Tuesday 1 December 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - SJI Holliday

This week's Guest Author is Susi Holliday. 

Susi (S.J.I.) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She lives in London (except when she's in Edinburgh) and she loves to travel the world.

And this is rather a special day, as it is Publication Day for The Last Resort! Whoo Hoo! Congratulations Susi! 🎉

After the Q&A you will find details of her fabulous new Thriller. Grab a copy! I really enjoyed it; it's very intriguing. 

Susi was actually the reason I wrote these questions. I am fascinated by her success at having completed, and had traditionally published, 7 novels since I have known her - which was back before she had an agent, and we were all still entering flash fiction contests on twitter! (those were the days) It was afterwards I decided to open it up to other authors, and I am so glad I did, it's been fascinating to read everyone's experiences and see how much they differ - or not as the case might be.

Anyway, here are Susi's brilliantly detailed responses to my questions:

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?

OK, bear with me here as I’m going to answer this from the perspective of getting a publisher, and then agreeing a second (or subsequent) book with the same publisher – and I have published 7 books with 3 publishers so it’s quite detailed but hopefully useful!

So for my first published book (with Black & White Publishing, a medium sized indie), it was a full polished draft – that’s the usual in fiction, especially for debuts – this was a 1-book deal. Then as part of the contract (generally) a publisher will ask to see a proposal for future books (and there is a time limit for them offering a new deal for that book or books). I got my second book deal (for 2 books this time, with the same publisher) based on a couple of half-page synopses. It helped that it was a sort of loose-linked trilogy so some of the characters were the same.

After that, I was out of contract and wanted to write something different. I was approached by Hodder (an imprint of Hachette, one of the Big 5) and asked if I wanted to write something based on an idea of theirs, but that’s a different sort of situation. I wanted to do it, as I was intrigued to see how it would work! So I then expanded on their synopsis, worked out a more detailed outline and chatted to the editor about it, then wrote the draft.

After that, I wanted to write something different again, so I wrote another full draft and went on submission again (I’m a glutton for punishment!) I got a 2-book deal (with Orenda Books, a small/medium indie), with no idea for the second book. When I was ready, I just very briefly mentioned the idea and sketched it out briefly and the editor was happy. I worked on a more detailed outline myself, but didn’t share it – and it actually changed a huge amount twice while I was writing it.

After that book was done, I wanted to write something different (again!) and I actually went back to an idea I had early on, just after I got my 1st book deal when I wasn’t sure what to write next – I had written a few chapters and had a rough plan, but I decide to take the initial hook and start again. I wrote a “partial” - a draft of around 20k plus a detailed outline of the rest, and my agent submitted it. I got 2 offers and had to decide which publisher to go with, which was nerve-wracking! I chose Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing). It was a 2-book deal, and they wanted a detailed idea of book 2. I had a very brief idea which they then asked me to expand on, and I had a meeting with my editor to expand it further. As it turned out, they wanted to publish that book as the first in the deal, which meant when it came to book two, I already had the partial and an outline to work from (which makes it sound like it was then easy to write, but it actually wasn’t as it had then been so long since I worked on it, it was harder than having a totally new idea!)

I recently delivered my first draft of that second book, which means I’m now out of contract (again!) so the next step is for me to chat to my current editor about new ideas, then they’ll ask me to expand them a bit, then hopefully – fingers crossed – offer me another deal! If not, it’ll be back to writing a full draft for submission again (I don’t think I would submit on a partial again as it does limit your choices – I had more than one offer with mine, but many said that although they loved the idea, they just couldn’t consider anything other than a full draft).

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

My first draft is usually quite clean as I outline before I start and I do edit lightly as I go, but I leave gaps for things I need to research or work out later by writing ‘xxx’, so then my first edit involves me going through checking for ‘xxx’ and filling in what needs to go there. I then do a full pass, just tidying it all up as much as I can, but I don’t spend too long on editing at this stage. Usually I will have a list of notes that I’ve made as I was writing, for things I need to think about later. I keep hold of this until I get the notes from the editor.

