03 May 2016

Pitch to Publication: Reflections on the Editing Round

That time I thought I'd only take on 1 manuscript...

In March and April I was a participating editor in #P2P16. As a follow up to my post about the selection round, I wanted to share here some of my reflections on the editing round, which ran from March 12th to April 15th, and the goal of which was to work with my chosen authors to get their manuscripts ready for the agent round, April 16th-22nd.

My P2P authors & their manuscripts
I chose to work with Tabitha Bird on THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING because the voice was lyrical and distinctive; the premise captivating; the theme of healing oneself from past trauma something I'm personally passionate about; and because the final pages reached into my body, grabbed my insides, pulled them out and laid them bare. This was the manuscript that got me sobbing just from the partial.

In response to Tabitha's partial

I chose to work with Heather Leonard on MAGIC CITY because the voice was distinctive and made me laugh out loud; the pacing fast; the genre one of my personal favorites; and because it's an awakening narrative, which I love. The theme can best be summed up by a quote from the Gospel of Thomas: If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. This quote has been a guiding force in my life for the last four years, ever since my friend Diane introduced me to it, so obviously the theme of MAGIC CITY is close to my heart.

Goals and process
In the month-long editing round, I did three passes of developmental editing for each author, each pass becoming a little more focused and detailed. The third pass also included line and copy editing of the first 50 pages of the manuscripts. After the first pass I held 1.5-hour Skype conferences with each of the authors to agree on goals and a rough editing plan for the month. At the end of the editing round, I also did one to two passes on the authors' query letters. All told, I put in 30-35 hours per manuscript between March 12th and April 15th, for a total of at least 60 hours.

Each manuscript had different needs, and I could not have asked for two authors who were more open to feedback and suggestions, more dedicated to taking full advantage of our time together (even taking vacation time to work on revisions), or more lovely to work with. My guess is that each author put in at least 40 hours on their manuscripts during the month we worked together, and their efforts show in the final products. Not only am I incredibly proud of the work we did together, but both Heather and Tabitha have spoiled me in terms of what I expect from working with authors on their manuscripts.

My secret goal of getting the manuscripts publish-ready turned out to be unrealistic in the time allotted. That said, both authors ended up with manuscripts that were clearer, more focused, and query-ready, so it was a great success regardless. And both Tabitha and Heather got requests for fulls from the agent round, so mission accomplished. Yay!

My reflections
One of my takeaways is that three editing passes in a month is too much. If there had been more time, I believe three passes would've been fine, but since we only had a month, that meant there were only five to seven days between each pass, and by that third pass I'd begun to lose my objectivity. I started to feel a bit burnt out by the end, too. In future, I think that last push would be better spent focusing on the query letter, which is a difficult document for many authors to write but a very important one.

I also found it difficult to balance two P2P manuscripts with a trip, a 3-day conference, and taking on paying editing work - although I met my deadlines, I came down with a nasty, sticky cold almost as soon as the editing round ended - so I will unfortunately have to limit myself to just one author next time.

On a more general note, my experience reading the partials in the selection round and my work with Heather and Tabitha led me to reflect on what goes into creating a strong, distinctive narrative voice and on one of the reasons that authors' word counts tends to run long, namely: too much plot. I plan to write blog posts on both of these topics in the near future, which I hope will be helpful to my blog's readers.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about my P2P experience? Ideas for future blog posts that you'd find helpful? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!


  1. Wonderful reflections and I can't tell you how proud I am to have worked with you on this book.
    To all writers out there, Sione is a very insightful and talented editor. If you are able to take advantage of working with her DO IT! Her suggestions strengthened my work, pushed me to new heights and also gave me valuable insight into what it was like to meet deadlines and work with a professional. She also went above and beyond the call of an editor. She connected with the work and allowed me to see what resonated with the reader and why. She didn't only point out what needed work, but what was already deeply connecting with her as a reader. This kind of insight is precious and so valuable. Sometimes after writing and rewriting we lose sight of how our words affect others. And this, for me, is what writing is all about. To convey something of what it is to be human and connect with others.
    Thank you a million times, Sione. And I am very much looking forward to hearing from the agent that requested this book we both worked on in due time :)
    All the very best all writers out there. I know you too will be blessed to work with Sione.

  2. As a writer struggling with word count (which you know, having taken a look at my ms), I never really considered too much plot. I've considered too much backstory, too much telling, too much commentary, too much introspection, too many adverbs . . . But maybe the situation is best remedied with plot adjustment. Hmmm.... I integrated your suggestions into manuscript, and lost 2000 words! Got close in #FicFest - shortlisted again. Much gratitude to you for your helpful insight during #p2p16!