Making Sense of It (the edit)

As I’ve said any number of times, my first drafts are awful, more like expanded outlines than an actual novel.  Mostly, they’re a way to confirm the machinery of the plot before I buckle down to craft a sensible narrative out of contradictory notes, half-baked characterizations, and half-seen sub-plots.  (No modesty here: they really are that bad.)  In other words, there’s a lot of editing that goes into making a book out of it.

And because it’s REALLY tough to edit at your own work, I depend on the skill and good will of my publishers, who are willing to:

  • Read the VERY rough first draft without instantly canceling my contract (editor)
  • Read a (hopefully) improved second draft (editor, art department)
  • Read a “final” draft (editor, marketing, publicity, copyeditor)
  • Read the copyedited pages (the poor souls inflicted with the task of transcribing the mess for typesetting)
  • Read the proof pages (in-house reads followed by more poor souls having to incorporate various peoples’ remarks, questions, typo notes, etc etc)

After which the book goes public, and various other people send in notes and objections and places where we all missed untrimmed plot snippets, repetitions, and eyes of the wrong color, some of which have to be jammed in at the very last instant before the presses start running.

Some writers of series novels have a “bible” reminding them of the things that they’ve said before.  Mine is not that organized, but the publisher does have a Style Sheet that transfers from one book to the next, so that I only need to explain once that in the Russell books, it’s finger-nail and school-teacher but ash tray and bedsheet; that Mrs, Mr, and Dr have no full stop (period) after them; and that the possessive of Holmes is not Holmes’s but Holmes’.

Individual copyeditors also have styles.  Sometimes I get a remarkably detailed plot-line, page after page of what exactly happens when.  Other times it’s a sort of index with every proper name and its first appearance in the book.


But the key element of any story is the back-and-forth with my editor.  And although now, houses tend to use e-edits—

—and I certainly know how to do them, I’m old-school enough to value the dialogue that comes with an actual on-the-dead-tree edit, whether with a copyeditor—

—or the editor herself.  Because there’s nothing like seeing notes like this to let you know you’ve done the right thing:

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  1. Faye Bayko on August 3, 2021 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve read a couple of your books now (Kate Martinelli series). They now have sticky notes poking out of them from where I’ve marked pages that give me good examples of description, scene, and filler details such as cop routine that adds background. I plan on using when I get back to my fiction series. I’m trying to finish the non-fiction book I started writing. The fiction series was going to be a simple mystery but ended up being a police procedural (historical – 1968 – which has made it even more difficult getting the facts correct because the RCMP who were in the area at the time are aging out, with resulting memory loss) which I had no intention of trying because I knew nothing about such a job. I have since learned a lot, at least how the job, cars, communications, etc was back in the ’60s.
    Thank you for creating such wonderful stories, worthy of copying. LOL!

    • Laurie King on August 3, 2021 at 11:14 pm

      Hi Faye, thanks for this kind note–I’m glad to be providing a source of inspiration for your stories, since the saying is, that one should steal from the best. Or at least from me. Have a great summer of writing.


  2. Mark Gerhard on August 14, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    Covid was an opportunity for me to slowly make my way through the entire Mary Russel series. Working through Pirate King at present. Thanks for all the delightful hours.

    • Laurie King on August 14, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Not that I would wish lockdown on anyone, but I’m glad I could distract you a little….

      Enjoy the rest of the Memoirs, and your other reading hours as well!


  3. Margaret Laing on August 16, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for the encouragement, Laurie. I took up detection writing after years of work as a copy editor, so (as you can imagine) it was slow going “until I had enough time” — i.e., the lockdown and a cheap distraction from job-hunting. So now MS number one is done and my student and townie cop are off on their second case… still as a distraction from job-hunting, but at least that is going better.

    As for modesty, of course not. “I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues” is one of my morale-repair readings. (Or watchings — Jeremy Brett did it so well in the TV “The Greek Interpreter.”)

  4. Douglas Kott on November 10, 2021 at 1:40 am

    Ah, Ms. King.

    I have just finished, and much enjoyed, your ‘Castle Shade’, as I have enjoyed about everything else published that I can find. Oh, thank you. Very, very much. For all of your work.

    On editing.

    Not to put you off…

    But with the tidbit photo of the manuscript of ‘Castle Shade’, with editing marks left above (and thank you for it!) I would have urged you to say, ‘stet’. And, ‘stet’, again. And again.

    There is a music, and rhythm, to human speech.

    Indicating pauses, and corresponding silences, through punctuation, ellipses, dashes, works very well, for me. Oh, I hope you will continue to explore that more, going forward?

    I am sure you have the very best copy editors. But. A story?

    An author acquaintance of mine, Greg Herren, writes mysteries set in New Orleans.

    He wrote of a time, wherein one of his stories was set during a tropical storm, there, I believe. And he wrote about people parking their cars on ‘neutral ground’.

    It is a local, well known, colloquial and colorful New Orleans term. Neutral Ground is an elevated area between roads.

    A copy editor returned the draft, with every mention of ‘Neutral Ground’ replaced with ‘median strip’.

    I do not believe that copy editor lasted long.

    I hope you consider your editors’ suggestions closely, before acceding.

    Thank you so much, for all you have written, and are writing!

    Warmest hugs, to you.

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