How to revise a novel with two authors
Let me preface this article with a warning.
Do not attempt to revise an entire manuscript in one week.
This is particularly true when you have two authors who also have a business to run, jury duty to serve, and a hefty load of “real life” responsibilities.
There is a difference between an ambitious goal and an insane goal.
That said, we put the finishing touches on our manuscript on Tuesday, October 23. It’s been two and a half weeks and we’re on par to finish the revision process within the next few days. Once we have a “polished” draft we’ll be sending it out to beta readers and beginning the querying process (thank you again to everyone who has volunteered to be a beta).
We’ll post more about the beta round and querying as it comes up, but today’s topic is on the revision process itself. Specifically, how to revise when you have two authors (who live in two different states, no less).
At least, this is how these two writers revise. If you’re co-writing your own novel your process may be different — but if this is your first time approaching the process, or if you haven’t landed on something that works, you may find this helpful.
We’ve already talked about how we write with two authors, but now that the drafting phase is finished we’re shifting gears.
Our revision plan is based, loosely, on how we revise content within our copywriting business. In truth, the two of us have been brainstorming, writing, revising, and publishing content together for eight years — it just was in the form of website copy, sales pages, and blog posts. But the basic demands are the same with a manuscript… they’re just much longer, covering over 90,000 words instead of 1,000-5,000 words.
Step One: Step away from the story
Even with our initial (absurd) timeline of one week, we still built in a day to back off. A full 24 hours of not looking at, thinking about, or involving ourselves with the manuscript. In truth, it’s probably better to have a break of several weeks or months, but even that day gave our fried brains a chance to recharge.
Step Two: Print the manuscript
Our sincere apologies to the trees we’ve harmed as a result of this first step. But after spending ten months devising this story at a computer screen, it was time to look at it with fresh eyes. And maybe it’s the ex-English teacher in me, but there’s something about having a printed piece of paper and a red pen that puts me in the revision mindset. Computers are for creation, print-outs are for tearing that creation to shreds.
Step Three: Mark it up
This part of the process was interesting, because it was done independently. Up until this point we haven’t done anything independently in this novel. But it was time to go it alone.
We each had our own separate printed copy and went through, page by page, on our own. We killed adverbs and jotted notes and worked at entirely different speeds, on our own time. After writing every word together, it felt a little odd to be doing this part alone.
We also each approached this part of the process differently.
I’m not a super disciplined editor. I have in my head what to look for, but I don’t systematize it beyond that. So I went through the manuscript in a single pass and did several things at once:
- Small line edits for grammatical weirdness.
- Notes that pertain to character, dialog, and plot.
- Reference points for ramping up (or down) tension.
Then, at the end of every chapter, I wrote a list of questions that came up for me as a reader that I think are worth discussing with Marie.
Marie’s process involved:
- Red pens for line edits and notes
- Different colors of highlighters to track elements like timeline, appearance, injuries, etc.
- Sticky notes to mark critical turning points in the plot
She also had a few standalone pages with three columns: Problem, Solution, and Page Number.
Step Four: Return to the digital version
Once we’d both gone through our separate copies, it was time to compare. We both opened the Google Doc that contained our full manuscript (because we’re co-writing, Google Docs is a far better platform than Scrivener or any other writing tools) and went through it in Suggesting mode.
This resulted in a rather colorful document.
Step Five: Clean up
Time to refine!
It’s not easy to make decisions when you’re facing a busy manuscript. So before we tackled the bigger questions, we needed to clean the manuscript. We each went through the entire document and either accepted the edits or left a comment as to why we thought it should stay how it is.
For this to work, we looked at the opposite person’s edits. I didn’t go through and accept my own—I went through and accept Marie’s, and vice versa. This gave us both a chance to have our say and make sure the other person has made note of our observations.
Step Six: Fill in the holes
Now that the manuscript is clean(ish), we start to fill in the gaps. Throughout the revision process, we’ve noted any issues with blocking, plot holes, abandoned threads, or inconsistencies. Now it’s time to address them.
We’ll do this in a video conference room (we use Zoom.us), where we can both talk through each discrepancy, make an executive decision, and collaboratively complete any additional writing that’s needed.
Step Seven: Finalize
At this point we’ll round everything off with a quick grammar check, create files and question lists for our beta readers, and send it off for their review.
Step Eight: Celebrate!
At this point, the manuscript will be officially out of our hands and all we’ll be able to do is wait for feedback. Time to sit back, relax, and… query our little hearts out.
There you have it, our entirely unofficial revising process in a nutshell. We’d love to know what your revising process looks like — especially if you’re a co-author or contributing writer.