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  • Writer's pictureA. A. Vora

Brain to Book: the process of writing, revising, and editing SPIN OF FATE

Updated: Apr 17

Warning: prepare for word vomit. Okay, not exactly, there are some bullets for a semblance of structure. But I don't (usually) edit or wordsmith these blog posts, I just bleurgh them all out, relying heavily on autocorrect and muscle memory to avoid typos.

SPIN OF FATE went through 12 drafts, several of which were done before I landed my literary agent. I've discussed the journey here, along with some of the main changes made along the way. Some of this may go over your head if you haven't read the book or ARC, but a lot of it's fairly general.

I'm posting this now so I don't forget in the future. I'll try and update this in a year or so, since I am omitting some information that would count as spoiler (there is some mildly spoiler-y stuff below, but nothing that isn't already evident from the free samples and official marketing information).

Draft 1 (2015-2016)

This draft was more of a catharsis than an actual story, as well as a yearning for all the life choices I wished I'd made at the time (in retrospect, no regrets though). See, I'd just graduated from college with a major in Economics (I'd been majoring in English & Comparative Literature until a bout of anxiety about my financial stability prompted me to switch in sophomore year) and had joined a management consulting firm in Tokyo (over a few far more interesting-sounding journalism offers, once again, because of the whole financial stability paranoia thing).

My work was almost entirely in Japanese, and I had a pent-up desire to express myself in English. And do something creative. I also ended up having a lot of free time between finishing my tasks at 5 PM and having to wait for my boss to finish at 8/9 PM before our team could go for dinner, drinks, karaoke, all that fun stuff (it was a business trip in rural Nagoya, none of us had anything better to do). So that's how SOF draft one was born, titled THE SPIN OF OUR SOULS. A few key differences:

  • Age range: Adult

  • Characters: 5 POV characters, of which only the first 2 made it to SOF's final draft

    • Aina: a younger (around 12), brattier, and naiver version of her current teenage counterpart.

    • Aranel: centuries old, a priest, far more brainwashed, less impulsive, and less ideologically malleable than his current teenage counterpart

    • Himalia: a 20-something princess; she appears briefly in SOF as a minor side character, slightly aged down

    • Taezur: a sadistic and cynical warrior in his 50s; he appears briefly in SOF as a minor side character

    • Another character who was scrapped entirely; the above 4 characters also had different names (except Taezur) so I'm not sure if we can even call them the same characters, but they did evolve over time so maybe they were?

  • World: 6 realms instead of 4

  • Magic system: Far more complex; currently, SOF has particles called chitrons, but back then we had sub-particles that made up chitrons, and each had a specific effect; there were more elements related to how actions were judged, how chitrons accumulated, etc. There was a lot more about soulbirth and soul theory as well. While the former likely won't make it to any of the books... we shall see about the latter!

  • Other narrative elements: Two different timelines, one being during the One Realm Era. So we got a lot more information about the world, the split, and the One Realm Era, which I hope to introduce in subsequent books or a prequel.

  • Writing style: It was very different. Bad different. An omniscient narrator that attempted to be a sad, discount imitation of The Silmarillion, which is my favorite book of all time and which I really had no business in trying to imitate. My lack of proper writing instruction really showed, and this part was perhaps what filled me with the most regret, because I had willingly sacrificed those opportunities due to my risk-averse mindset.

  • Other: Aina's mother was a sweet, naive, loving woman, very different from her current portrayal. She was kidnapped in the climax.

  • Query stats: This draft got about 80 agent rejections / non-responses without any feedback. Looking back... fair enough. Usually what they say about agent rejections is 'it's the agent, not the author'. This time, 100% the author, because what on earth was I thinking querying what I did?

  • How much of it stayed till the final: maybe 5-10% if I'm being generous?

