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Michael J. Martinez: Inside the editing process of a professional writer

We recently discussed all things editing with a professional editor.

Next I wanted to get a writer's view on the revision process. Not just any old writer, mind you, but a multi-published author who's been in the game for a while and thus would undoubtedly have wise words to share. Thankfully I knew just the man for the job!

Michael J. Martinez is the writer responsible for launching 18th-century sailing ships into space, and in doing so "seamlessly blends popular elements from science fiction and fantasy, producing a work that raises the bar for both..." (Publishers Weekly, March 2015). His first two novels - The Daedalus Incident and The Enceladus Crisis (the latter of which I had the pleasure of beta reading) - have met with much critical fanfare, and the trilogy wrapped up in spectacular fashion last year with the launch of The Venusian Gambit.

[UPDATE: Since the original release of this post the author has gone on to write a thrilling new novel MJ-12: Inception, out Sept 2016, which is basically a cross between Heroes, The X-Files and Mission: Impossible - you can read my review at Fantasy Faction here.]

Though busy with his book release tour, Michael kindly took a little time from his schedule to chat to me about his editing process and about editing in general...

Michael J. Martinez author

Michael J Martinez (photo by Anna Martinez)

You're a fairly prolific writer. Yet whether you're blogging or spinning yarns across the universe, the quality is consistently top notch. Tell us about your editing process - do you edit as you write or amend at the end?

First off, you're way too kind. I certainly don't give my blog posts the same care and feeling as my fiction, so that's nice of you to say. As for my process, it's very much informed by my years as a wire-service journalist. I typically don't edit as I go. For longer works, I outline extensively, then write to that outline. If things wander off course, that's fine - I'll let it wander. Then, I go back and do a full revision. Then another. And possibly another after that, time permitting. I try not to circle back in media res. Ever forward. It gives me that sense of accomplishment I need to keep plowing through the draft.

DAEDALUS was your first published novel. What happened at the end of that all-important first draft - did you dive straight into revisions yourself, let it stew for a while, consider hiring a freelance editor to help, or enlist the support of friends and family to critique?

Remember, The Daedalus Incident was my debut novel and, frankly, I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing. It never really occurred to me to seek help. If I remember correctly - it's been a while! - I stewed on it for a week or two, then printed it out and went to work on it with a red pen. I did a full revision, then started querying. Of course, this was a mistake, since the book was nowhere near ready and, frankly, I'd never actually written a novel before. It took a very patient agent in Sara Megibow and a series of intensive revisions before she offered representation. But with my background and a relatively rapid turnaround time, I managed to convince her that, at the very least, I could be taught!

You have so many complex plot threads running through your books, how does the editing process allow you to tie all that together?

I'm very much an outliner. I make a virtual corkboard in Excel before I write a single word. By the time I draft, I know the scenes, know how they weave between each other, how they come together. The editing process is helpful in cleaning things up, especially when the story takes a turn away from what I outlined. And yes, you can't be a slave to the outline. If I'm on a roll and coming up with great stuff, I'll run down that thread, keep going and revise later. By the time I'm done, the draft has already diverged from the outline, but I'll leave notes for myself in comments (I write in Word) to make sure I tie up those threads on revision.

Was any more work required on that first book once you'd landed your agent? And what about after you got the book deal - was there still some knocking into shape to be done between you and the publisher/editor? Have you found the amount of work has lessened with each book?

Well, yeah. It took several revisions before Sara took me on, and I think two more before we were ready for submissions. That was all just to get the book into shape to make the sale. From there, any publisher/editor is going to want to make changes - as much as publishers would really like a ready-for-prime-time novel to plop in their laps, that never really happens. Ross Lockhart, my original editor at Night Shade Books, was pretty awesome. I don't think he had a heavy hand, but there were a few large-ish things that, I think, made the book immeasurably better.

As for The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit, there were definitely fewer revisions - a first draft and maybe three revisions for each book. I pretty much learned for the first time how to write a novel when I wrote Daedalus, so applying that learning made it easier to write the next two. I'm currently drafting a new novel and, let me tell you, even I'm surprised at how well it's going. I've learned a lot, and I credit Ross and my current editor, Cory Allyn, for whipping me into shape.

What did you learn about editing with that first novel that you've since applied to your other books - and how has it helped?

I think the biggest thing I've learned is that the demands of the form can't really be dismissed or avoided. Your book needs a strong hook to draw the reader in within that first chapter or two. It needs to be constantly moving, either in terms of action or character arc. Sometimes, I would sit there and think, "Well, logically, they would just dothis," wherein "this" would be incredibly boring. Sara would keep saying, "More mayhem!" Now, you still need your characters to make sense and for the plot to be logical and such, but stories aren't about things proceeding normally. They're about things hitting the fan. As a storyteller, you're constantly working to keep the reader's attention, and you have to do it in such a way that it's not a parlor trick, but a compelling part of the story. Basically, I learned that writing a story needs to take the reader into account and entertain that reader as you go. It's not art in a vacuum.

An all round great guy, you can find Michael at: or follow him on Twitter: @mikemartinez72. (And if you haven't read his books yet, I highly recommend you rectify that immediately.)

[First published on Tuesday 5 May 2015]


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