Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Editorial Process of COMPULSION by Heidi Ayarbe & Giveaway

This post has got to be the coolest post EVER for Books Complete Me. Today, we have a guest post from Ruta Rimas, Assistant Editor at Balzar + Bray, outlining the editorial process for Heidi Ayarbe's newest book, Compulsion. If you have any interest whatsoever in what it takes to be an author and how the editing side of things happen, this post is going to be simply amazing for you. Needless to say, I am ECSTATIC we have the honor of posting it. Without further adieu, enjoy! 

P.S. There is an amazing giveaway down below. Be sure to check it out.

P.S.S. Click on the pictures below to get a closer look. It's awesome! 

The editorial process of COMPULSION by Heidi Ayarbe

by Ruta Rimas, Asst. Editor, Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

It all began one fateful Monday morning…

August 24, 2009
Heidi’s agent sent in the project, then titled THE DOUBTING. I read the submission, which at that stage was a partial manuscript, and fell in love. I knew, just knew, that I needed to buy it, so  I shared the pages with the Balzer + Bray team, and we all agreed—this was a special story by a tremendously talented writer. We wanted Heidi to find a home on the B+B list!

So on…
September 23, 2009
I presented the project to our acquisitions team and they felt the same way—Heidi is a talent and her manuscript is superb. Later that afternoon, I called Heidi’s agent and made a two-book offer. By 7 p.m. the deal was done.

Then came the hard part: For me, it was waiting for the first draft. The hard part for Heidi was finishing a novel.

February 5, 2010
I looked in my inbox and there it was.
I read the draft. And reread. And reread it again. I loved it—Heidi absolutely blew me away with the depth of Jake’s character and how his narrative made me feel like I was so in his head. When I first brought the project in for discussion, I thought it was something really special…and this draft confirmed that it truly was.

I hobbled together my notes, and…

March 18, 2010
My six-page edit letter makes its way to Heidi. It wasn’t too long of a letter (right, Heidi? Right?). But over the course of the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book! On the 22nd, I sent Heidi some more notes. This time, only two pages.

This first round of notes focused on the larger aspects of the story: the overall flow of the narrative, character development, relationships. Big picture things.  For example, I asked Heidi about the friendship between Jake and Mera:

I’d love to see more interaction between Jake and Mera. They haven’t been friends for so long, so why now is Jake talking to her? Maybe they are paired together on a project at school? Or, because they are neighbors, Mera’s parents ask Jake to take care of something for them?  And this forces them to interact, which leads to the very important question that Mera asks: “Are you okay?”

After I sent the letter, Heidi responded to my notes. And then I responded to her notes with handwritten ones, so that before she embarked on the revision, we ended up with a comprehensive thirteen-page document for Heidi to reference.

Here is Heidi’s response to the excerpt above, with my notes, too.

 May 1, 2010
Draft #2, and now with final title, COMPULSION

If you can believe it, as much as I loved the first draft…I loved the second one even more! In Heidi’s revision, she tightened up and deepened the relationships and reworked some of the plot (which included removing a character named JJ Rosa and one particularly gruesome burial scene). We were able to focus on smaller but important details—mom’s OCD, playing with chapter names/numbers/structure, specific scene adjustments, etc.

For example, I wrote this in my second letter to Heidi:

Mom’s OCD
I am thrilled with the way you’ve developed the relationships within Jake’s family. A stand-out job.

Regarding the mother’s OCD, I think subtly here is key, and so I suggest cutting the part on p.20. I don’t want the mother’s affliction to be overbearing or too extreme and I think that the morgue reference is a bit much. It’s the little things that she does that add up to the loads of frustration that Jake and Kasey feel.

Heidi and corresponded over email with more ideas, suggestions, questions, so there wasn’t a massive document for her reference during the revision, just bits and pieces, here and there.

June 3, 2010
Draft #3
We’re in a good place! This draft is now about the micro. That means line edits! In interest of saving time, I sent thorough electronic line edits using track changes to Heidi. We were almost there!

Here is an example of the first page of line edits:

 If you’ve read COMPULSION or seen the first page, and the opening is slightly different than what I originally suggested to Heidi in my first comment.

This was Heidi’s response to my first comment:

 Heidi and I brainstormed together and agreed—Jake would NEVER open with chapter one. It’s a number that doesn’t make sense to him because it is not a prime number. But opening with chapter two seemed off somehow, so we thought—why not throw the reader right in, get us in Jake’s head by eliminating chapter one, but opening the book with “Wednesday, 6:13 p.m.” on its own page. Then chapter two begins.

June 14, 2010
Three drafts (well, actually four, if you count the initial proposal), I submitted the final manuscript to copyediting.

And then COPYEDITS…but that’s a whole other blog post for another time.

May 3, 2011
COMPULSION is on sale!

