inside them.
When the All The Kissing co-founders compared editing notes, this suggestion popped up almost across the board, and it was the number two edit I received in my letter from my mentor. (The first was to fix my character arc.)
“Add more feelings.” I lost count of how many times my mentor commented that a scene needed more, more, more.
Once you have your big picture edits ironed out, interesting and relatable characters hitting the appropriate beats in your story, and showing their emotions, you’re ready to focus on the those fine-tune edits.
Read Your Work Out Loud
Pitch Wars mentor Kelli Newby says reading your manuscript aloud is a great way to check for flow and to find typos. You can use the text-to-speech option on your computer to narrate the writing, find missing words, or extras missed during line edits.
And get ready to laugh when you hear the robotic voice reading a sex scene.
Read Your Work Backward
Kelli’s co-mentor for Pitch Wars, Mary Ann Marlowe, suggests for a last-pass type of reading to start at the end and read backward. It can be tedious, so work in chunks, but you’ll find typos and errors missed in previous readings.
Brighton Walsh has a ten-point checklist she sends to her mentees where most of her suggestions focus on culling the extraneous stuff, like unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, filter words, and distancing words (saw, felt, realized). You can read her entire list here.
Or, you can download our All The Kissing Self-Editing Checklist!
Polish that manuscript
Follow these big picture and fine-tune edits to make your manuscript the cleanest, most polished it can be. Eliminate every reason within your control for an agent to reject you, and remember when your beautiful swan finds its way into an agent’s hands, there will always be more edits.
What pieces of editing advice have you received? What common edits do you have to make in all your manuscripts? Let us know in comments below.