Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Planning Your Edit Like a Pro

Good news, everyone! In a complete surprise to me, Romantic Times Magazine has picked my second Heartstriker's book, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, as their Editor's Choice Award Winner in Indie Urban Fantasy!! In case you missed my freakout on Twitter yesterday, I am very excited about this!! Not only does it feel great to win my first industry award for a book I produced all by my lonesome, but since I was already going to the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas, this means I now get to attend an honest-to-God awards ceremony!!

Naturally, I'm pretty happy about all of this!! Thank you to the editors at RT Magazine for taking a chance on a self published book about dragons, and thank YOU ALL for reading it and spreading the word!! You have made me the happiest author ever ^__^!!

Whew, okay, gushing completed. Let's talk some writing!

In the spirit of mining my email box for blog content (what? Y'all ask the best questions!), I found this gem of a conundrum that really got my brain going.
Hi Rachel -- I apologize if you have already answered this question-- I have just started following your blog and books. In your book on increasing writing speed, you discuss tracking words/day or words/hour when writing a first draft, but what about the tracking the editing phase? Do you have any good metrics on that? 
This is a very good question that, to my amazement, I've somehow never touched on here at the blog. I've gone over how I edit my books and how to shut up your inner editor when you're trying to write, but I've never actually touched on how I figure out just how much work an edit's going to be. Given that editing is easily half of any writing process, being able to estimate how long it's going to take is vital to any author's publishing schedule, trad or indie. That said, it should come as a surprise to no one who reads this blog that I do, indeed, have a metric for estimating how much time my edit will take!

So, without further ado, here's my solution to the age old question of "just how long is this edit going to take?"

Writing Wednesday: Planning Your Edit Like a Pro

One of the biggest variables in being a pro-writer that you can actually control is how long your novels take to write and edit. But while I talked about how I estimate my own writing times (and how you can learn to estimate yours) in the original 2k to 10k post, editing is a very different animal.

Unlike first drafts, which all tend to follow a pattern (plot, write, realize you did something wrong, go back, replot, push forward until done), no two edits are ever the same. If I got everything right the first time I plotted and don't have to go back and change any major scenes, I can knock out an edit in a week. If a book gave me serious trouble, though, or if I changed my mind several times about the plot mid-project, editing can take a good deal longer. And if I end the novel with a completely broken book, the editing can easily take as long or longer than the original draft did.

As you can read in detail on my post about editing, my editorial style is to make a list of book's problems and tackle them from most challenging to least. I vastly prefer this method to starting an edit on page one because 1) focusing on individual problems like "main character is unlikable" or "no tension in the middle" lets you keep your attention on that issue rather than going through the book chronologically and keeping everything in your head while you wait for the broken scenes to come up, which I feel makes me keep too many things in my head at once, and 2) I'm normally sick of the book by now and getting to see it in a different order is more fun.

For me, this is the only way I edit. By chopping up broken novel into a list of problems to be addressed, I can turn even the most daunting edit into a neat, completely conquerable checklist. That said, since this method relies on editing scenes out of order (and sometimes more than once when you're working on different problems that happen to touch the same scene), it can be very difficult to estimate time on. Just because I can write 10,000 words a day doesn't mean I can edit that much. Every broken scene has its own challenges. Sometimes I fly through two chapters a day, other times I spend an entire afternoon fixing a single conversation. It's also not uncommon for the items on my to do list that I assumed would be the easiest to fix to end up being the biggest bears of all, taking days longer than I'd thought they would.

With all these variables, estimating how long a book will take to edit, even after you've broken it up into a list of problems-to-be-solved, can feel impossible. But there is hope! Despite the wild swings, so long as you know what's on your plate for this edit (ie, you've accurately identified everything you're going to have to fix) and you know generally how long it takes you to edit a scene, you can still make a pretty accurate guess as to how long the overall edit will take. Just like when it comes to estimating how much you can write in a day, the key is all about knowing yourself and your own work flow.

When it comes to writing, Twilight Sparkle is my spirit animal.
Organization will set you free!

If you're interested in estimating how long an edit will take, my advice to you is to go edit a difficult scene and time yourself. When you're done with that, go edit an scene you're very happy with and time how long it takes you to do that. Once you've got these two times (and the word counts for the scenes), you'll have a ballpark measure for how many hard and how many easy words you can edit in a given hour. From there, it's just a simple matter of looking at the scenes in your to do list, making your best guess at which ones are going to be bears and which ones are going to be simple fixes, and applying your new estimated times to each one according to wordcount.

You can be as anal as you like about this step. Personally, though, I prefer to work in broad strokes. After I've made my list of the novel's problems and all the scenes where they appear, I just down the list and assign each one a designation of H (hard) or E (easy). Unless I'm dealing with a very thorny issue, scenes I've already edited once to fix another problem are Easy by default, where anything dealing with nebulous issues like "character is unlikable" that are going to take a lot of out-of-book thinking to solve are automatically Hard. Once everything has a label, I simply count up the scenes for each estimation, H and E, and multiply by the appropriate time estimation.

