This post is part of the monthly How Writers Revise series, where I talk with successful authors about their editing and revision processes, as well as the challenges and setbacks they’ve faced in their careers and how they overcame them. If you’d like to receive these and my weekly writing craft posts in your in-box you can sign up here.
Author Ali Brady has two published novels under her belt with a third on the way, but she doesn’t actually exist.
The two met in a critique group before either one had been published and they immediately hit it off. They started with beta reads for each other and realized they were well matched not just in their writing itself, but in the way they each gave and processed critique, “which is really important,” Alison says. They began working more closely together, and “when [Bradeigh] called me her CP, her critique partner, which is like going steady for writers, I was giddy,” Alison remembers with a laugh.
Alison published first, but not with her first manuscript, which she worked on over 15 years while building a successful career in advertising. Finally “I reached a point where I was like, I will never finish the book if I don’t finish the book,” she says. “I know that sounds really obvious. But I had spent so much time perfecting the beginning that I didn’t reach the end.”
Within the year she finished and began querying, but despite receiving several full requests from agents, the manuscript received no offers of representation.
Winning—and Losing—the Dream
Meanwhile Alison started working on a second manuscript, because “one of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve heard and followed is that as soon as you finish one thing, start writing the next,” she says. She submitted the second manuscript in another round of queries, found her agent, and sold the book that became her debut novel, You and Me and Us (William Morrow), at auction, “which was just like, an absolute dream come true,” she says.
After such a long road to success, all her publishing dreams seemed to be coming true: Her publisher, an imprint of Big Five house HarperCollins, planned a major publicity and marketing campaign, including coveted airport placement, for the release—slated for April 7, 2020.
And then came the pandemic. And a week before her book launch, the director of marketing for Alison’s book left the company.
“It was awful,” Alison says. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just was hysterical crying. I was like, What is going to happen to my poor book that I love so much?
Airports closed and with them went the massive visibility for her debut title. Bookstores closed and took with them the in-store placement and opportunities for staff to suggest the book to readers. Sales fell short of expectations.
“Publishing as a whole did great during during the pandemic but not debut authors,” Alison says. “It was heartbreaking.”
Reclaiming Her Writing
Meanwhile Bradeigh, who had been instrumental in helping Alison revise the book that became her debut, had loved reading and writing since she was a child. But when she chose to pursue a career in medicine, her writing went onto the back burner.
She was working part-time in her field and was raising small children when “I just started to get this like nagging little voice saying, ‘You should write again, you should write again.’”
She tried ignoring that voice, “because I thought, ‘I’m way too busy…. And who’s going to want to read what I read anyway?’” she recalls. But the voice wouldn’t go away, and when she finally obeyed its dictates—a year or two later—she felt “this huge feeling of relief. Like I was finally doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
Within a year she had a finished manuscript, but received no offers of representation when she queried it. So she wrote another that didn’t find an agent. And another—and on the third one she received four offers from agents.
“I was so sure that I was going to sell a book, and it was going to work out perfectly,” she says with a rueful laugh. “An editor is going to fall in love, and it’s going to be a bestseller.”
It didn’t sell.
Finding Publishing Success
Despite how common that scenario is in the industry, especially with new authors, “It was so crushing,” Bradeigh says. “I think there’s like a unique amount of pain that comes with that, because you think you’re so close.”
Alison had meanwhile sold and published her debut and was working on her follow-up book, Little Pieces of Me, and she played a key role in propping up Bradeigh’s sagging spirits and confidence. “She was constantly saying, “Keep going, don’t give up. I know this is really hard, but I believe in you,’” Bradeigh recalls.
So Bradeigh started a fourth manuscript, working on it a frenzy over an incredibly short eight weeks. “I was just completely focused on writing this book as quickly as possible, because I had this feeling that if I don’t get published, I’m going to give up.”
And that story—her fourth—eventually became her debut, Imposter.
