Thursday 5 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Vanessa Knipe

Our next Guest author is Vanessa Knipe, a dark fantasy writer.

Born in Malaysia, Vanessa first landed in the UK at 3 years old. As a teen, Vanessa learned her love of canoeing in the alligator infested bayous of the Texas Gulf Coast. She now lives in Scotland and juggles fighting for a decent education for her Autistic son with wrestling the Creatures of the Night, though that’s not a nice thing to call her cat. Vanessa has concentrated on her writing since becoming widowed in 2001, as being a single mother of a disabled child made it impossible to work the required shifts in NHS Biochemistry laboratories. 2006 saw her beginning her writing career proper with the publication in the US of Witch-Finder, a collection of short paranormal adventures. She has had seven books published with two publishers, five still in print. She was recently awarded an MSc (dist) in Forensic Science from the University of Strathclyde. 

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

Proposals are for non-fiction. I haven’t done non-fiction yet, but I understand the process. A publisher will commission the writer to write the manuscript off the back of the proposal. For fiction, I always follow a publisher’s guidelines; they usually have a helpful page telling prospective submitters how to make it easy for them. All the places I have submitted to have wanted the first three chapters and a synopsis. They recommend that the full manuscript is ready if they are interested because they could forget you in the time it takes to write the book after the submission. I don’t see the point in querying unless I have a fully prepared manuscript.

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

I have never sent in a manuscript for submission that hasn’t been the best I can make it. Most have gone through a minimum of 5 passes at editing by me. After the fourth pass I take it to my critique group and let them read it. The final draft incorporates suggestions from the group. After that I change the font from TNR to comic sans – it’s amazing how many errors are still in the manuscript even at that point. Finally, I draft a synopsis and start the submission process.

My first ever published short story, Granny’s Secret for Perfect Vegetables, went through an additional editing stage. I had to produce a script for a course I was taking and I chose that one. Along the way it acquired more action scenes and a better ending – so I wrote those into the short story and it was published. I learned a lot from that incident.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? 

Two or three times at most. Both my publishers set deadlines once we started the process.

What sort of deadlines did they set? Were they short or long? Were they in depth edits that were going back and forth over or small things?

The deadlines were for the date of publishing. As I have worked with small presses the publishing dates were usually four to six months; I understand it’s longer for the larger presses. The time I spend with the publisher’s editor is different. They have two to three weeks for each book so it’s a rapid back and forth. Only one book had major edits because it needed shortening as the publisher had a maximum word count that I had breached. We rolled back to an early draft, which was shorter, and added in bits from the later draft that couldn’t be left out.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? Are they just minor ones or are they major?

For me it has mostly been copyediting at this stage, except for the book mentioned above.  One book the editor pointed out that I had a love affair with a particular word – a time travel book where I called everything a Chrono-something, like a Chronosploder for a time bomb, Chronostream for moving through time or Chronoshield protection againt a Chronosploder. So I had to cut back on that and come up with new words. I’ve actually done it again in a book I’m preparing for submission. This time I’m overusing the word Chaos. A critique partner pointed it out so I’m replacing Chaos with raw power, wild magic and uncontrolled force.

One book was rejected by a publisher, even though it was in the same series as he was running, because I had been so obvious with the wicked stepmother cliché. That was a rewrite and resubmit that was over five years ago and I still haven’t figured out how to replace the wicked stepmother.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? 

You are adapting your story to the House Style. It is better to at least try to come up with a compromise with your editor so you’re happy to have your name on the cover. I tend to accept most of them unless I can come up with a good reason to keep it my way. Once it’s in the hands of a publisher, it’s their book. If you don’t agree with that then you go independent.

Thanks so much for taking part in this blog series.

 One last question, what projects are you currently working on?

I'm currently editing two fantasy books: He Who Drinks Fire  (where the overuse of Chaos happened) an alternative world epic fantasy. There is a submission window with a publisher at the end of November which I hope to catch. And Diamond Winter which is a fantasy apocalypse, but the ending needs rewriting so it won't make the submission window. I intend to do National Novel Writing Month with two SF novellas, and I have a part-finished near-future detective novel crossed with the Scarlet pimpernel.

You can find all of Vanessa’s book on her Amazon author page.  

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