Editing, round one

Waiting for the first round of edits of Supermassive felt like waiting for the results of an exam. Kind of a good exam since the publisher had already accepted the manuscript, and the contract was signed, right – but kind of frightening still. What if the edit only showed what a mess my book was? Oh no. I felt like a student again (which served me right, perhaps, being so used to commenting on student essays, and expecting them to take my remarks in their stride).

As it turned out, the revised edition wasn’t so bad. There were surprisingly few plot holes (such as a person showing up where he wasn’t supposed to be). Language-wise, I quickly learned that my commas are all over the place (new mantra: I must remember the Oxford comma), that I worship forbidden run-on sentences (another new mantra: comma splice), and that I have an unhealthy appetite for hyphens. Merriam-Webster is now  my Bible, and I think I will familiarize myself with the Chicago Manual of Style for my upcoming projects.

The highlight of going through the revisions came when, deep into the edit, my editor added a comment bubble telling me that I had made her cry. Not because of poor language or terrible content, mind you. No, thankfully, it was a scene that was so emotional it tore her up. Awww, that was so sweet and encouraging! There had been funny and cheering remarks earlier, too, but this one really made my day.

The Supermassive Writing Journey

In the course of a few late nights during the summer of 2009, I wrote fifty pages of what later developed into my forthcoming debut novel, Supermassive. Those fifty pages were clichéd both when it came to language and content. In other words, they were 99% crap.

Still, those pages flew off my fingers and onto the keyboard with such speed I knew I could finally be on to something. I had, after all, dreamed of becoming a writer since I was little, but apart from a couple of short-stories in my late teens, and some dabble with bad poetry, I had never actually written anything resembling a longer literary work. I never talked about my author ambitions either, and apart from one friend, only my boyfriend (now husband) had the slightest inkling of it.

The fifty pages of 2009 became sixty later that year, and then they mostly stayed filed away for a few years. I added some pages and notes now and then, so by the time that I sat down for real to see if I could get the hang of my story, the calendar showed 2012. I looked at my hundred or so pages, and promptly scrapped eighty of them – including the precious scene that got me started in the first place. The only scenes that stayed were parts of the early chapters, remnants of the “locker scene” and parts of the ending. Basically, I had to rewrite the entire novel from scratch, and as I progressed, I realized I would have to rewrite it even more once I had a first draft.

I toiled away at night to complete that first draft, and also spent an unhealthy amount of time researching the English-speaking publishing industry. I know, I know, you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself when there’s not even a first draft, but what can I say – I did research so I could be ready to embark on getting my great great novel published once it was complete, right? Dream big and all that. I registered on a writer’s forum to pick up good advice (Absolute Write, highly recommended), and it took a while to navigate everything. I usually logged on to the forum whenever I hit a tricky patch on my novel… so perhaps not the most efficient way to complete it. But again, I learned a lot that was useful once I actually had a novel worth seeking publication for.

The first draft was completed late in 2012. After I participated in the 2012 NaNoWriMo where I wrote 50.000 words from scratch on an entirely different and unplanned novel because I knew I needed to get rid of my inner editor – the one that hindered my progress on Supermassive – I finally got around to understanding that it would be FUN to rewrite that awful first draft. So much fun that the second draft, complete early in 2013, ended up being a bit on the long side, around 90.000 words.

The next draft (drafts three and four, really) was a whooping 94.000 words long, and complete by summer of 2013, by which time I gave in and let my husband read it. Yes, I am aware that it is against all good writing advice to show drafts to family members, but I was getting annoyed at his pleading, and caved. He’s a master of pointing out flaws in (my) logic, so despite him not being an avid reader of literature, and certainly not YA, I knew I’d get at least some useful advice out of this. As it turned out, he did point out a few important matters. I do not recommend having your husband or such sit next to you on a train for four hours while he reads your fledgling novel, though. That’s one underrated method of torture…

I spent some time researching literary agents and publishers, and made a looong list of candidates, at this stage. Yes, getting ahead of myself again, I know. It was useful to write some summaries and synopses of the story in various lengths, though. I struggled more than expected with this, and discovered a few plot holes in the process. That did not deter me from sending off this version of the story to a publisher’s open submissions call. It only took me about a week to realize this was a serious mistake and that they would never ever take me on based on the then flawed opening chapter. Oh well, at least I was aware of my error, and the book would not have been a good fit for them anyway (I sent them an email withdrawing my submission many months later).

After the summer, I did another major overhaul and then shipped the new edit off to a reliable friend who is also a writer. This was the first time someone who was a literature lover and a writer (whose book spurred me on to complete my own) looked at my writing, so I was a bundle of nerves waiting for her response. We discussed the story at length through emails and some Skype chatting, and after her sound advice on some critical points of the story, I revised again, this time making some major changes, particularly on character development. After completing that revision, I worked on polishing the language. Got rid of a large number of adverbs, for instance. Searched the novel for redundant ‘just’, ‘really’ ‘lots of’ and the list goes on and on… Took weeks, but it did wonders for my manuscript. The revised version of my novel was now 87.000 words long, so considerably slimmed down.

Early in 2014, then, I had a novel I felt was query-worthy. Problem was, I had no clue how to write a query. I wrote several bad queries, and some very dull synopses and summaries. Then I wrote a query I thought was slightly better, but couldn’t work up the courage to post it in the writer’s forum for critique and advice. I was also frustrated by the fact that different agents had such different requirements for the submission and queries. Some just wanted a short pitch, some wanted a synopsis, some a summary, two first chapters, three first chapters, fifty first pages, no query just a brief cover letter…. yes, it is a jungle out there!

In the end, I queried a number of agents and a couple of publishers who were, according to my research and sources, LGBT friendly, thinking this was a sensible route. I knew it would be difficult to find an agent, and I got a few rejections, but was pretty undeterred by them. If there’s one thing I was certain of, it was rejection. You’re supposed to be rejected, so I wasn’t worried at this point. In fact, I never got the chance to build up any real worry that my novel would never be published, because one fine morning I woke up to a mail that offered me a publishing contract.

And so my publishing journey began with Harmony Ink Press, who I had researched before Supermassive was complete because they only publish LGBT YA stories, which was perfect for my little novel, I thought. Apparently, they thought so too.

 

Northern Lights

Spring is fast approaching in my corner of the world. With spring comes longer daylight hours, until in summer we have daylight more or less 24 hours a day. A bit further north from where I live, the midnight sun will, on clear days, make it near impossible to go to sleep. This is one feature of a northern life that I have included in Supermassive, but since the protagonist arrives during winter, when it’s pitch black for much of the day, I have also included one particularly beautiful feature about winter in Norway: the appearance of northern lights (aurora borealis).

If you take a look at the video below, you might get an idea why these lights are so fascinating.