How I Got Into the Christmas Spirit

With the 2020 Holiday Season fast approaching, I thought I would reminisce a little bit about how my first novel, a holiday romance, came to be…

About six years ago, my manager in Los Angeles asked me if I had any screenplays that were holiday themed.

“They’re really looking for holiday movies right now,” she told me, which wasn’t great news for me at the time. I struggle with the holidays.

But I didn’t want to lose momentum with my manager, so I said, “Uhhh… I can put one together.” Never say, “No” to your representation when you’re first starting out, right?

I ran away from home and holed-up in a condo in Winter Park, Colorado for a week to get it done. I brought in food, wine (lots of wine), and stayed in a place without internet access so that I could focus entirely on writing the screenplay. The pizza delivery guy and I were on a first name basis.

My original idea was to expose the commercialism around Christmas and make it an enlightening expose on how it’s all about the money.

Did I mention that I struggle with the holidays?

Or that I actually write romantic comedies?

I wrote frantically at odd hours of the day and night, almost never leaving the condo for the entire week. When I finished the first draft, I was really excited about it. So was my manager. And that was the birth of Christmas Spirit in screenplay format.

But, here’s the thing: It didn’t end up being about commercialism.

I had interwoven all of my favorite family traditions and turned it into a love story, not only between the hero and heroine, but about Christmas itself. I realized that I love my family traditions, and that family is the very best part of the holiday season. My new screenplay was an homage to the holiday season.

The problem came, however, when I realized that if I sold the screenplay I would lose the rights to the story. I had become very attached to my story and the characters.

No problem, I thought. Simply “plop” it into novel format, put it in past-tense, add more detailed descriptions around all the dialogue, and voila! Instant book. Easy-peasy.

Not so much…

I sent my first attempt to my Content Editor for input. His response? “Yeah, you write like a screenwriter.” We worked, and then we worked some more. The book finally came together and was the beginning of a whole new series – and a whole new way of writing – for me. I learned more from my Content Editor than I’d ever thought possible.

Christmas Spirit is the first in the Landon Legacy series. The second book, Family Spirit came out two years later, and also has a matching screenplay. My Content Editor was a significant source for me on my second book as well.

The third book and screenplay – because, yes, now I like to write both formats at the same time – is my current work-in-progress. I might need to run away from home again to finish it. But I know for sure that the first person I call when I finally type “The End” on my first draft will be my Content Editor.

What Editors Wish Writers Knew

When I meet with a new client, one of the first things I am asked about is the difference between a Content Editor and a Copy Editor. Writers who decide to self-publish are particularly confused about when, and if, they need to hire different editors at each phase of the publishing process.

In a nutshell, I explain it like this:

A Copy Editor checks for grammar, word usage, punctuation, and syntax, and is the last step before final Proofreading (which is formatting, or typesetting, the manuscript for publication). The Copy Editor will check for typos, misspellings, missing or extra words, and will work to make sure the sentences flow smoothly and are well-written.

The Content (or Development) Editor is all about the story, and should be the first stop in editing the manuscript. Does the plot make sense? Is the timeline consistent? Are the characters believable and likable? Does the pacing flow throughout? Is the narrative consistent? The Content Editor works closely with the writer to make important changes to the structure of the manuscript before moving on to the other phases of editing.

Think of the Copy Editor as the logical part of the brain, making sure everything is technically correct about your manuscript. Whereas, the Content Editor is the creative part of the brain, making sure the manuscript has the right feel and imagination to it.

The confusing part comes in because these two different editing roles can sometimes blend into each other.

I grew up with a mother, a grandmother, and three great-aunts who all taught English, so I know a thing or two about grammar and sentence structure. This means that, although I am a Content Editor, I will also make note of “wonky” sentences, or point out grammatical errors when I see them, even though my focus is at a higher level on Point of View, Plot Structure, and Character Arc.

This doesn’t mean that, because I found a few mistakes in grammar, the writer doesn’t need a Copy Editor for fine-tuning to be sure the manuscript is as clean as possible before publishing. Both editors have a specific role, and focus on different aspects of the manuscript.

Writers might also be tempted to use Beta Readers instead of a Content Editor. This is not a bad way to go, provided you have experienced readers who know what they are doing. Too often writers send out to Beta Readers who are basically providing a short review and not necessarily an in-depth critique of the entire work. Beta Readers are a great step after content editing to give the writer an idea of how the book might be received by an audience. But they aren’t necessarily a successful replacement for a good Content Editor.

Bottom line: Please don’t cut corners! There are far too many books and e-books out there already that were rushed to publication, and it shows. Don’t be that author.

And one more thing… You are not an “aspiring” writer.