Kat Cantrell’s SYTYCW feedback!

Kat Cantrell photoKat Cantrell won the SYTYCW contest two years ago. Now, eighteen contracted titles later (though not all published yet!), she looks back on the feedback from Senior Editor Stacy Boyd that helped her get that career started!

The winning  feedback…

In the comments of the SOLD! Blog a few weeks ago, someone mentioned how helpful it would be to get a glimpse of an editor’s first round feedback on a previous winner’s manuscript. I gladly volunteered for the job as I love my editor (Hi Stacy!) and truly feel she helps me craft my story into the best book it can be.

These examples are from my SYTYCW-winning manuscript MARRIAGE WITH BENEFITS (still available at online retailers!). I’m including both big-picture elements from the editorial letter Stacy sent me and a few comments she made in the manuscript itself where she asked for clarifying details.

The “BEFORE” excerpts are exactly what I submitted for the contest, and the “AFTER” excerpts are what I changed according to Stacy’s suggestions.

Big Picture Notes Example 1:

From Stacy’s letter: The divorce clause in the trust may need some adjustment. Since Cia’s grandfather is old-fashioned and wants to see Cia taken care of, it seems odd that he’d force her to get a divorce to get her money. Also, it seems that kind of clause would be as if he was asking her to find someone to marry her temporarily. I do like how the need to divorce plays into Lucas’s admission of his feelings in the black moment, but the reasoning behind the clause needs some revision. Or, perhaps the clause is that she must marry, stay married for at least 6 months and that IF the marriage ends, it can’t be her that files for divorce. If SHE files for divorce, she doesn’t get the money, but if HE files for divorce, she gets the money.

BEFORE:

“My grandfather is old fashioned. When my parents died…” Her lips firmed into a flat line. “He wants to be sure I’m taken care of, and in his mind, that means a husband.”

 AFTER:

“My grandfather is old-fashioned. When my parents died…” Her lips firmed into a flat line. “He wants me to be taken care of, and in his mind, that means a husband. I’m supposed to fall in love and get married and have babies, not get a divorce. The money is a safety net in case the husband bails, one I put considerable effort into convincing my grandfather to include.”

—  And in another section, I also made an adjustment:

BEFORE:

“The money is tied up in my trust fund. In order to untie it, I have to turn thirty five, which is nearly a decade away. Or my husband has to file for divorce. You’re necessary since I’d like you to be that husband.”

AFTER:

“The money is tied up in my trust fund. In order to untie it, I have to turn thirty-five, which is nearly a decade away. Or get married. If my husband files for divorce, as long as the marriage lasts at least six months, the money’s mine. You’re necessary since I’d like you to be that husband.”

Big Picture Notes Example 2:

From Stacy’s letter: The heroine’s relationship to the charity needs more clarification. How did she get so emotionally involved with this work? The story she tells about her nanny’s sister doesn’t feel personal enough to have had such an impact. Is there a way to connect her charity work to her parents?

 BEFORE:

“So you’re not personally a victim of abuse, but something had to light that fire under you. What was it?”

“My nanny’s sister. Janet.” She shut her eyes for a blink and bounced her knee. Repeatedly. “The time she showed up at our house with a two-inch long split down her cheek is burned into my brain. I was ten and the ghastly sight of raw flesh…”

With a shudder, she went on. “She needed stitches but refused to go to the emergency room because they have to file a report if they suspect abuse. She didn’t want her husband to be arrested. So Debbie, my nanny, doctors up Janet with Neosporin and Band-Aids and tries to talk some sense into her. Leave that SOB, she says. You deserve better.”

What a thing for a kid to witness. His sharpest memory from that age was scaring the maid with geckos. “She didn’t listen, did she?”

“She heard every word, Wheeler. But it’s like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking. She married that guy right out of high school and immediately had three kids. She never held down a job or balanced a checkbook, and that’s only the surface.”

 AFTER:

“So you’re not personally a victim of abuse, but something had to light that fire under you. What was it?”

“My aunt.” She shut her eyes for a blink and bounced her knee. Repeatedly. “The time she showed up at our house with a two-inch-long split down her cheek is burned into my brain. I was six and the ghastly sight of raw flesh…”

With a shudder, she went on, “She needed stitches but refused to go to the emergency room because they have to file a report if they suspect abuse. She didn’t want her husband to be arrested. So my mom fixed her up with Neosporin and Band-Aids and tried to talk some sense into her. Leave that SOB, she says. You deserve better.”

