Has your tiny, collegiate body ever ingestsed a beautiful novel and thought, “Wow, this is all I want to create and more! The plot twists, the unexpected heroism, the heartwarming message – every part of this book-reading experience is glorious, and I would love to replicate it with words of my own!” These may or may not have been the thoughts of soon-to-be-published YA author Rioghnach Robinson ’16, whose book Seven Ways We Lie (published under the pseudonym “Riley Redgate”) hits shelves March 8th. We asked Robinson a few questions regarding her book and her writing process. Aspiring novelists, take note!
The Kenyon Thrill: Can you give us a brief summary of your book?
Robinson: Yes! Narrated from the perspective of seven high school juniors, one for each of the seven deadly sins, Seven Ways We Lie explores how the ripple effect from a teacher-student relationship forces each of the seven to confront their central flaw.
- You write the book.
- You edit the book to your best possible ability.
- You submit the book to literary agents (“querying”) and rack up rejections until you’re completely demoralized.
- You eventually sign with an agent and feel like you’re hot shit for like four days, until …
- Your agent sends you an intimidating list of revisions. You then edit the book with your agent until they deem it submissions-ready. (This varies from agent to agent. My agent is extremely editorial, which I love; some agents sign a client and immediately put them out on submission.)
- Submissions. Using great and terrible magic, your agent gets your book on the desk of editors at various publishing houses.
- The editors read the book. If one of them loves it enough to fight for an acquisition, it goes to acquisitions meetings in the publishing house.
- And if the house loves it too, then they make an offer. (If multiple houses love it, it goes to auction!) Your agent negotiates to get you the best possible deal, and you either take it or leave it.
- You obviously take it, because this is your “life’s dream” or whatever.
The editorial process happens after sale, and it’s another ball game entirely. You do pass after pass of edits with the editor who acquired you. This varies, but I did three rounds, steadily moving from macro-level edits (“Remove this subplot!”) to micro-level (“This particular metaphor is weird!”). Then it was two rounds of copyediting, which means everything from grammar to consistency (“How did this person’s eyes change from blue to brown between chapter 3 and 17?” etc). That’s the bulk of it. Post-copyedit, you also get what’s called “first pass pages”–basically, the first version of the book that looks like a book rather than a MS Word doc. Second pass, third pass, etc. may also be a thing, but they weren’t part of my personal process. The things you notice in pass pages are really the last changes you get to put in.
That was a long answer. But yeah. Long process.
RR: Yikes, I don’t know. Yeah, it’s been a logistical nightmare to time-manage the whole thing, but hell if I’m complaining, because 1) I brought this on myself and 2) it would be absurd to be like, “Oh no, life’s so hard, my childhood aspiration is coming to life.” I hate compromising schoolwork, but since this is a job, and a pretty unreliable job with regard to time commitment, it has to happen sometimes, alas.
It was a lot harder last year, when I was still in edits. These days, I try to do publishing-related commitments (promotion, etc.) on weekends.
RR: Editing. My editor, Anne Heltzel, is brilliant, and working with her has been a delight. She gives the sort of comprehensive, hard-hitting, and compassionate edit letters that make you want to dive into work right away. My first editing round was kind of insane–I ripped out one of the three main plots and redrafted about 40,000 words of material–but Anne’s guidance made the process less excruciating and more exhilarating. Anyway, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching something transform into its better self.