Paddling Like Crazy

Regular readers of this blog know that sometimes I include insights into the world of publishing. Today is one of those days.

Over time in this blog, I’ve discussed the various stages of editing. “Pre-submission editing is done by my at-home editors; Line editing with the editorial letter, is done by my book editor; Copy editing is done by people who know way more about English Grammar than I do; and First Pass or Galley editing is done by me and several others once the manuscript is in typeset mode.

Today we’ll be talking about editing phase number two—line editing and editorial letter. Here’s how that works. The author submits a completed manuscript. The editor goes through it, doing some copy-editing in the process, and then sends the author what’s called “the Editorial Letter.” In it the editor outlines where there may be holes in the plot and what changes must be made before going forward.

The words of my first-ever editorial letter, received in late 1983, are still engraved on my heart: “Until Proven Guilty takes place over a period of several days. All days are consecutive. No days are skipped. Unfortunately, between the first Thursday and the first Friday, there is an extra unnamed day. Please fix.”

So I did. I was able to extract most of the scenes from that “extra” day and duct tape them into other spots in the book, but there was one scene that was left on the cutting room floor. It was a scene in which Beau goes to a hotel looking for Anne Corley, the new mystery woman in his life. When she isn’t in her room, he ends up drowning his sorrows in the bar where she comes looking for him. (Two things to say about that. Number 1: I had more than once dredged my former husband out of bars where he had no idea I’d be able to find him, doing so by spotting his truck parked on the street. Number 2: I thought it was a pivotal scene that demonstrated the instant and very mutual attraction between Beau and Anne Corley.)

Bottom line, I still miss that scene. And now, those of you who have read UPG can join me in mourning that missing scene as well. It’s the one that go away.

After that I learned my lesson. Once I started keeping a name file for each book, I started putting in a time stamp—day of the month, day of the week, and time of day—on each chapter. It’s something that has served me in good stead over the years—up until right now.

While writing Missing and Endangered, (M&E in my files) I did my name file in the time-tested fashion, applying a time stamp to each chapter on a book opening on a Monday morning in early December in the year 2017. (Choosing 2017 is totally arbitrary, I know, but it’s easier to write about the recent past than it is to predict the future.)

For a while I was writing along like mad and making excellent progress on M&E because we were snowed in. We couldn’t get up and down our hill and neither could company. For close to a week, we stayed home with no visitors while I focused on writing. Then the copy edited manuscript for Credible Threat—the next Ali book—arrived in my email in-box. Knowing I’d be away from Joanna while I dealt with Ali, I asked Bill to read what I had done so far on M&E. I figured that by going back through and installing his corrections, I’d be able to get back into the Joanna book after my detour through Ali.

And that’s what I was doing last night. I was sitting here working, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, Joanna’s life took a sudden spurt forward and moved directly from Thursday night to Saturday morning. In the process of adding in new material to the beginning of the book, I had somehow lost track of the weekdays, and rather than adding in an “extra-unnamed day” I had in fact skipped one. Let’s just call it a time warp!

So last night I went to bed, worrying about what to do. After a few hours of tossing and turning—between midnight and two a.m—I finally figured out a solution. Because I had only three nights to deal with, I moved the start of the book from Monday to Wednesday. Then I did a global search on my computer (something totally unavailable in 1983)—for every mention of a weekday, moving Mondays to Tuesdays and so forth.

M&E is fixed now, both in the manuscript and in the name file, and I’m able to move forward again. And trust me, it’s far easier to fix now before the manuscript is done that it would be at the line editing stage with another mind-boggling editorial letter.

I thought that my readers—and especially the ones who see me as a “prolific writer,” sailing in seemingly trouble-free fashion from book to book—might want to know that sometimes the sailing isn’t exactly trouble free.

Yes, if you see ducks out motoring around a pond, they, too, seem to be sailing smoothly along. The problem is, nobody sees those little webbed feet just out of sight beneath the surface of the water, paddling like crazy.

I just gave you a glimpse of my little webbed feet, and another window or two on my writerly world.

Enjoy, meantime I’m back to M&E on Saturday morning for real this time.


This week one of my blog readers from Canada went to band practice. The band leader, who is also my reader’s friend, was recounting how she just wasn’t feeling well. She was losing weight, felt nauseated much of the time, and didn’t want to eat because nothing tasted right. She said that her doctor told her it was probably the flu. Due to The A List paperback announcement, my reader encouraged her friend to go back to the doctor and ask to be tested for kidney function. Yesterday she got the results and yes, she does suffer from kidney dysfunction.