Even though my role is integral in this entire process, it’s fascinating to me to look back and examine the evolution from submission to final book.

I’ll leave you with a peek at the opening lines of COMPULSION in each draft:

I open my left eye, count to three, and watch as the blurry numbers take form. Then I open my right eye.

Five-oh-eight. Five plus eight equals thirteen. OK. Five minus eight equals three. OK. Three plus three equals six plus eight equals fourteen plus three equals seventeen. OK. Seventeen plus eight equals twenty-five minus five equals twenty plus eight equals twenty-eight. Fuck. Minus five equals twenty-three. OK.

Draft #1:
My ass hurts.
Nineteen people squirm on wooden benches. Seven people (two men and five women) fan themselves with JJ Rosa’s salmon-colored memorial service program; three (all men) talk in hushed voices; two women lean together, one wrapping her left arm around the right shoulder of the other; three people (two men and one woman) have their heads down, maybe praying, maybe sleeping.

Draft #2:
Tanya Reese’s Tinkerbell tattoo glitters on her pale shoulder with sparkling fairy dust. She shivers. It’s November and she’s wearing an off-the-shoulder shirt. Mom would say, “Not weather appropriate.” I don’t offer her my jacket because I can’t help but wonder how far the fairy dust goes and am thanking the Gods of fashion for this latest look.

Draft #3:
Tanya Reese’s Tinkerbell tattoo glitters on her pale shoulder with sparkling fairy dust. She shivers. It’s November and she’s wearing an off-the-shoulder shirt. Mom would say, “Not weather appropriate.” I don’t offer her my jacket because I’m not a fucking boy scout and would rather stare at the goose-bumped flesh and follow the trail of golden dust, imagining where it might lead me.

Tanya Reese’s Tinkerbell tattoo flits on her pale shoulder, blowing on a dandelion, its fluff spiraling down her back. Tanya shivers. It’s November and she’s wearing an off-the-shoulder shirt. Mom would say, “Not weather appropriate.” I don’t offer her my jacket because I’m not a fucking boy scout and would rather stare at the goose-bumped flesh and imagine where the trail of wispy dandelion seeds might lead me. Blow hard and make a wish.

I can’t believe the change from submission to draft #1 to the final. What a difference!

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour. Being Heidi’s editor is a terrific honor--I am so humbled by her brilliance—and I am thrilled to have had this opportunity to share the journey that Heidi and I took as we worked on COMPULSION.

For the next week, Heidi and I are excited to answer any questions you may have about the editorial process. Please ask in the comments, and we’ll respond as soon as we can.

Ruta Rimas is an editor for Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. You can follow her on twitter, @RutaRascal.

Heidi Ayarbe grew up in Nevada and has lived all over the world. She now makes her home in Colombia with her husband and daughter. She is also the author Freeze Frame and Compromised. You can visit her online at www.heidiayarbe.com. Follow her on twitter, @HeidiAyarbe.

  • There will be TWO winners: 
    • 1 person will win a signed copy of Compulsion - U.S. & Canada mailing addresses only.
    • 1 person will win a THREE page critique of their book/work in progress by Ruta Rimas - Open Internationally. 
  • Giveaways end Monday, May 2, 2011 at midnight EST.
  • Fill out THIS form to enter.


  1. This boggles my mind in a good way. It's really interesting to get to see how an editor can help the author edit to get to the point where the idea is portrayed in the best way possible.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I'm working on my own edits right now before querying for an agent and this is a big help into how things work! I have to ask though, Ruta, what is the first thing you look for in a manuscript?
    Thanks! :)

  3. How fascinating to see how Heidi's work changed over time, and to see the timescale along with it. Thanks so much for sharing this! And for the giveaway opportunities!

  4. Amazing...SO much goes on behind the scenes to get a novel ready to be published....

  5. Thanks so much for your comments, everyone. It was a fascinating experience to think about Compulsion from start to finish. I can’t believe that I first laid my eyes on it almost two years ago!

    @Valia—Great question. The first thing that I look for in a manuscript is great writing. Of course, that encompasses not only the mechanics of the writing, but also how the writer approaches the manuscript. For instance, in the case of Compulsion, I was swept away by how Heidi conceived of Jake’s obsession. I saw a willingness to push the boundaries of conventional structure, and that to me was great.

  6. Wow, this was interesting. I never knew how it all worked out between an editor and author. I beta read for an author but it is not the same. I am totally fascinated by the process. I love reading and I worked part time in a book store and met and talked with many authors about their books but none went into depth on what an editor does or the process of submission to printing. Very cool! Makes me appreciate what authors do.

  7. @Ruta - Thank you so much for being part of this post! Is there any one advice you can give an author reading her manuscript for query?

