Posted On October 23, 2015 by Print This Post

Editing: A Matter of Butt in the Chair by Jeffrey Marks

When I met Jeffrey Marks at a book signing in Cincinnati, Ohio many years ago, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. Right up with romance and romantic suspense, my other favorite genre is mystery – and I particularly love mystery short stories. At the time we met, I already had two anthologies Jeffrey edited on my keeper shelf – CANINE CRIMES and MAGNOLIAS AND MAYHEM. magnolias and mayhemA fellow Agatha Christie fan (and that’s an understatement for both of us), Jeff also introduced me to a little known Golden Age author, Craig Rice, in his book, WHO WAS THAT LADY?. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of Jeffrey Marks’ books, you’ve come to the right place! Jeff will giveaway a copy of LOVE STINKS (A Marissa Scott mystery) to one of today’s commenters. (See details below.)

I know that many people love editing, the part of writing where the text is shaped and formed. They wax poetic about the process, likening it to making David out of marble. I could wax poetic about editing, but I’d probably use Paradise Lost as my quote.

For me, editing is a drudge. It’s not that I don’t see the need for it. I do indeed, trust me. However, for me it’s a repetitive process that can take weeks, if not months.


A first draft is a car trip that opens new vistas and new experiences. I write as a semi-pantser (would that be cargo shorts?) I can’t write totally by the seat of my pants. Since I write mysteries, I have to know where I’m going and what clues need to be put out for the reader to follow. However, at the same time, writing the first draft is an adventure that takes me (and hopefully the reader) to new and different places. I don’t outline too much, because I feel locked into the outline without the joy of discovery.

I’ve never come up with a way to make editing exciting in the same way. For me, editing is a matter of butt in the chair. The first few rounds of editing (of conservatively 12 rounds of edits for me) will ensure that the clues are properly placed and the continuity is correct. I tend to sketch out the plotlines and timelines and take notes on continuity. I don’t want any 15 minute trips to become a two hour drive. I do some storyboarding these days and use colored Post-it Notes to represent what the hero is up to, what the villain is doing, and any clues that need to be added. (Of course, I use blue for clues!)

Then comes the character edits. I want to ensure that my characters are behaving consistently. I do this after the plot changes, because I feel that in the mystery genre, plot has to be king. I make sure that my characters don’t change names, hair color, eye color, or clothes without mention. So I make sure that my characters don’t go to the same store twice without leaving. A character won’t say that he won’t perform some action – and then do it without a lot of whining. Then the characters have to be consistent in their clothes and location as well.

Then I start looking for clichés, unneeded words and other writing quirks. I replace the clichés with better images. With the unneeded words I’ve used some of the smart edit programs to look for repeated adjectives and adverbs. Apparently I’m a real sucker for “just” and “that.”  These programs are about the only way I’ve found to speed up the process and the time savings are fairly small in comparison to the overall time spent.


Finally I get down to the words themselves. I don’t mind this as much, because I teach language mechanics all day at school. So when it comes down to it, I know the rules of grammar. Before I started teaching, it was more difficult to remember the rules of grammar, but now it’s second-nature to me.

So how so I get myself through a process that I dread? I have a few tried and true tricks.

  • I reward myself with something when I complete a big job. I’ve been known to buy myself a mystery first edition when I complete a particularly grueling edit. This will keep my eyes on the prize and usually keep me focused.
  • I break down the task into smaller pieces, such as 50 pages of plot today – or 20 pages of character
  • I take the manuscript with me everywhere, so when I run out of things to do on the road, I’ll turn to editing.
  • And sometimes I just force myself in the old-fashioned do it or else mentality.

anthony boucher

While I get other people to look at my works once I’m nearing the end of the process, I don’t outsource the actual editing itself. First, the rates for the types of editing I do (developmental first, and then line editing) are expensive. I would prefer to save myself the money. I do get my works copyedited because as many times as I might read through something I can still miss a comma or a misspelled word. Second, I’m the only one who sees my vision for the book and I can’t give that responsibility to someone else. So I’m stuck with the process.

The worst part is when the readers make suggestions regarding large changes to the narrative – and then I get to do this all again!


Do you dread editing as much as I do? Any suggestions or ideas on how to make it more fun or interesting?

Tessa Shapcott joins us on Monday, October 26.



One of today’s commenters will receive a free copy of Jeffrey Marks’ book LOVE STINKS – the winner will have the opportunity to select the format, paperback or ebook. Here’s Amazon’s blurb for LOVE STINKS: “In this prequel to the Malice Domestic Grant-winning title, The Scent of Murder, cosmetic manager Marissa Scott must contend with the arrival of Steve Douglas, a local man made good in Hollywood. Steve’s in town to promote his new fragrance, Perchance, and his latest film. When Steve keels over at the store in front of hundreds of fans, the police step in to solve the murder. However, Marissa must contend with missing cases of Perchance, new employees, and a killer who thinks she might be getting too close to the answers.”





Jeffrey Marks is a long-time mystery fan and freelancer.  After numerous mystery author profiles, he chose to chronicle the short but full life of mystery writer Craig Rice.


That biography (Who Was That Lady?) encouraged him to write mystery fiction. His works include Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and a biography of mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher entitled Anthony Boucher. It was nominated for an Agatha and fittingly, won an Anthony.