Am I ever glad I sent out that paperback announcement for The A List. Someone really was looking over my shoulder when I wrote it—and over my reader’s friend’s shoulder as well!

16 thoughts on “Paddling Like Crazy

  1. Thank you for sharing this information on a writer’s life. As a reader I never knew how many levels of work go into the books that I enjoy. Your characters feel like old friends after years of enjoying your books. Thanks for the hours you and others put into each book. I wondered how you and Bill weathered the situation with the snow and ice in your area. You used the time well.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all the magic going on behind the curtain. You are like Dorothy’s wizard, pulling strings and delivering amazing results. I’m learning so much from you!!! Thank you so much!

  3. So interesting. I love your ideas for time stamping and keeping the name file. Do you maintain the name file in handwritten form for example on index cards or do you keep your name file online?thank heavens for line editors who keep track of time for us and call attention to where we’ve called someone the wrong name. Inspiring. And I love the idea I’m taking a scene you couldn’t use in one place and putting it somewhere else. Have a great weekend

    • There’s a name file for each character. When it’s time to start a new book, the previous books name file moves to the file folder of the the new book. It’s the first file in that folder.

  4. I just finished Sins of the Fathers (the first frantic read through where I am desperate to find out what happens next; at some point soon I will read it again to enjoy the masterful writing). And yes, those little feet paddling under the water are appreciated if not seen.


  5. Ms. Jance, your books on detective Beaumont are my favorite; but do enjoy the adventures of Ali. I don’t enjoy when you do “team” books of Beaumont and your Joanna heroine. Please more Beaumont and Ali. Thank you.

  6. I love the explanation of how you fixed the “days of the week” issue. There are so many traps we need to negotiate when writing a book. I’m particularly touched by your PS at the end. I think you’ve definitely earned your “angel wings” in this life. The information you passed along about kidney disease was something I certainly never heard before, and apparently many doctors are behind the times too! You are definitely a blessing to your readers, but you are a Godsend to the dear lady who was able to possibly save her life because of your post. I’m betting there will be several more before you know it!

  7. I love your duck analogy! I can believe that! It is so interesting to read of, and have explained to, some of the mechanics of an author! I really need to print out a list of your different characters’ books. I’ve read most of them, but somehow I’ve missed the one in which Anne Corley dies. I’ve read many mentions of her from Beau’s memory, but I don’t know which book I’m need to look for. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, and for writing all of those wonderful books! I love all of your characters!

  8. That’s an interesting process; and a lot of work to write a book. I marvel that you can do Ali and Joanna and JP Beaumont with such different stories (and keep them all straight!!) Years ago I used to proof-read my English professor’s manuscripts! Hubby still asks me to look over everything he types up for various things.
    One suggestion I will make, and it pertains to most authors, please use the word concrete more than the word cement. Cement is a powder which is in concrete! (Many authors refer to the sidewalk as cement for example) Just a little quirk of mine, but hubby used to be in the concrete business!! carry on~~

  9. I’ve read and enjoyed all your books, but JP Beaumont is my very favorite. I tend, these days, to listen to the audio versions as I deign and/or piece quilt tops. (I leave the actual quilting process to a professional.) Gene Engene could read me the phone book! He’s the perfect person for JP.

    Your insights into the writing world make me admire you and other favorite authors even more.

    Your openness about your husband’s health challenge has helped at least one person – and I’m guessing it will help more.

    Thank you for al you do. You’ve brought much joy into my life with your various series. I anxiously await each new book!

  10. Glad that you were able to fix the days. I had a similar problem with one of the stories (Twelve Miles and a Hundred Years From Town) in my book – Life, Love, and Death. Instead of days, I had problems keeping my characters’ names straight!
    Finally did a flow chart and got it right. Utterly frustrating when my mind sees one name and the computer types in another!

  11. Dear JA,

    I just love your blog! My husband and I have been reading your books for years! I just caught up with this past month’s worth of blogs. What a shock to learn that your husband was so ill with kidney disease and what a blessing your information is to others.
    My favorite character is J.P. Beaumont. I wish you could write more books about him. My second favorite is Joanna. I like her very down-to-earth style. I think I’ve read all the Beaumont and Brady books and a number of Ali’s. Thanks so much for writing. You have given me hours and hours of pleasure.

  12. Personal to Judy
    Our friend and neighbor Barbara Alvord , in Scottsdale, has passed away peacefully this past week. Barbara was 89 years young A memorial service will be held on February 29th in Scottsdale. Barbara will be missed by our community

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