On the road to that release, when the pandemic hit, with both women working from home and Bradeigh homeschooling her children while revising Imposter, both were desperate for a distraction. They pitched each other ideas for their next story, “and then one of us said, ‘Why don’t we put them together and write a book together?’” Bradeigh remembers.
They pitched the story, about people forced to quarantine together, to an editor, who loved the writing and the voice but thought it was too soon to try to market a pandemic story and passed on it.
But she liked their pitch for a follow-up novel, and in six weeks Bradeigh and Alison wrote five chapters and an outline, and sold it on the strength of those materials—the book that became the Ali Brady debut, Beach Trap, which made many “best of summer” reading lists including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and Katie Couric Media.
Their follow-up, The Comeback Summer, released in May, with a third collaboration, Camp People, releasing in the summer of 2024, all from Berkley/Penguin. And Bradeigh’s next solo novel, The Followers, will be out this August.
Staying in the Game–Together
With all the ups and downs both authors faced—separately and together—did they ever think about quitting?
Both women arrived at the same answer through different paths.
“There were many times when I thought about quitting, but I kept thinking about how long it takes to become a doctor,” Bradeigh says. “And even when I started practicing as a physician, it took me even a few more years before I felt like I felt very comfortable with what I was doing…. Why would writing be easier?”
Despite the challenges she faced, Alison never considered not writing. “Writing is hard. Like, it’s really hard,” she says. “And it’s not something that you do for the money—you do it because you can’t not do it. I have a lot of stories in my head that I that I want to tell.”
I asked each of them for their best advice for authors, and their answers reflect both their journey and their similar approaches to their writing careers:
I think you have to be as creative with the publishing path as you are with the work,” Alison offers. “It’s just a long game. And if you don’t have patience, then maybe it’s not for you.”
Bradeigh agrees: “It’s a long slog, and you have to be okay with doing that. It’s a lot of times sitting by yourself with your butt in a chair, thinking things and putting them on pages. I think you have to love or at least feel driven to or called to write those stories…. I think you have to really love the process, because the outcome is not guaranteed, right?… I think you do have to fall in love with the process of it, or else really, what’s the point?
Alison and Bradeigh offer more insight into their journey in our interview, which you can watch in its entirety here—and I recommend it, because they both offer a wealth of pure-gold advice for authors who want to create satisfying, sustainable long-term careers in this business.
I also asked Alison and Bradeigh to talk about how they edit and revise their work, and loved their insights into their processes—separately and as a writing duo.
How Alison and Bradleigh–Ali Brady–Revise
We’re Alison Hammer and Bradeigh Godfrey—also known as Ali Brady, authors of THE BEACH TRAP and THE COMEBACK SUMMER. Before we tell you about the way we revise, we should probably explain the way we write.
When two people write one book together, plotting ahead of time is crucial. Even though we joke about sharing a brain, we don’t—so it’s important that we have the same vision and roadmap for our book. This is especially important because we live across the country from each other!
The first thing we do after we’ve gotten the green light on a project is a One Page Summary, something Alison picked up from a workshop with Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator. It’s a great tool with questions that get us thinking and talking about important things like the themes of the book and our characters’ arcs.
All our books are dual point-of-view, so while we come up with the premise of the story together, we each “own” one character, doing the pre-work to turn them into well-rounded people with goals, wounds, quirks and secrets.
Once we’re feeling good about our characters and their individual arcs, we’re ready for the outline stage! We usually do this over one weekend, and if we can’t be together in person, then we spend the weekend together virtually over Zoom.
At first, we stay high-level and focus on the big beats of the story with short descriptions of what happens in each chapter. Bradeigh is great at keeping us on track and making sure we’re hitting certain plot points by the right spot in the book and the arc of the story.
Once we reach the end, we go back to the beginning of the outline and create a “long” version, writing anywhere from a few paragraphs to a full page about the events of each chapter. That long outline and the One Page Summary are living documents that we consult often during our drafting process, making changes as needed. (Funny story: we sold our debut novel The Beach Trap on a proposal; we had five chapters written, and the rest were in the format of our outline. Our editor at Berkley said our outline was so detailed that she thought she was still reading our chapters and wondered what happened to the dialogue!)