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

It varies with both the publisher and the story. But on average, it’s one major edit, then it’s a couple of back and forths to tie up loose ends. Then there’s copyediting and proofreading, so a few more back and forths for those.

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

A bit of both. It’s kind of linked to your next question, but major stuff would come under developmental, then minor is usually in copyedits and is more about style (often based on the publisher’s style guide) and (in)consistencies, and sometimes suggestions to make a sentence flow better, if the editor hasn’t found it clear to read. I haven’t had many structural suggestions for any of mine, I think because I do outline, so this part is usually fine. It’s more about expanding on certain things and clarifying things, as I tend to write short drafts and they become longer. I call it ‘colouring in’. Types of things that would be major – if the editor doesn’t believe in a character’s motivation, or doesn’t like the ending, or finds a plot hole or has an issue with a subplot. Minor is more about timelines – what day is it, what time of year is it, how long since this happened etc and then other very minor things like characters with similar names.

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher.

For me it has always been developmental/structural, then copyedit, then proofing. But for some there is also a line edit, which comes in between structural and copyedit – the line edit has always come merged with my developmental – so I will get a report of a few pages (this has been between 2-10 pages, depending on the book and the editor), sometimes broken into headings, sometimes just major/minor – and as well as that, I get a marked up version of my manuscript with comments in in the relevant places – the report and the comments are linked, so when they say in the report ‘I’m not sure I believed that Johnny would push Jane off a bridge when there are people watching’ (for example) then it would also say ‘more detail on page xx’ – where the comment there might say ‘Maybe you can change this so the person on the bridge who Johnny talked to left before Jane arrived’ or whatever.

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?

It’s always a discussion. The editor sends the suggestions, lets you have time to think it through, then go back to them to chat if necessary. It’s fine not to agree, but most of the time they are right! I’ve mostly found that things that the editor has picked up on have been things I have written in my notes for addressing later. If there is something I have disagreed with, I have gone back and said why, and we’ve usually compromised somehow. I’ve had good relationships with all of my editors and I’ve really valued their feedback. Sometimes just chatting through an issue helps me to find a way to fix it, often in a way I didn’t expect. In my last edit, the chat with the editor led me to think up a completely new twist that would have to be seeded through from the start. He asked me if I really want to do it as it was a lot of work, but I knew it would make the book better, and ultimately that is what editing is about. When it comes to copyedits, this is done in comments e.g.“suggest rewording, perhaps xxxx” or “I didn’t understand this sentence, can you clarify?” or “you’ve got a lot of smiling, cut?” and then style/typos type things are in tracked changes and I usually agree with most of them, as this is really fine-tuning for clarity/readability.

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given?

Oh, I think I answered that above! For the most part, no. But there have been occasional times when I have disagreed (but it has been resolved fairly easily, sometimes with me coming up with a different solution to fix the problem). I actually quite like the editing process – having fresh eyes on your work and then making you think about the book as a whole is a good thing, because when you are writing it you are far too close. I have heard people say (mainly people who are unpublished or have chosen to self-publish) that traditional publishing editors “make you change the book to how they want it”, and I have to say, that is just not my experience at all.

 Thank you so much for taking part. 



When Amelia is invited to an all-expenses-paid retreat on a private island, the mysterious offer is too good to refuse. Along with six other strangers, she’s told they’re here to test a brand-new product for Timeo Technologies. But the guests’ excitement soon turns to terror when the real reason for their summons becomes clear.

Each guest has a guilty secret. And when they’re all forced to wear a memory-tracking device that reveals their dark and shameful deeds to their fellow guests, there’s no hiding from the past. This is no luxury retreat—it’s a trap they can’t get out of.

As the clock counts down to the lavish end-of-day party they’ve been promised, injuries and in-fighting split the group. But with no escape from the island—or the other guests’ most shocking secrets—Amelia begins to suspect that her only hope for survival is to be the last one standing. Can she confront her own dark past to uncover the truth—before it’s too late to get out?

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