Drafts 2-4 (2017-2020)

I knew that things needed to be changed drastically. Unfortunately, the lack of feedback made it almost impossible for me to clearly pinpoint how / where / what. So I joined Manuscript Academy, which was super helpful, and worked on drafts 2 to 4 (maybe there were 1-2 more, hard to say at what stage of edits you'd consider it a new draft). A few key changes:

  • Age range: Changed from adult to YA, which involved keeping the bare bones magic system, world, and about 5-10% of the plot... but rewriting nearly everything else.

    • I was told that my book would be far more likely to sell in YA, where 'Asian-inspired' fantasies were in demand... and to age up Aina, age down Aranel, and keep them in the same timeline. Well, my consulting job had trained me to receive and execute on feedback, and that's what I did. I am grateful to the person who told me this, as I think they ended up steering my career and book in a way I'd never expected. I was also excited by the prospect of writing for teenagers (shounen is my favorite manga genre, after all) although I was equally nervous since I had no idea how I'd nail the narrative style and voice.

    • This is something I think about wistfully at times: What if I'd believed in my book, given it a chance, and revised it a dozen times as adult? What if I'd kept the plot, themes, and magic system as I'd initially intended them? I can't even guarantee Spin of Fate would ever have sold as adult, but I can't help but wonder, what if?

  • Characters: 4 POVs now, of which only the first 2 made it to SOF's final draft

    • Aina, more or less as she is now, but prone to bouts of maniacal laughter

    • Aranel, more or less as he is now, but with different motivations (not a spy)

    • Himalia... who remained a princess but was also Aina's long-forgotten sister. I am writing this because the 'Aina is secretly connected to royalty' storyline will definitely not be happening. But there was a whole subplot where Aina's mother had Himalia in an upper realm, then fell to a lower one when she was pregnant with Aina... yeah. Scrapped that. Sorry Aina, no nice siblings or royal lineages for you. You are going to suffer a life of loneliness.

    • Taezur... yeah, he was still important in this draft. He was a once-decent person who'd become super evil due to the influence of the lower realms. I did have fun writing his voice, it was nothing like Meizan's.

  • Magic system: Simplified. Goodbye sub-chitronic particles and theory. (I think I'm the only one who would have missed these anyways)

  • Writing style: I had to re-write almost everything, since it wasn't only voice that was changing, but also character motivations, thought processes, exposition style, etc. etc.

  • Query stats: At this point I accumulated about 100+ rejections for drafts 2 and 3. Draft 4 actually got 8 fulls within a couple weeks of sending... including my offer from Jon Cobb, who basically changed my life (and book) for the better.

  • How much of it stayed till the final: of draft 2, maybe 20%. Of draft 4, I'd say about 40%? But there was a lot that would be moved into a potential prequel / the sequel. Around this time, I had a pretty solid idea of what I wanted a hypothetical series to look like, along with several key plot points, including the ending... an ending which will likely stay the same in book 3 when it's published!

Draft 5 (2020)

Jon didn't actually give me an offer upfront. He gave me a revise and resubmit, and basically acted like the most involved, amazing agent throughout the process. I did a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline with him, and then rewrote 2/3 of the book over the next 6 weeks. He gave me an offer in November, and I signed with him 2 days later. And we had the final draft done by end of year... one that would be submitted to editors!

  • Characters: The final 3 that would make it to the end!

    • Aina, more or less as she is now, although the "thing that makes her special" was developed around this time

    • Aranel, more or less as he is now, but his motivations were sharpened; it was Jon's great idea to make him a spy

    • Taezur and Himalia POVs scrapped, relegated to side-characters

    • Meizan, more or less as he is now, introduced as a completely new character; Jon was dubious about his addition because he thought 3 POVs would be too much, but Meizan ended up being his favorite (hah)

  • Magic system: further simplified; there was some nonsense about 'chitronic bubbles' going on here that I don't even want to think about because it was such a weird idea in the first place

  • World: Realms reduced from 6 to 4

  • Writing style: No big changes compared to the previous draft, although Jon gave me several great tips about how to make my writing sound more YA, including more focus on action and emotion; less introspection and exposition.

