Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

This is going to have to be a short editorial. I've been working quite a lot on my steampunk novel instead of paying attention to my duties here at Aphelion. I've put the story through several changes, reconsidered the format and the backstory and the world-building- Everything has changed several times now. The present version is slightly over 53,000 words. A week or so ago I thought I'd completed the initial rough draft. But that was before the most recent format changes that allowed me to tie all four major segments into a single manuscript. So now I have one of those four segments in a full rough draft stage, and a framing story to tie all the parts together. Heaven only knows what it will look like when all four parts reach the full draft stage. But that is the craft of writing, in a nutshell.

You see, the job isn't over when you get to the point of writing "The End" at the bottom of the last page. When you get that far you've only completed what I've seen some pro writers call the Draft Zero stage. Your first complete draft of the story. After that you have to make editing passes, spell check over and over again, grammar checks, look for awkward phrases and such. That process gives you a real first draft. Then you are ready to start rewrites and cuts. Cutting out some of your deathless prose isn't easy, but it becomes necessary. I recommend reading Seanan's articles on writing over in our Features section. She's absolutely right about the "kill your darlings" stage of making cuts to your text. She's not the only one that I've been earning things from. I've been reading Lilith Saint Crow's blog posts on writing, Cherie Priest's blog, Eugie Foster's blog, Seanan's blog- all of those are over on Live Journal. I've also been clicking links to loads of other blogs and websites all over the Internet, wherever a writer points me towards. Our own Nate Kailhofer has been a great help over the last few years. As have Jeff Williams, Wishbone, and all the writers who post critiques and comments over in the Forums section. What all that reading and researching boils down to is that the editing of a manuscript is just as important, and sometimes even harder than the actual composing of the story. First drafts, unless you're some way famous big name pro, don't usually sell.

So let's say you've got your real First Draft now. What comes next? Next you send that puppy off to your First Reader. Someone who can not only spot the flaws, but who is willing to give you honest and detailed criticism. Painfully honest and detailed criticism, because someone who reads the story through and then tells you "that's great" isn't doing enough for you as a writer. No, you need someone who will point out continuity errors, run-on sentences, places where you've repeated words too often, and places where you lose the reader. So when you get your reply from your First Reader, you dive back into the text and fix those flaws. More editing, more rewrites, more cuts, more, more more... And then you're still not done. No. But you will have a Second Draft.

Your Second draft might be the point where you send it off to your agent. Rest assured that your agent will point out even more changes you need to make. That brings you up to Third Draft stage. Maybe the Third Draft is what your agent sends to a publisher. Said publisher will most likely ask for further changes.

I forget who it was that said most manuscripts go through an average of four complete drafts before they reach a state where they can be sold to a publisher. It might have been in one of Eugie Foster's blog posts, or it might have been in one of Lilith Saint Crow's- Maybe even in both. I do know that by the time you're ready to send a version to a publisher, you're really tired of reading and editing the thing. If your manuscript sells, before it finally reaches the bookstore shelves you'll get one last chance to clean it up yet again. The Galley Proofs if I remember the term correctly. This will be your last chance to fix any problems that still remain. After that, the readers will get their hands on it. At that point you might just find out things that everyone else missed. The most famous glaring error I can remember was from Larry Niven's first edition of Ringworld. If you own one of those first editions, it's worth a small fortune. You see, Larry and everyone else concerned with putting that hardback book on the shelves in a store missed one little thing. One little error, right there in the first chapter. Larry started the story with his hero at his own 200th birthday party. In order to make his birthday last longer than just one day, Larry had the hero leave the party and use a teleport booth to jump around the world, trying to stay ahead of the sunset. The hero teleported to city after city after city. But Larry had written the list of cities backwards. He had the Earth rotating in the wrong direction. And no one caught the mistake until after the first edition hit the stores! The second edition came out a little later, with that little error corrected.

There are other ways an error can creep into a book. Recently Pat Elrod got a special, limited edition book published in her Vampire Files series. All well and good, except for one little thing. Someone in the typesetting department at the publisher evidentially was a huge Tolkien fan. That's right, you guessed it. The first 500 copies had a typo on the spine of the book. The book cover was perfect. But on the spine of these 500 numbered, autographed, limited edition books? Pat Elrod's name was spelled "Elrond". She let that pass, knowing that the typo increased the book's collector value, but the second run had her name correctly spelled.

Writing is hard work. Editing is hard work. Sometimes it seems like the job never ends. Keep at it, though. It is worth it, in the end.