JUSTICE UNENDING: Editing a Novel with a Publisher

Banner with part of the cover for the novel Justice Unending, by Elizabeth Spencer.

(No, I haven’t run out of banners yet.)

My YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending, is coming out on Friday, November 4! In honor of its release, I’m posting about my experiences as someone who’s new to this publishing thing.

I talked about how I found a small press last Friday. Today I’m talking about the editing process!

First Thing’s First: What Did I Do?

Evernight Teen did three waves of edits with me:

  • An in-depth edit. This involved partially rewriting chapters, moving sections around, fixing some logic errors, and reworking a lot of dialogue. I had two weeks to do this one.
  • An in-depth, line-level edit. I went through the entire manuscript line-by-line, reworking sentences to remove repetitive and imprecise words. I had one week for this one.
  • A final pass to approve the final draft and a handful of small changes from the editor. I had a few days for this one.

Everything was done in Microsoft Word using Track Changes and comments.

The editor also highlighted the words I used most often. I assume she used a tool for this, although I don’t know which. (I’d love to know what it was, though!) But whether it was “you used this word 200 times in this manuscript” or “this word shows up nine times in this chapter” every offending instance of these words was highlighted. It made it extremely easy to edit them down.

So what did I learn?

Having a schedule is a pretty big shift for someone who writes as a hobby.

I don’t write fiction for a living, so–like pretty much everyone who wants to write–I do it in my free time. I have no deadlines outside of the crushing personal expectations that torment me for not writing fast enough. No one cares if I take a few weeks off to travel or recover from a cold.

But when an editor says, “Hey, can you do developmental edits on 68,000 words in two weeks?” That’s second-job territory there. That’s “you better schedule 1-3 hours a day for this if you don’t want work to pile up” territory.

It’s a mandatory skill, of course. If you get an agent, a multi-book contract, or even if you just want to self-publish books at a reasonable pace, you’re on a deadline. But going from that “This is a hobby, so I can do whatever I want” headspace to “This is a job–make time for it” is… well, a shift.

Prepare to face your demons.

I’m an editor! That’s my day job! There can’t be that much wrong with my books, right?

Er, no. There’s a reason they say you can’t edit yourself well.

I hadn’t noticed, for example, that I was hopelessly addicted to the words voice (used approximately 231 times) or breath/breathe (used slightly more than 100), particularly in tandem. I’d have people breathing responses while they’re short of breath, or their breath was catching in their throat, and their voice was trembling or dripping with emotion.

And could (171 uses)! I knew I had a problem with writing Faye could feel this and Faye could see that instead of just saying Faye did stuff, except I thought I had removed most of those myself. Ha. No.

In short, I spent lot of time staring at every annoying habit I have. Non-stop. For weeks.

It’s easy to get tired.


It’s exciting to have a book coming out. It is! It really is! But by the time you’re submitting your novel to publishers, you’ve probably already spent a lot of time editing it. And doing more work, in a highly compressed timeline, can be hard.

I mean, just imagine it: You’ve got a project. You’ve already looked at it a million times. Now you have a deadline. Also, this is your debut novel, so you’re worried about making a bunch of stupid, naive mistakes.

But you can’t work on something else or take a day off because, you know, there’s a deadline.

So I spent three-plus weeks doing all Justice all the time! in two months. And I won’t lie: There were some hard days when I had to really dig deep for the energy and enthusiasm I needed to do a good job.

But it’s so, so worth it.

I mean, of course it was. A good editor always makes a book better! My edit cleaned up a lot of little issues, tidied up some problems with the plot, and removed a ton of annoyingly repetitive words. It was absolutely worth it.

And now I get to do the fun stuff, like lovingly looking at my cover, telling people about my book, and celebrating on the internet!

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