His work has won a number of awards including the Barnes and Noble Prize and he was nominated for a Maxwell award (DWAA), an Edgar (MWA), three Agathas (Malice Domestic), two Macavity awards, and three Anthony awards (Bouchercon). Today, he writes from his home in Cincinnati, which he shares with his spouse and three dogs.



Twitter: @jeffrmarks

THE SCENT OF MURDER (A Marissa Scott Mystery)


A fun read about the goings-on in a busy shopping mall that climax in murder in a department store. Is the scented vandalism connected with the murder?

That’s the question Marissa found herself trying to answer when the bloody body of the woman who stole her husband was found lying over her desk. Can Marissa keep herself from being charged with murder? That’s the second question she needed to find an answer for–and fast.

An ailing child, an incompetent boss, an ex-husband in mourning for his lost love, and a pushy boyfriend add to Marissa’s problems, making a complex situation seem almost chaotic. In her search for answers, Marissa learns people aren’t what they seem, particularly the dead woman.


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18 Responses to “Editing: A Matter of Butt in the Chair by Jeffrey Marks”

  1. I agree on the chunking it up – otherwise tired eyes can make mistakes. I make passes. Names. Eye color. I will try the colored postIt notes for the longer projects. I’ve tried with colored pens when looking at hardcopy – now I am all digital. I have been a punster but for long pieces I need an outline. I have actually drawn a flowchart for one book – marking where little things needed to be dropped in so the later chapters make sense. Back to editing the copy-edit…

    Posted by Donnamaie White | October 23, 2015, 12:33 am
  2. I find the biggest problem with editing is that I remove something and then create a cascading effect. I have to go back and forward to change things affected by that one little deletion. I once said that a boy had a hair-line fracture to his collar bone. In the next chapter, I had the boy playing one on one basket ball with his sling on. My editor didn’t think it was feasible. Problem was, this basketball scene was pivotal in the bonding of father and son. I had to change his original accident, hospital scene etc…Editing, I love it as long as I’m not under a deadline.

    Posted by Evelyn M. Timidaiski | October 23, 2015, 8:06 am
  3. Thanks so much for joining us today, Jeff! This post really resonates with me. Like you, I’m a pantser – and I want to snitch your phrase “cargo shorts” to describe a semi-pantser. That perfectly describes what I’ve been trying to do – provide a framework without killing the fun of pantsing.

    Editing is always a big job for pantsers, I think, and a dozen rounds of edits sounds about right.

    I wish I had your confidence with grammar. The more I write, the less I trust myself in that regard. Now when it comes to copy editing, I can spot spelling errors, misused words, skipped words and duplicate words just fine in other people’s work. I often develop word blindness with my own work, though. It drives me nuts when I make that kind of mistake!

    I find the most hilarious mistakes when I go over my NaNoWriMo stories. By the end of November I’m writing in zombie-mode, and I find character names morphing from one page to the next, secondary characters changing from male to female or vice versa and similar mind-boggling errors. The mistakes would be laughable if they weren’t so awful!

    Were you at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati this year? I miss my Ohio author get-togethers. Let me know if you do any book signings in Chicago – I’ll try to be there!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 23, 2015, 8:35 am
  4. Morning Jeffrey!

    One of my favorite editing techniques is to read the page out loud. It’s amazing what I can find when I do that. Dialogue, characters, settings etc all seem to glare their weaknesses when I read it out loud.

    But butt in chair definitely!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 23, 2015, 9:08 am
  5. I took a workshop on editing by Angela James. I use her suggestions while editing. Great post.

    Posted by Mercy | October 23, 2015, 10:47 am
  6. First time I’ve found myself compelled to comment on this site – when I’ve been reading the RU emails for almost a year.
    But after reading this, and checking you weren’t peeking over my shoulder, your words hit home.
    I have completed many manuscripts. Done the self-edit, the online edits, the read aloud edit, etc. It’s a long and tedious necessary process, but also a great learning curve in perfecting the craft.
    I’ve beeen gathering quotes for editing – that I’d require a bank loan to action their services (I mean no disrespect to those who provide this valuable service). Some claim this is due to my remote locale???
    But your suggestion on the copy editor might be exactly what I need. Is this the same as a proof reader? Who or what would you suggest.
    If I’m too late for a response due to timezones, I ‘just’ want to say -“thanks Jeffrey” for your article and your mention of Blue’s Clues made me smile. ☺

    Posted by Meg | October 23, 2015, 4:45 pm
    • THey’re similar but not the same. Copy editors will work on grammar, structure, smoothing out any awkward phrasing, etc. They do this before submissions or before it’s ready for press. To me, proofreaders fix any grammar in that very last re-read before publication.

      Posted by Jeff | October 24, 2015, 7:06 am
  7. I do one slow, page-by-page edit for typos and the types of mistakes a copy editor would catch. Then I do a slow edit looking for other things. And when it’s pretty clean (I say pretty clean but I always miss something) I usually ask a friend/critique partner to give it a once over. That’s where I usually figure out the story holes and big picture things I missed earlier. And so it goes, until it’s been edited to death and it’s STILL not right. (I think I need a glass of wine. Or a margarita.)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 23, 2015, 8:01 pm
  8. Thanks so much for joining us today, Jeff! Thanks for all the comments – check back over the weekend to see who won Jeff’s giveaway!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 23, 2015, 10:32 pm


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