  • Other:

    • Aina's mother was entirely rewritten to become a morally ambiguous and problematic parent (the initial version was based loosely on my mom, who, by virtue of being an utter saint, really didn't make for a compelling character for the purpose of this story... sorry mom)

    • The wolf in the prologue was added here; it had originally been a snail (don't ask me why, it's my husband's fault, and I kept it out of sheer love for him until realizing that having a snail was an utterly foolish narrative choice that completely ruined the scene in question)

  • How much of it stayed till the final: I'd say about 60-70%. At this stage I also had an extremely detailed (almost chapter-by-chapter) outline of what would happen in books 2, 3... and possibly a prequel.

  • Query stats: Draft 5 + aforementioned outline got me a trilogy offer from my editor... in what was practically an overnight submission! I was shocked, because after the years / rejections it took after querying, I fully expected at least a year of waiting. This disparity could also be largely attributed to Jon's pitching skills being a zillion times better than mine; the man worked a miracle.

Drafts 6-7 (2021-2022)

During this period, I had two fairly speedy rounds of developmental edit with Polo Orozco, my editor. I loved these so much because he had such excellent feedback. There were no more huge changes to character, or even significantly to plot at this point, but like they say... sometimes, it's the little things that really count.

  • Magic system: slightly simplified but more or less solidified; the focus here was on 'how do we explain this in a way that's easy to follow but doesn't become repetitive'? Which is the hardest part, because different readers have different ways and speeds in which they read and absorb information; not to mention, I have a natural tendency to overexplain, which can come off as patronizing (I blame my consulting job for making me so anxious about being misunderstood lol) and kill all semblance of mystery. So Polo's advice was really helpful here in trying to determine what to cut and add where.

  • World: we started discussing a map... which meant I needed to come up with names for several unnamed oceans and mountain ranges, and other filler locations that aren't even mentioned in the book. This was a fun exercise to do.

  • Writing style: We made several changes to specific words in the interest of age-appropriateness (e.g., all f-bombs were replaced, certain overly pretentious words removed even from the POV chapters of a certain overly pretentious character). In general, I was also encouraged to focus less on introspection / magic system / philosophical soliloquys, and more on plot / action / character relationships.

  • Other:

    • More scenes between the main trio added

    • Details about Meizan's clan, sword, and lower realm history added

    • Additional scene between Aranel and his brother added

    • 1-2 location changes since due to the map, we had more places to explore

    • This is also where most of the romance element was added as the previous draft had about a quarter of the current romantic subtext (which is already a very, very small amount)

    • My favorite change, which was Polo's super idea, was to take certain chunks of worldbuilding and put them into the poems / epithets that appear at the beginning of each section.

  • How much of it stayed till the final: I'd say about 80-85% of the first developmental edit, and 90% of the second.

Draft 8 (2023)

The much-awaited line edit. The edit letter was nowhere close to as heavy as I thought it would be. Polo had some excellent feedback about grammatical and style things (outlined below) but most of this was just me being overly fussy and nitpicky.

  • Writing style: 

    • Polo's main comments included technical but basic things that I feel rather bad I'd been allowed to get away with in the first place, including but not limited to...

      • Over-usage of commas (I love commas, ok!)

      • Too frequent italicization

      • Too many em-dashes (all of which had been formatted as hyphens, oops)

      • A few dangling modifiers

      • A few recurring sentence patterns (mostly gerunds... ugh...)

      • Comma splices (comma splices are unfairly maligned, I love comma splices!)

      • A couple suggestions to change specific words / rephrase for clarity; some of these were really excellent, such as

        • "Is Aranel the type of character to growl in this scenario, I don't think so, consider a different dialogue tag"

        • "You can't really hiss a sentence that doesn't have an s in it" (how did I never realize that?)

  • Then there was me, who decided way too late in the game that I needed to further develop POV character voices by:

    • Changing all of Aranel's curses to A, Meizan's to B and C, Aina's to D and C... and doing this for various adjectives, adverbs, etc. I wanted them each to have specific words / phrases / tics that only they'd use; and others they'd never use.

