Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Unsung Heroines and Heroes by Aleksandr Voinov

Hi, I’m Aleksandr Voinov, and I’m glad to be here. Thanks for joining me on the Incursion virtual book tour! Feeling lucky? I’m giving away three prizes to commenters on any of the blog tour stops. Comment on this post (feel free to ask questions!) and you might win! The first winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate and a swag bag with assorted magnets, wrist-bands and other goodies. Two more lucky winners will receive swag bags as well. I ship internationally and will draw the winners from all commenters after the tour is over. Deadline for entry is 7/15/12. Please include your email address in your comment so that I can contact you.  Enjoy!
I want to talk a bit about things that went on behind the scenes when we made Incursion. I’ve talked elsewhere about the pieces of inspiration that came together to form Kyle’s story in my head. I want to talk about the things that went into making the ebook (rather than the story).
The process of making Incursion actually started with my first editor, Kristen Osborne. She may have chuckled indulgently at my email saying I thought the story was pretty clean and probably didn’t need much. At that stage, I’d edited it a few times myself, and with twenty years of publication history under my belt, ten years of coaching authors, and a literature degree, I always delude myself that I know what I’m doing.
Getting the edit back was a shock. The page was drenched in red. Like a dentist you’ve been avoiding for way too long, she prodded at every soft bit, hmmm’ed suspiciously and asked questions. Oh, all these damned questions. Like, “Why would he do that?” or “Is that consistent with what you said further up?” And my first response, always, is “Oh dear, that’s going to be work.” Then I flop down dejectedly on the couch downstairs and feel very sorry for myself. After all, by that point, I have a new story rampaging through my head and the Muse isn’t that keen on expending even one wing flap on something that’s “old” and “done.”
But always, I get to it. When I self-edit, my text changes about 5% (yes, I keep track of this). Usually, I tighten the text up and cut words. After Kirsten’s pass, I rewrote 20% of the text. That’s’ a good 5-6 thousand words. I added here, I cut there, I explained, I smoothed, I polished. I sent it back. I know that I’m actually a good worker at this stage, so I’m rewiring the whole thing with confidence. Even I can see that it’s getting better (and I’m usually text-blind by that stage).
“Great job, just a few more bits and pieces,” Kristen writes.
And yes, there was less red on the page this time, and there were whole passages without a single edit. By that stage, re-claiming my words from under the red flood is actually a delight. It’s like watching a wound heal. All the time, Kristen was a champion; she must have been sicker of the text than I was, but she was always lovely (but firm. It’s that no-nonsense, friendly firmness of a really professional editor).
I think the story went through ten versions in total, getting a little bit better after that first gigantic overhaul. It’s actually really fun to see what a good editor tickles out of a story that most others would consider “done”. The little cool ideas I came up with and that were triggered by her and that would never have happened if I’d worked with an editor keen to finish the job and move on. No, here’s an editor looking to do the best job possible. The difference to other editors in our genre is glaring, and I couldn’t be happier (or more exhausted) with Riptide Publishing’s quality-first approach.
We declared it done, then, I thanked her for the workout she’d given my text (and my poor, poor brain), and I moved on to Rachel Haimowitz, who’s probably the best editor I’ve ever worked with. Maybe that’s because we think very much alike and I trust her like I’d trust a brain surgeon about to drill open my skull. I thought the job was done and Rachel would only do a proofing pass.
When the story returns, there’s another damned question, and it was about the ending. While I was really happy that Rachel hadn’t seen the twists coming (tricking her is NOT easy), for her, the final revelation was too smooth, and she was right. In that version of the text, Kyle accepts his fate rather meekly, and she challenged me to really think that bit through again. I did. I added words, killed others.
After she was done with it, the emotional arch was more intense and the ending packed a much bigger punch than it had. In terms of rewritten words, it was just a few hundred words. But every one of those changes made the story better. It was the last polish applied to a properly-cut diamond.
While we were labouring away in editing, my cover artist, Jordan Taylor, was working on the cover. I’d sent her an early version of the story (draft 2). And she emailed and said the genetic angle would work best on the cover, so she searched for a good stock image and worked on it, changing colours and contrasts (and a dozen things that I don’t have the words for). The image she sent me was a perfect fit. Few artists go to the length to read the story they are making a cover for—just because sometimes the author is not the best person to suggest a cover image. Jordan will always spot something deeply symbolic to the story that’s much better than I would have come up with (a space ship, or a Maori warrior tattoo were my ideas, so you have Jordan to thank for the much cooler cover, I had nothing to do with it). She also fonted and arranged the title and my name on it to make sure it looks good even in thumb size.
Then LC Chase, art director at Riptide, stepped in. She chose the graphic element (the DNA strand) for the scene breaks, and did the overall layout. The tragedy of a layouter is that if they do a good job, the work is invisible. The story simply looks natural that way, and even though it considerably influences the “look and feel” of the ebook, it’s not work that people notice. You only notice it when layout goes wrong.
By that time, I’d written the blurb. Rachel went through it. She cut and trimmed and rearranged and made it all fit the story. I can be a bit self-indulgent in my own blurb-writing (I’m decent enough with other people’s blurbs, but mine are difficult), and Rachel cut all that. This fiddling can go on for days, and often does.
Then all the pieces were put together and Alex Whitehall, one of the other Riptiders, proofed the story (and found typos and minor things). Those got fixed, LC made the final PDF, and sent it to Jim, our converter, who creates our epub and mobi and html files. That work, too, is fiddly, and also allows us to put in last-minute corrections if any come up.
Last but not least, Stephanie Grober, our new marketing wizard, makes sure that Incursion gets blog tours like these, that reviewers receive copies, and get the book out there before it’s on sale. She’s manning Twitter and Facebook and researches more opportunities, and she’s amazing at it (getting authors to write ten blog posts is probably more difficult than herding cats). She’s been tremendously helpful and patient with me.
In the end, it seems unfair that my name is so large on the cover, and everybody else’s names is tiny on the page with the warnings and disclaimers and copyright notice. All their work is absolutely essential, or my readers would get a lump of text that might or might not make any sense. Even the books I’m writing on my own are group efforts, but I get all the credit. (Of course, I also get the negative reviews, so it balances a bit.) So, here’s my shout-out to the unsung heroes and heroines of the process. Thank you, guys, for your hard work!
(And if anybody has questions, I’m happy to respond to the in the comments.)
Fighting with your back to the wall is all well and good—as long as you’ve chosen the right wall.
When the local authorities ask Kyle Juenger to hunt a shape-shifting Glyrinny spy, he can’t refuse. After all, he can use the reward to replace his paralyzed legs with cyberware, and maybe even to return to his home planet. Besides, he hates the morphs—those invasive, brain-eating monstrosities whose weapons cost him his legs.
Kyle’s best lead is the Scorpion, a mercenary ship armed to the teeth. Grimm, the Scorpion’s pilot and captain, fascinates Kyle. He’s everything Kyle lost with his legs, and he’s from the same home world. He’s also of the warrior caste—half priest, half savior. But Grimm’s been twisted by life as a merc, and Kyle’s stuck undercover as a criminal on the run.
That doesn’t stop Grimm from coming on to Kyle, or from insisting he’s more than the sum of his past and his useless legs. But Kyle has other concerns—like tracking a dangerous morph who could be wearing anyone’s face. And as if things weren’t complicated enough, Kyle can’t tell if Grimm is part of the solution . . . or part of the problem.


Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London, where he makes his living editing dodgy business English so it makes sense (and doesn’t melt anybody’s brain). He published five novels and many short stories in his native language, then switched to English and hasn’t looked back. His genres range from horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, and fantasy to contemporary, thriller, and historical erotic gay novels.
In his spare time, he goes weightlifting, explores historical sites, and meets other writers. He singlehandedly sustains three London bookstores with his ever-changing research projects and interests. His current interests include World War II, espionage, medieval tournaments, and prisoners of war. He loves traveling, action movies, and spy novels.

Visit Aleksandr’s website at, his blog at, and follow him on Twitter, where he tweets as @aleksandrvoinov.


Val Kovalin said...

Hi, Aleks! What, I'm the first commenter? Unbelievable!

Well, I loved this in-depth look at what Riptide can do. Your two editors sound seriously awesome. I love this question, "Why would he [the character] do this?" That's when you know you're getting a great content edit.

Really, everybody involved sounds like a gifted and committed professional. A situation like this is as good as it can get for an author. I continue to be VERY impressed by Riptide.

LisaT131 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LisaT131 said...

I wonder if a book can be 'over' edited? Has that every happened to you, and how did that leave you feeling? Also, would it be as obvious to the reader as an 'under' edited book?

Thanks for a terrific post, Aleks, this was very informative.

Emme Adams said...

Yes, a very informative, behind-the-scenes post, Aleks. I'll have to share this with my fiction editing class, as we're about to start studying the editing process.

Aija said...

This is the stuff that really fascinates me - you could talk about it the whole day and I'd ask for more. :D
If I'm ever lucky enough to work in the business, I don't think I would mind being one of the unsung heroes.. but I guess that's in my nature. :)
Thanks for sharing about the process! All the ladies did a fantastic job on Incursion (and all the other Riptide books as well)! :)

pointycat said...

That was fascinating - I hadn't considering quite how much work there is in bringing a story to 'print' beyond the editing.

I do like the double helices as scene breaks :)

Kassandra said...


The behind the scenes work sounds very much akin to what happens side stage during a play. I helped out in the theater department when I was in college. I always had something to do with costumes, such as being the person side stage that assists everyone during their changes. It was always more grueling than glamorous but I thoroughly enjoyed being apart of the process.


Anonymous said...

What terrific editors that you work with that helped to make your story more impactful. It was so interesting to read about the amount of editing that was done.

I have to say that some m/m stories/ publishers appeared to lack this thorough or even a general editing overview.

strive4bst at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

A fresh pair of eyes always helps, it seems. It's probably also good to get some distance between yourself and the story if you've lived it nonstop for a while.


mc said...