Now, we’re ready to start drafting. We create a schedule so we can stay on track, with time built in for revisions and to let our agents read it before our deadline. Our typical schedule has us each drafting a new chapter each week. When it’s complete, we post it into a shared document so the other can read, edit, and critique. This is probably the coolest thing about writing a book with your best friend, because it’s like we’re reading the book as we’re writing it. Even though we’ve already outlined each chapter, sometimes the drafting stage surprises us with new ideas and events. We both get so excited to see what the other has written to move the story further.
Every week, we have a Zoom call to review the prior week’s chapters. Sometimes, we have glowing feedback for each other and very few critiques—and sometimes, we know there’s more significant work to be done. We also review the outline for the upcoming chapters and discuss if anything needs to be altered in the plot or characters. This continues week after week until we finish the entire draft—usually somewhere between four and six months. We make revisions to our chapters as we go, so by the time we finish the first draft, it’s really draft 1.5.
As far as the way we revise, we both have different styles for tackling our individual chapter edits. Bradeigh tends to work in the living word document, keeping track changes on and accepting updates as she goes. Alison is a self-described messy drafter, so she stays in Scrivener until almost the final draft so she can keep all her scraps and versions in one place.
This whole process means that even though we individually “own” one character’s chapters, we are each deeply involved with the entire story. Both our fingerprints are all over every single chapter and scene.
People often ask if we ever disagree on how to proceed with a story, and the answer is OF COURSE. When you write with a partner, you have to be flexible, and you can’t be too precious about your work. Luckily, we both respect and trust each other implicitly, so we continue discussing and brainstorming until we do agree—and that process always makes the writing better and the story stronger.
With The Comeback Summer and Camp People (our 2024 release) we stopped about halfway through our first draft and had Genevieve Gagne-Hawes, an editor at Writer’s House (Bradeigh’s literary agency) read what we’d written so far and the outline for the rest.
Genevieve’s early feedback is invaluable, she’s excellent at identifying under-developed characters, sagging plot lines, and pacing problems—and both times, we realized we needed to course-correct on a few issues. So we took a two-week “break” on our drafting schedule to revise our earlier chapters, incorporating her feedback. We’ve realized that it’s crucial to have a strong foundation in the first half of the book, or the second half simply doesn’t work.
Once we have a complete draft, we save two copies of the document for us both to read, edit, and critique from start to finish. Thanks to the magic of Microsoft Word, we combine those documents so we have one master document with all of our notes and suggestions in one place.
Our early drafts are often on the long side—with two romances and two full character arcs, there’s a lot happening in our books! There isn’t room for fluff, so we’re intentional about what we keep to make sure everything serves a purpose in moving the story forward.
One more funny story, Alison can be pretty competitive, which Bradeigh is very aware of. So for our final revision of The Beach Trap, Bradeigh decided to turn it into a competition to see who could cut the most words from the draft. In the end, Bradeigh won by about 12 words—but the best part was that we both cut different words, trimming the manuscript by several thousand words.
We give ourselves two or three weeks to make a “final” round of revisions before sending the manuscript to our amazing agents, and sometimes back to Genevieve or trusted beta readers. With their feedback, we make any additional edits before sending it off to our editor at Berkley.
Once we receive the feedback from our editor, we again meet over Zoom to discuss how to address those comments. Typically, we each tackle the revisions for the character we “own,” but sometimes we ask the other to jump in and help out. For example, in The Beach Trap, our editor wanted more emotion in the final chapter from the character Bradeigh “owned,” but the chapter was from the point of view of Alison’s character. So Bradeigh jumped in and revised that specific scene, then sent it to Alison to edit. This same process continues through copy edits and pass pages.
In order to release a book each year, we’re doing all of this while also brainstorming the next book and promoting the previous one. Hopefully the cycle will continue. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re writing a book with your best friend, it’s also a lot of fun!