How We Edit As Co-authors

J. L. Harland • August 16th, 2022

A quote about editing printed on a white cube sat on a desk. Thanks to Hannah Grace on Unsplash for the image.

Photo by Hannah Grace on Unsplash

We thought we’d give you some insight into our editing process because we are elbow deep in edits for our next novel - What’s Left Behind. It’s a standalone but the same character, Elin Fiorelli, is the starting point. New characters and settings, with themes of family secrets and identity, give this story a different tone and direction.

This story gained its own momentum as we became excited about it. Our intentions at the beginning were to write a sequel to What Lies Between Them (Dixi Books) but after two failed attempts to get into the heart of the story we went down a different route. It happens. Nothing is wasted as we have a novella and a short story from the wreckage of those two novels.

For this second co-authored novel we planned and wrote as usual. If you read the last blog post, we explain our method. What’s Left Behind is a story told by two voices. Each voice was powerful, urgent in the writing. We wrote each story separately and then slotted the narratives together. There were resulting overlaps which meant rewrites, where we had to piece the strands together. In retrospect writing the narrative in a linear way might have provided less headaches.

Our editing system is to read and make comments which we then discuss. What works and what doesn’t? How are we going to fix that problem? Is the novel too long? Which scenes and characters do we really need? Does that add to the momentum? This is the developmental stage of our process. The story was 120k long when it was finished – well, rough first draft where we just had the story in raw form. It’s been ruthlessly hacked but at 85k we need to take out more and that’s where the next stage comes in.

We make notes on what has to be changed and then start again reading and changing text, each taking two chapters at a time. Text to be deleted is highlighted in red and new text in blue. Any queries or comments are also in red. We do this in a linear fashion, waiting and then re-reading to ensure continuity and flow.

More discussion.

This process is repeated several times until all the changes are accepted or rejected. We note anything that jars when read aloud and make points on continuity or repetition.

It’s a laborious process and, with two of us, it can take time. We have other ongoing work so the wait until the chapters from each other come back isn’t void. This editing and sending things back and forth carries on until we are satisfied we have a polished manuscript. Then it’s put away for a few weeks while we write something else or work on individual projects.

We are both “tweakers”, so after a while, when we return to the manuscript, we can often see ways to improve. Reading aloud is a help with these glitches. Sometimes what is written looks alright but jars when read aloud.

By this time, it’s ready to go out to alpha and beta readers. As we belong to two writing groups there’s usually someone to oblige and give constructive criticism. Another trawl through will follow.

In this way, by the time we are finished we hope to have eliminated as many errors as possible, although typos often creep in when you are working on a long piece of writing like a novel. Of course, this ‘first draft’ will need more work once a professional editor sees it but, after rigorously working through the manuscript in this way we are satisfied that anything submitted to a publisher, or self-published, will be polished and professional.

When working as a writing duo it is essential to find a system that works for you. We’ve tried track changes but after the first edit we found it becomes messy and confusing. For us the colour coding system works, although it may not be the answer for other writing partnerships.

How do you approach self-editing? Any co-authors out there want to tell us? Drop us a line and let us know.