Thanks for the behind the scenes look at the book creation process, Aleks. As quality control (anything from proofing to continuity issues) often seems to be a topic of discussion, especially as it relates to ebooks, it's quite informative to see all the elements--and professionals--that go into the final product.

And, as Lisa alluded to upthread, I, too, am curious about your thoughts on over-editing.

Congratulations on the new book.

Justine Anderson said...

I finished Incursion this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it, loved the twists and ending.

It's really interesting to find out how much work goes on behind the scenes before we get to read the finished product. It's amazing how much difference a well proofed and formatted book can make. I didn't realise it would increase my enjoyment of a book so much, however, I recently read a couple of books which could have done with probably half of the work that went into yours.

As always with your stories Aleks one which left me feeling fulfilled and yet yearning for more at the same time.

Thanks for sharing the magic that goes on behind the scenes.


Ilhem said...

Thanks to everyone, then!!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Val - Thanks. I'm really happy there (and not just saying that because I own a chunk of it).

Lisa - I've only encountered "over-edited" books when an author was tinkering with it for like 5 years and kept rewriting everything and burdening the prose with clever little things. In our genre, I haven't encountered any editor who put in "too much" work. Though there are some self-styled editors out there who try to re-write a story how they'd like it or who step on the voice of the author, but those people are amateurs that should never be allowed near a manuscript. Haven't met one in our genre yet, thankfully, but I imagine it can happen.

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Emme - Any questions you might have, I'm happy to answer. Obviously, the really interesting bits are when things go really badly wrong (and I have examples of that).

Aija - In a way, you're one of them, with all the typo hunting you're doing. :)

Pointycat - Yes, it's quite crazy when you look at it from the outside. Most people know there's an editor, but the other team members are all but invisible, which is a shame. I could never do this alone.

Kassandra - Yep. Any kind of support role is like that. I mean, I have a similar situation in my daily job, where I'm the one who drafts press releases and makes analysts sound smart and make sure that the German side doesn't rewrite press releases to mean something they shouldn't. It's not glamorous, but it's absolutely vital. Thanks for commenting!

Jess1 - I was similarly impressed with Carina's Deborah Nemeth and Samhain's Sasha Knight. Though Rachel is my brain twin, she knows exactly what I tried to say, and that kind of bond/connection is very difficult to get, so I'm blessed with her. And Kristen is very very good, too. But I agree - I think the vast majority of books published in our genre are shoddy product - that they are readable at all is very often an accomplishment of an editor who's a good self-editor or their betas/hired editors. The shoddy editing overall was one of the driving forces behind founding Riptide. It's very much a "don't bitch about the darkness, light a godsdamned candle!" kind of moment for us. Thanks for commenting!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Anon - Absolutely. Editors are my sanity-check. By the time I hand the story in, I'm really tired of it, and see very little problems (actually, none at all), so getting their take on it is always enlightening (after the initial "oh hell" thing has worn off). Thanks for commenting!

mc - Thank you for commenting. The big challenge is to make sure everybody involved gets paid what they are worth, or at least an approximation of it. If editing is so shabby in the genre, it's because most publishers pay absolute peanuts to their editors. And if you make, say 200 USD to work on a novel, it would be uneconomic to pour in the 50-70 hrs of work that it takes to make the novel good. Nobody likes working for a third-world salary, and good editors don't have to. (If you consider that a great freelancer can easily charge 50-70 USD per hour, and I know what I could charge on the open market for financial editing over here). So it's the pressure to produce quickly and cheaply that means we are getting shoddy books.
Regarding over-editing - I haven't encountered it in this genre or even in traditional publishing. It's very often authors who over-edit a text here (usually a debut book they might have sat on for 5-10 years - I've seen a few of those in my old circles in Germany). Also, I need your email adress! :)

Justine - There are whole publishers I'm not buying from because their editing is so awful. (My favourite sentence, from the middle of a sex scene - "He road him hard." - Gee, bring out the traffic cops - and that was just one of many howlers) I know some authors manage to self-edit very well even at houses that basically don't edit, but I always wonder, say, if you're giving away 75% percent of your royalties in exchange for a comma check (and even that is often done shoddily), don't you deserve to be treated with more respect? That's the big clincher for me - I want a publisher to respect my hard work, so I expect them to work as diligently on it as I did. Sadly, there are maybe only two or three houses where I found that respect.

And thank you for your kind words - I'm glad you enjoyed it. It humbles me every time (in a good way!). Without readers, words are dead on the page, so thank you!

Emily said...

Wow, I had no idea how much work goes in to going from rough draft to final product. I'm an editor and people don't always realize how much input and work editors put in. I know I've had friends complain about all the red when I return their work to them. But it's worth it in the end. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to everyone who had a part to play in this book!

aleksandr said...

Emily - You guys are heroes. In at least one case, where the editor made us re-write the last 25% of the novel from scratch, editors really pull the bacon out of the fire. And dealing with whiny, insecure or diva-ing authors must be pure horror. I sometimes think an editor needs to be part therapist. :)