      • For instance, Aranel often softens his sentences with things like "I suppose" or "perhaps" which Meizan would never do...

      • While Meizan routinely uses insults like "idiot" and "stupid" which Aranel probably thinks himself above using.

    • Changed what I hope was at least 70% of my dialogue tags to 'said', but maybe I'm being optimistic with that number

    • Running a macro that made a table of all the uniquely occurring words in my manuscript and displayed their frequency; after which I attempted to mechanically kill the ones that were too frequent (unless by deliberate choice). This was the most soul-sucking, mind-numbing exercise. Here were 20 of the worst offenders, for your amusement:

      • Some variation of glance: cut from 38 to 18

      • ...of smirk: 12 to 6

      • ... of eye: 578 to 247 (I know it's still a lot... but I tried!)

      • ...of lip: 66 to 32

      • ...of murmur: 29 to 9

      • ...of mutter: 58 to 19

      • ...of sparkle: 38 to 6

      • ...of glitter: 31 to 6

      • ...of grin: 40 to 20

      • ...of shout: 32 to 22

      • ...of scream: 55 to 35

      • ...of snarl: 40 to 17

      • ...of shriek: 30 to 12

      • ...of screech: 19 to 8

      • ...of growl: 37 to 12

      • ...of hiss: 16 to 7

      • ...of hands: 295 to 233 (same as eyes, how do you even cut this down?)

      • ...of fingers: 200 to 101

      • ...of damn: 79 to 39

      • ...of bleeding (used mostly as a curse): 111 to 57

  • How much of it stayed till the final: I'd say about 98-99%, because our copy edits were pretty minimal.

Draft 9 (2023)

The copyedit. I had two godlike copy editors, Kellie Hultgren and Misha Kydd. They suggested minor, mostly cosmetic changes related to punctuation, capitalization, American versus British spelling... and corrected a few types. But they also had some minor but crucial suggestions (thus landing them the descriptor godlike) including the below:

  • "On the previous page, Aranel's sword was described as a longsword, indicating that the blade is longer than the hilt. On this page you have the same sword buried hilt-deep into a tree, vibrating. With over half the sword's length being buried in the tree, thus restricting movement, would it really vibrate?"

Can we take a moment to appreciate the sheer fastidiousness of that comment? Like I am a pretty nitpicky person myself, but good god, the attention to detail... respect. So much respect. Copyeditors are glorious creatures and a true asset to publishing.

  • How much of it stayed till the final: I'd say about 99.5%

Drafts 10-11 (2023)

The final round of edits, pass pages, are still ongoing, but we finished 2 rounds as of 2023. ARCs were sent out before round 1, which made all the typos we found thereafter individually, viscerally painful. As well as the 3 to 4 copy-edit like revisions that continue to haunt my nightmares because why did I not catch them before? But this round was mostly fixing typos or weird sentence breaks that slipped in during the typeset process (moving from a word document to a PDF) and also comments on fonts, chapter art, etc.

  • There were 2 instances of the chapter art being misprinted in the ARC. If anyone is actually reading this, manages to correctly identify them, and e-mails me using the contact form / DMs me on IG regarding what they are... I will send you a special prize. That is a promise.

  • The design team fixed some really weird, unexpected things that would totally have escaped my notice... for example, the alignment making it such that three consecutive sentence breaks ended with a two-letter word... giving us an ugly little stack of two-letter words on the right-hand-side of the page. Again, a level of meticulousness that I am truly in awe of.

  • How much of it stayed till the final: I expect we have one more round of pass pages... and then it's 100%

[EDIT TO ADD: It was not 100%. Because... things happened, that I did not expect. More on that here.]

So, there you go. My overly detailed, verbose monstrosity of a post regarding what changed. If you got till the end... congratulations! And I thank you for your time, which I am now certain can be better used elsewhere. ^^

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