What a thing for a kid to witness. His sharpest memory from that age was scaring the maid with geckos. “She didn’t listen, did she?”

“No.” Cia stared out the window at the passing neighborhood.

When he looked at a house or a structure, he assessed the architectural details, evaluated the location and estimated the resale value. What did she see—the pain and cruelty the people inside its walls were capable of? “What happened?”

“He knocked her down, and she hit her head. After a two-month coma, they finally pulled the plug.” Her voice cracked. “He claimed it was an accident, but fortunately the judge didn’t see it that way. My mom was devastated. She poured all her grief into volunteer work at a shelter, determined to save as many other women as she could.”

“So you’re following in your mom’s footsteps?”

“Much more than that. I went with her. For years, I watched these shattered women gain the skills and the emotional stability to break free of a monstrous cycle. That’s an amazing thing, to know you helped someone get there. My mom was dedicated to it, and now she’s gone.” The bleak proclamation stole his attention from the road, and the staccato tap of her fingernail against the door kept it. “I have to make sure what happened to my aunt doesn’t happen to anyone else. Earlier, you said marriage is about not being able to live without someone. I’ve seen the dark side of that, where women can’t leave their abusers for all sorts of emotional reasons, and it gives me nightmares.”

—  This is the main section I changed but I also had to revise pages throughout the manuscript to adjust this backstory. It ended up making Cia’s motivation so much stronger!

There were other big picture elements in Stacy’s letter, but in the interest of space, let’s move on to the small clarification points she included in the manuscript.

Clarification Point Example 1:

BEFORE:

Reputation. If only he could meet a woman not interested in smearing his good name. If only he could laugh and say he didn’t care what other people thought of him.

But he was a Wheeler. Nothing else mattered.

Stacy’s comment: We need to know more about what it means to be a Wheeler. Do they run the town, etc.?

AFTER:

Reputation. If only he could laugh and say he didn’t care what other people thought of him.

But he was a Wheeler. His great-great-grandfather had founded Wheeler Family Partners over a century ago and almost single-handedly shaped the early north Texas landscape. Tradition, family and commerce were synonymous with the Wheeler name. Nothing else mattered.

— In this example, I added to the statement to clarify.

Clarification Point Example 2:

BEFORE:

“I guess he’s hoping I’ll grow out of the bleeding heart stage by thirty-five,” Cia said.

“Well, that’s obviously not going to happen.”

“No. And nothing would give me greater pleasure than to beat him at this game. For that, I need a husband.” She tightened the lock of her crossed arms.

Stacy’s comment: Maybe more about her relationship with her grandfather? Why is she so eager to beat him at his game? Why does she want to do it right now?

AFTER:

“He’s hoping I’ll lose enthusiasm for battered women by thirty-five.”

“Well, that’s obviously not going to happen.”

“No. And I don’t enjoy being manipulated into marriage.” She tightened the lock of her crossed arms.

—  In this example, I took out the line Stacy commented on because I didn’t want Cia to come across as someone who just wanted to claim victory over her grandfather.

Clarification Point Example 3:

BEFORE:

If he kept her away from his family as much as possible, maybe no one would notice when he filed for divorce, and he couldn’t deny how far a nice, stable wife might go toward combating his problems with Lana’s husband. Probably not a bad idea to swear off women for a while anyway.

Stacy’s comment: Because he’s a Wheeler and in the public eye, and because his reputation is so important to him, this doesn’t seem believable. It seems everyone would notice and care if he got a divorce. Please adjust how he thinks about this.

AFTER:

Could he make this fake marriage work and protect his family from divorce fallout at the same time? Through the glass separating the balcony from the ballroom, he watched his grandparents slow dance in the midst of his parents’ friends. He couldn’t deny how far a nice, stable wife might go toward combating his problems with Lana’s husband. Probably not a bad idea to swear off women for a while anyway. Maybe if he kept Cia away from his family as much as possible, Mama would eventually forget about the absentee daughter-in-law.

—  In this example, I kept a few of the original elements but wove in adjustments as requested.

That’s enough for today! If you have any questions about how editorial feedback works or heck, any question about the entire process, I’ll be happy to answer. I hope this glimpse behind the scenes was helpful!

Thanks, Kat, for showing how some little tweaks made throughout the story can help deepen the emotion and conflict and motivation and help it become a fantastic story!

Kat Cantrell’s fifth book for Harlequin Desire, MATCHED TO A BILLIONAIRE, is available now! Visit her online at https://katcantrell.com/ or follow her on Twitter as @KatCantrell!