For example, if I've marked 50 scenes to be edited, and 25 of them are Hard and 25 are Easy, and I know I can do 2000 words of easy editing an hour vs 500 words of hard editing per hour, and I know my scenes tend to be about 2500 words on average, basic math will tell me that I'm looking at 125 hours of hard editing (25 scenes x 2500 words per scene / 500 words per hour) and 31 hours of easy editing (25 scenes x 2500 words per scene / 2000 words per hour) for an estimated 156 total hours, or 26 six-hour work days, of editing before I'm done.

I know all of that seems like a lot of math just to figure out a time line, and obviously if this is your first time editing a novel, how long it takes is completely secondary to the hard and important work of learning how to edit your books in the first place (because editing is a skill! Just because you're a good writer doesn't mean you're also a good editor. Just like you had to practice your prose to get better, you have to hone your editing skills before this stuff gets easier, and the only way to do that is to jump into your novel and start trying to fix things!).

That said, when you're trying to pin down a release date or make a deadline on your edit, knowing how roughly many hours it's going to take can be a life saver. This is especially true if you're self publishing and need to book a spot on your editor's calendar in advance, meaning you're going to have to have that first draft edited and ready to go by a specific date or risk losing your window and perhaps even your deposit to poor planning. And accurate planning is even more important if you're trying to take advantage of KDP's preorder window. Just speaking personally, pre-orders are a huge part of my income, but the KDP preorder deadline is the hardest in the industry. If I don't have my book ready to go by the date I've chosen, not only will I look like a moron, but Amazon will revoke my right to accept preorders for a full year!!

With that much money on the line for getting the book done on time, a day or so spent getting organized for your edit and accurately estimating how long it will take is a very small price to pay for the security of knowing when you'll be done within a decent margin of error. Again, this kind of detailed estimation is absolutely not necessary if you're still working on your first novel or if you're in the early stages of your career where publishing deadlines are still soft and the price for screwing up isn't so high. You're already working on much bigger problems like learning your craft and figuring out how to get your career off the ground, and this kind of hyper detailed estimation process is just another level of complication you don't need.

THAT SAID, it's never too early to start being really professional about this stuff. If your dream is to write for a living, then knowing how long it takes you to write and edit a novel is a huge advantage no matter how you're publishing. If you get a book deal, and your editor asks you "how long will it take to complete these edits," you'll be able to give her an accurate answer and come off looking like the pro-est pro that was ever pro. Or, if you're self publishing, you'll be able to set a pre-order or book launch date with the absolute certainty that you can meet it without having to rush or risk quality, because you know how long this shit is going to take. You've already done the math! Your deadlines aren't randomly chosen out of a hat. They're based on real world numbers, which means--if you give yourself enough padding to account for unforseen disasters--you should be able to meet them with none of the panicked scrambling and up-all-night writing that writers are famous for. You, my friend, will be the cool-as-a-cucumber pro, turning in your finished manuscript with days to spare.

That is not a feeling to be taken lightly, and it is absolutely worth the few hours of extra effort it takes to do an estimation. So whether you use my method or come up with your own, I hope you'll give estimating your editing time a try. If nothing else, merely labeling to-be-edited scenes as Hard or Easy will give you a clearer picture of just how much work you have to do.

Again, none of this is necessary to have a successful edit. It's just a tool I use to keep my own publishing timelines accurate. Otherwise, if I just went by my gut for how long I think things should take, I'd have myself scheduled for a book deadline every 4 months and miss every single one. This system is more than just a prediction tool, it's also there to keep me honest and make sure my optimism stays firmly in rooted in reality. And for someone who spends 90% of her waking hours playing God in made-up worlds, that's a very good thing.

And so ends a very granular and technical answer to what should have been a simple question. I hope you got something out of seeing my process, or, if not, that you were at least entertained by my freakish love of organization. If you enjoyed this post, I do one every Wednesday plus other stuff in between! Follow me on Social Media (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+ ) to never miss an update. And if you're interested in my fiction or my writing book about how I went from writing 2,000 words to over 10,000 words a day, I have everything you could ever want to know up at (which is coincidentally  also where you can go if you want to ask me a question like the one that kicked off this entire post!)

As always, thank you so much for reading! If you haven't yet, I very much hope you'll check out my *ahem* award winning Heartstrikers Urban Fantasy series! Julius and his crew are doing me very proud at the moment ^__^.

I'll be back next week with more writing stuff and hopefully news of a finished Heartstrikers book 3! Until then, I remain your friendly neighborhood Spiderman writer,



Lee Sarpel said...

Thank you! I'm approaching revision time and I have no clue how long it will take. The list tools will be useful.
As an author, is there any kind of program that makes your administrative work easier? You have super awesome Excel formulas and sheets, but is there anywhere you keep track of all of the things you have to juggle? I use OneNote on top of Scrivener, but I'm wondering if there's something easier.
Also, it's nothing to compare to the RT Award (I saw that and squeed for you), but 2k to 10k was on the SFRB Recommends blog a few weeks ago:

Website said...

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DannyFlamingo said...

The main characteristic of any successful writer is his editing ability. It's very hard to re-read your text and trying to find mistakes in it and re-write it after. It's a hard work because you have to have a critical thinking and look from different point of view at your writing. I have a job of writer, my company is vip-writers,a do mostly academic writing, so i know what i'm talking about.

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