In my last blog post I talked about the journey of my debut novel, The House with Chicken Legs, from submitting to an agent last year to publishing with Usborne (UK) and Scholastic (US) next year.
In this post I’ll talk in a little more detail about the different edits the novel has gone through during this journey.
1. Edits with my agent
Before my agent, Gemma Cooper, made an offer of representation we met to discuss her editorial thoughts about The House with Chicken Legs.
Gemma felt the book was too short and suggested that it could be lengthened by making the story both bigger and deeper, and by developing some of the characters and their relationship with the main character, Marinka.
We also talked about how the story arc could show a greater change in Marinka’s situation and how the ending might be made more hopeful. Gemma didn’t tell me how to change the story, but she pointed out aspects that she enjoyed, areas that she felt needed work, and she asked questions that really made me think about what I wanted the story to be.
The discussion was incredibly inspiring and I came away bursting to get back to work on The House with Chicken Legs.
I accepted an offer of representation soon after our meeting, and Gemma sent me an editorial letter with her overarching thoughts for the book laid out more formally with sections on character, plot, and pacing.
And so I set to work on edits! I added 10,000 words to the manuscript, tried to develop the story and some of the characters, added another character, and changed the ending quite dramatically.
Then I sent this second draft to Gemma. She gave me feedback during a telephone conversation and also sent me another editorial letter – even longer than the first one – along with a marked-up manuscript.
This second edit was intensive and thorough. Gemma’s notes encouraged me to really think about the plot, the message in the story and how to create a clear throughline.
The marked-up manuscript highlighted areas I could ‘show not tell’ and repetitions of words, phrases and sentence structure. The manuscript was also peppered with questions Gemma thought a reader might ask, and I was encouraged to find ways to answer these.
Pacing issues were also identified, such as where I had overworked descriptions or could use chapter breaks more effectively.
During this edit I added another 10,000 words, developed the story and some of the characters further, removed the character I had added during the previous edit, and changed the ending again.
At times this edit felt like a mammoth task, but it was during this edit that I really started to feel the story was taking shape and coming together in a really magical way.
And it was after this edit that Gemma declared The House with Chicken Legs submission ready!
2. Edits with my publishers
The House with Chicken Legs found a home with Usborne in the UK and Scholastic in the US. My editors Rebecca Hill (Usborne) and Mallory Kass (Scholastic) liaised and collated their thoughts into one editorial letter and marked-up manuscript for me to work through. Rebecca also phoned to discuss this with me before I set to work.
There had been a break of several months between edits with my agent and edits with my publishers and I found this really helpful. When I read the manuscript again ahead of the phone call with Rebecca my fresh eyes spotted several things that could be improved that I hadn’t noticed while buried in the previous edit.
The editorial letter from my publishers was an eight page document with sections that discussed the main character (Marinka) and her motivations, the pacing of the story, the ending of the story, and a few aspects of world building.
My editors explained that this edit would be about “clarifying and heightening a lot of the incredible elements already there, bringing the story arc to the fore, and ensuring that our ending sings as strongly as it deserves to.”
I was encouraged to think about Marinka’s motivations again and to feed them back into the story arc where possible, so that they “become the glue that knits together the episodes to make for a wholly cohesive story.”
A slight drop in pace was identified in the middle section and suggestions to remedy this included heightening and clarifying the stakes and upping the jeopardy.
My editors also asked some very clever questions that helped me consider how I could make the ending of the story more satisfying and leave readers with “a lingering sense of the mythical world.” A few questions about the world I had created were also asked that encouraged me to clarify some details of my world building.
Once again questions, rather than instructions, were used during the editorial process to really make me think about how I could improve the story.
Rebecca’s and Mallory’s thoughts and questions were perceptive and so well-articulated that I felt they understood the story, and what I wanted it to be, with greater clarity than I did! Their comments about Marinka’s journey and her central emotional conflict and desires gave me several Eureka! moments that helped me pull the story together in an immensely satisfying way.
This edit was a real joy. I felt every change was making the story stronger and clearer, and by the end of this edit I was hugely proud of what we had achieved together. The House with Chicken Legs felt like a real book, and sang more beautifully than I ever imagined it would.
After this edit, The House with Chicken Legs was sent for a copyedit with Sarah Stewart at Usborne. This arrived back with me in the form of another marked-up manuscript, and another editorial letter, this time from Becky Walker, Fiction Editor at Usborne.
The manuscript contained a few last editorial queries from Rebecca and Mallory alongside copyedit notes from Sarah – which looked at consistency, grammar, and bringing the text in line with a house style, in addition to a few other editorial comments and questions. The letter from Becky explained how to go about the copyedit, and expanded on the last few editorial queries that had been raised.
This edit was hugely exciting as it felt like the last sparkly finishing touches were being added.
I have been amazed by how much The House With Chicken Legs has evolved and improved with each stage of the editing process. At this point, the book feels like a real team effort and I am forever grateful to have collaborated with so many talented and wise people.
I am proud of the book we have created, and I can’t wait to share Marinka and her House with Chicken Legs with the world!
Featured image is two ladies with sparklers, circa 1740, artist unknown.