6 replies on “Kat Cantrell’s SYTYCW feedback!”

Thank you Kat (and Stacy) for volunteering! This is fantastic and so gracious of you both. 🙂

I’m about to start revisions on a current WIP’s first draft (it’s actually the first MS I’ve finished) and I have no clue where to start.

I DO know that most of the story as it is will be gutted (as in probably 80-90%)–should I still have a read-through of this first draft even though I know I’ll be doing major re-haul? Maybe take notes as I go along?

Oh, and more administrative I guess… How long do edits usually take? And are editors more easy about deadlines during the first rounds of revision? (<– I figure this depends on publication date.)

Sorry about all the questions. (I tend to pounce given the opportunity. xD But feel free to swat me away.) Thank you in advance!

Hi Hana! I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want you to ask. 🙂 Honestly, even if you think you’ll ax 80-90%, I’d read through the draft first and make notes. You might find some things to change that you didn’t expect and sometimes (my favorite part!), you realize there are elements that aren’t as bad as you thought. Also, I find that I forgot about a certain part that I wanted to expand on and I can make notes about that as I read.

Edits are broken into several rounds, and you’re correct, the deadline depends on the publication dates. But usually books are slotted based on how long the editing process takes. It’s not 100% true, but the books are typically scheduled to give you the standard amount of time to finish. So I get a month or so to do revisions and then a couple of weeks to do line-edits (a much less intensive round of edits) and a couple of weeks to do copy-edits. I almost always finish early. It was the same time-frame for my first book as it was for my tenth book because once you sign a contract, you’re a professional author, treated like every other professional author–which I appreciated! Though I suspect if I’d had any trouble meeting the deadline with my first book, Stacy would have worked with me…though “working with me” means pushing the release date out, which is never a good thing! And you didn’t ask, but I usually have about four months to write the full book. I almost NEVER finish that early!

Thanks for the questions–I love them. 🙂

This is a great view of the editing process, Kat! Looking at the revision letter was overwhelming, so it was good to follow it up with examples of how a writer would make the requested changes.I love how you show that little tweaks, additions and subtractions can make a huge impact on the story.

I’d be interested to know how you tackle revisions. Do you let them sit for a day? Do you take it in sections? Tackle the big picture things first or the clarifications?

I adore your books. Keep them coming! Thanks again for this article.

Hi Erin! Thank you so much for reading my books. 🙂

I agree about the revision letter–it is totally overwhelming, which is why I appreciate that Stacy calls me to talk through it. She’s really great at helping me see what she’s talking about and how to fix it. Fun secret though…my last two books were accepted with NO REVISIONS. So I finally figured out how to take the suggestions from the first seven books I wrote and incorporate them into my story from the beginning! Who knew??

Back on topic, first I take a day or so to think about the big picture revisions and make sure I know what I want to do, because those are the hardest. Then I read through the manuscript and make notes alongside Stacy’s. Many times, she’s already highlighted the sections she thinks could be fixed, but sometimes, I see a different spot or realize I actually DID have some elements of those big picture issues somewhere else, but I totally screwed up in putting on the page like I meant to. A small clarification somewhere else can address a big picture issue–example from another book, my Science Fiction romance I published with Carina had a note questioning a particular technology I’d included and in reality, it was a typo that led my editor down the wrong path. So I just fixed the typo and went on! No revision needed. 🙂

I almost never do the little small clarifications first because the big picture elements might end up causing me to cut whole sections and there would be no point in fixing something that I might later ax, right?

Thanks for coming by today!!

Thank you so much for sharing this with us Kat. I’m finding it so helpful to see how what you originally written turns into so much more with a little incisive thought and emotion. The trick I suppose is to know where and when to add, but I guess that’s why editors are so crucial to the process. I noticed you said your last two manuscripts had no revisions. That’s got to feel great, but I’m hoping that means with time and experience you get a “feel” for what’s needed and where. Thanks again for sharing your experience with us.

Hi Jean! You’re so welcome for the post and I’m glad it was helpful.

Yes, editors are crucial and I did learn what mine expects so it’s proof that you can get there–after all, my first two manuscripts were rejected by Harlequin. Obviously I was not born with the ability to write a good book. LOL

I also have critique partners who are published by Harlequin and they see everything first. Sometimes they point out things to add or fix and my editor never sees the mistakes I’ve made. 🙂 It’s invaluable to the overall process and gets some credit for why I’m getting it right sooner. I highly recommend it!

Thanks for coming by.

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