editing together header

Collaborative Editing: Further Evidence That Holly and Lauren Are Probably Completely Bonkers

Editing, like writing and reading, is generally pictured as a solitary process. The editor locks themselves away with the manuscript, reading through it, carefully inspecting every line, making notes in the margins (or just as likely in today’s world, adding comments in track changes). And there’s something to that… I’ve definitely spent a lot of time alone in my room valiantly defending scattered manuscript pages from my cat Isis while I edit.

Isis -- Holly West

But, that’s not the whole story… especially when you’re talking about Swoon Reads. Maybe it’s because the creative side of my brain is hardwired directly to my mouth and I don’t really know what I’m thinking until I’ve talked it out, or maybe it’s the nature of Swoon Reads, where we like to crowdsource everything, or maybe it comes from having Jean as a mentor and getting used to running all my major editorial ideas past her before sharing them with the authors, but we’ve come up with a much more social and collaborative editorial process.

First, since it’s Swoon Reads, we’re starting with a bit more information than I normally have for any given book… We have all of the fabulous comments from our Swoon Readers, plus the initial discussion from our Editorial Board about what elements the group at large is loving about a book vs. what isn’t quite working for people.

Second, because we are ALL book people, the fabulous Lauren Scobell and our amazing Swoontern Emily and I can’t help but chat about our wonderful new titles (even when we really are supposed to be working on something else), so there are way too many meetings that devolve into impromptu brainstorming sessions.

Thus, when we finally get to the point where we have time to really focus on a particular title, we already have a general idea of what the book should be. So, Lauren and I will get together, pick a date when we both have large chunks of time available, and will book a conference room for the entire afternoon. Then, we each grab a copy of the manuscript and reread the book, pulling our thoughts and individual notes together. These include:

– Scenes and quotes that make us smile and CANNOT BE LOST

– Things that aren’t quite working for us and MUST BE FIXED

– Questions about anything that we find SUPER CONFUSING

– And, on my side at least, there’s usually a GIANT OUTLINE of the entire book to serve as a basis for the edit letter.

Then we grab some food and snacks (typically book themed — for Kiss Cam there were Pop Tarts; for No Love Allowed we grabbed lunch from McDonald’s before we got started; These Vicious Masks required cupcakes; etc and so forth) for brain food, and basically lock ourselves in a conference room for four to eight hours and talk our way through the book.

Literally. We each have a manuscript and a laptop (well, I use my beloved iPad — Now with Microsoft Word which makes me VERY happy) in front of us, and we go through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, and occasionally even page by page or line by line.

The really fun part of this is, despite the fact that Lauren and I are both in love with all the same books, we invariably come at them from two totally different perspectives. So the discussions are varied, often intense, incredibly surprising, and really valuable.

We always want to give the author options, so having different ways of addressing the feedback we give helps. We will each come up with our own ideas, and let the author decide if one of those options works. And many times, it’s at least a good jumping off point for the author to come up with something even better. Collaboration gives the author more to work with, and we can catch more!

Here are a few memorable moments, just to give you a glimpse of how crazy we are:

These Vicious Masks: At one point in the book they are in a music hall/brothel and Evelyn is in disguise with Sebastian up on a balcony. She sees Mr. Kent coming up the stairs toward them and panics, not wanting to be seen.

 Holly: I’m really confused about the actual action here.


Lauren: What do you mean? This is where they kiss. It’s awesome.


Holly: Well yes, the kiss is awesome, I’m just not sure how they get there BEFORE the kiss.


Lauren: Well… they’re at the top of the stairs… and then Mr. Kent is coming *fans self*, and then… *Shrug*


Holly: I think it’s kind of important to be able to visualize this bit. OK, let’s act it out. You be Sebastian.

And then I proceeded to move Lauren around like a living prop while we acted out where people were standing before Mr. Kent came up the stairs. Chairs and tables had starring roles as stairs and bannisters and such. We were able to figure out where the positioning was to clarify the scene.

Kiss Cam: At a couple of points in the book, our three heroes are driving to school together (during the winter). Jasper and Lenny are in the front and Juniper is curled up in the back, and no one is talking.

 Holly: We have to fix the car scenes.


Lauren: What are you talking about?! I love the car scenes, they’re one of my favorite parts!


Holly: I just don’t understand why they’re so mad at each other.


Lauren: What do you mean mad at each other? They’re not mad, they’re just cold!


Holly: …What.


Lauren: It’s a thing. If you went to high school in a cold area, it makes sense. There’s an unspoken rule that when it’s cold and dark and you have to drive to school at ass o’clock in the morning, there is NO TALKING.


Holly: I grew up in the South. In the South when you wake up, it’s nice and warm and you have to talk to each other and play the music really loud to keep each other from falling asleep. If you’re not talking, you’re mad.


Lauren: We can’t change it!


Holly: Then we have to explain it, because I was lost. Anyone else who grew up in the South would be lost, too.

This was a simple addition of a few words to clarify, but made the scene work for both of us (you’d be surprised at the number of northeast/south differences we come across!).

No Love Allowed: At one point in the book, Caleb is over at Didi’s house because he has agreed to sit for one of her paintings. In the draft we had, he takes his shirt off (as a joke) and then promptly puts it back on.

 Holly: WHY. Why is he doing this?!


Lauren: What?


Holly: No, really. All the way through the book, it’s a running joke that Didi is going to paint people naked. And here she FINALLY gets Caleb – Caleb, the SWOONWORTHY Caleb – with his shirt off and he immediately puts it back on!


Lauren: But the next bit is really emotional and sad. Ish. It would probably be distracting if his shirt is off.


Holly: So? It’s distracting me now when his shirt is on. C’mon, be honest, wouldn’t you rather have a hot shirtless boy?


Lauren: OK, sold.

And then we proceeded to spend a VERY valuable 30-45 minutes figuring this out. And then we high-fived. What? It was important!

And it’s ALWAYS great when we both fall in love with the same moment (Lauren has actually started keeping a list of scenes/lines we particularly love, so that we can find them later when we need them for marketing). Or have the same thoughts about the same character (Let us tell you about our love for Mr. Kent… There is no end to our love for Mr. Kent).

And then of course, by the time we get to the end, we’re both a little loopy and slap happy and filled with this incredible sense of accomplishment because we are JUST SO EXCITED to actually read the next draft of the book and to share all our brainstorms with the author.

The worst/best part is when we think we are done and everything is settled and then as we are wrapping up, one of us suddenly has a brainstorm and suddenly we are spending another hour brainstorming chapter titles (I’m looking at you All the Feels… with lots and lots of love because it was an incredible brainstorm and these chapter titles are going to be awesome, wait until you see them!!!!!).

But eventually, we will declare ourselves done (for real this time) and head home triumphant. We let our notes sit for a day or two, and then when my brain is fresh, I comb back through them… clarifying and explaining and basically line editing the edit letter. Once I’m fairly sure it makes sense, I send it off to Lauren and Emily to see if I’ve forgotten anything, and to make sure that none of the notes are too out there or esoteric and then we all take a deep breath and send it off to the author with fingers crossed.

I know it probably sounds a little crazy, and Jean and Liz both seemed a bit shocked when we first told them about it (Jean’s limit for editorial meetings is an hour, and hour and a half at MOST), but honestly, even though it’s a lot of work and time, we feel that it’s completely worth it, because I know it makes the notes and thus the books themselves SO MUCH STRONGER! Also, it’s a TON of fun!

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

See More