  8. THIS IS SO COOL!!!!! I would really love to see more of these kinds of posts. As an aspiring editor, it was really neat to see the editorial process behind a book. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is fantastic. Is is usually about a month from when a submission comes in to the acquisitions table (provided you're interested) or do some take longer/shorter? Also, what is B+B looking for right now? What are you looking for?

  10. This was so helpful. I have a manuscript that is almost ready to send out. I am wondering how finished it needs to be. Do you get an idea of whether you want to work with a story no matter what "stage" it is at? I mean do you know what is worth working with and what isn't? I feel like my story is ready to submit and share but I also know that it could be changed.

  11. Hi All! (Heidi chiming in here) I know most of your questions are geared for Ruta, but I didn't want to be remiss and NOT comment on the process.
    From my POV, I think the most important thing as an author is to be open to ideas, challenges and NOT be afraid to let go of some things and TRY other things. Like wacky things that kind of niggle at your brain and you think, "Would that work?" Try it (KEEPING YOUR ORIGINAL DRAFT!) You never know.
    I'm always amazed at how Ruta sees a book 100 times better than I could possibly imagine. When I read editorial notes, I think, "Wow. That'd be a great book. Oh, hell. That's supposed to be MY book. How do I do that?" Then I panic. Then I get to work.
    Anyway, I hope you all have a good evening and feel productive!

  12. Good morning, everyone! Thank you for your questions. I’ve tried to keep the responses short, but sometimes I get carried away, so, here goes:

    I think your question is asking about advice on the query process—so forgive me if I am misinterpreting.

    My one piece of advice I can give an author regarding queries is to keep everything professional. I’m typically not at the receiving end of queries (HarperCollins is closed to unsolicited submissions), but I know that my agent colleagues appreciate professionalism.

    The timeline varies extraordinarily, depending on the project. There is no typical rule of thumb, unfortunately. I’ve known manuscripts to be bought on the day of submission and I’ve known manuscripts that have taken several months to be brought to meetings.

    B+B is always on the lookout for fresh talent and great writers, from picture book through YA.

    Personally, my tastes tend to focus on novels, both middle-grade and YA. I look for smart fiction, with strong hooks, challenging (perhaps controversial) topics, and great writing.

    The short answer—the manuscript that you send out needs to be 100% finished. It needs to be the best. It needs to be polished. You have to believe in it.

    All this with the understanding that if it is acquired, you will have a fresh set of eyes from a person whose job it is to make good manuscripts even better. So yes, the draft you send out will change if it is acquired.

    Any submission that I see and that I buy will go through rounds of edits, but it is absolutely vital that you, when you are seeking representation, send the prospective agent the best possible draft. My suggestion is that before you send it out, don’t look at the manuscript for a month. Then, reread it and, if you think it is ready, send it out.

    I’d like to add that one of the reasons that I saw a partial manuscript for COMPULSION is that this book was her option book, and according to her previous contract with HarperCollins, I only needed to evaluate a partial. I would not suggest sending a partial manuscript for submission. Your books needs to be completely written and you need to have a vision for it.

    This is terrific advice. The editorial process is collaborative, with one end goal—to produce the best book ever!
    And, you write fabulous books

  13. Ruta - This was fascinating as well as awesome. I loved seeing your edits in track changes. (I also love how Heidi commented that the type was so tiny.) Is there anything you wish you could change about track changes?

    Ruta/Heidi - Is there any reason for why the opening changed so much? I love the original opening with the numbers. But then I also like how we hear Jake's voice in the final.

    Heidi - Can't wait to read this. I always think of you when I see Cheerios.

    I'm hoping I might be able to make it to CC for your launch party next week. (It just depends on whether or not I have jury duty next week and if my car will make it over the Sierras.)

    New Heidi Ayarbe Book! Woo Hoo!

  14. @Chris
    Thank you so much for your support! I hope that you enjoy COMPULSION as much as you did FREEZE FRAME and COMPROMISED.

    Track changes is a funny little thing. At first, there were many things I disliked about it…but I have grown to love it! I don’t know if I would change anything about it.

    Regarding the opening scene—the original one is great, I agree! So great, in fact, that Heidi incorporates it later on it the book.

    But it didn’t seem right for the opening. I thought it was important to first meet Jake in a normal teenage situation, and immediately feel the power of his compulsion in conjunction with interacting with others. It is, after all, how he lives his day-to-day—he hides and compensates. And so, Heidi and I discussed, and this scene at In-N-Out burger particular seemed to fit the bill.

  15. @Chris ... Sorry I didn't respond beforehand. It's been crazy with travel and more ... I have to echo what Ruta said about changing the beginning ... showing Jake in a normal situation then showing how he breaks down. I think it was stronger that way. And, so you know, I'm in CHEERIOS HEAVEN. Doggonit, my love for that cereal is abnormal. Hmmm ...
    Anyway, congrats to the winners. MAILINGS NEXT WEEK!!



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