Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Agony and the Editing

If you've ever read a poorly edited book, you know agony. I mean pain. Most people don't even continue reading. 

And if you're a writer today - traditionally published or indie - you must learn how to edit your own writing and do it so well that you don't need much professional editing.


Traditional publishers rarely spend a lot on editing any of their author's books, including bestselling novelists. They just don't have the budget for heavy editing. So if you want your book accepted by a publishing house, you better get that sucker cleaned up.

Indie writers usually can't afford extensive editing. You must hire someone to edit your work, but you'll pay for their time and if you didn't do a ton of editing of your own before sending it out, count on a hefty bill (to the tune of thousands of dollars, money you may never recoup in sales no matter how convinced you are that your novel will be a runaway success (this is kind of like expecting to win the lottery)). 

The following are some suggested steps based on how I edit my own novels and hope it will be helpful to fellow writers. For you readers out there, you can see the amount of hard work that goes into those books you devour, books that may seem effortless and a pure pleasure to create for the author. Yes, writing has many great joys, but it is hard - sometimes agonizing - work.

Copy Editing Tips from the Trenches

"Soft" Edit
This should be your first method of editing. Edit within the live document (not printed). I recommend at least two soft edits. Be careful to keep the story as-is. The part of you that wrote the story and is the creator is better at storytelling than the editing part of you. They are literally different parts of your brain. Just fix things like:

  • Awkward sentences or paragraphs
  • Grammar (except for fragments - they can work to add punch to your writing if used correctly)
  • Spelling
  • Overused words
  • Overused descriptions
  • Continuity issues. Example: a character is wearing a green sweater and then suddenly it's red with no explanation.
  • Story timeline issues. Example: the dinner party lasted three hours but dessert was served four hours after the party started.
  • Clichés, unless they're meant to be tongue-in-cheek/a joke or used in dialogue. Lots of people use clichés in speech, but a novelist who describes their character as "sleeping like the dead" or "screaming like a Banshee" should be hung by their thumbs for a day and made to sing Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" over and over again for a crowd of angry mental patients.
  • Update and research facts. You can't have things happening in your novel that are impossible. Even if you write sci-fi or fantasy, the things that happen have to be realistic in the world you've created.

Hard Edit
This is when you print out your book and grab a red pen or red pencil. It's

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beta Readers Rock

Think your own editing and a pro-editor is enough? Think again!

When I finished editing Barefoot Girls I knew that even though I'd gone over the manuscript too many times to count, I still needed many more pairs of eyes to see it and tell me about any flaws or problems or other issues.  No, not just one other pair of eyes, many and preferably not someone who would just say it was wonderful because they loved me. Like my mother.

So, I put out a request to all my Facebook friends and got five wonderful women who were willing to read the book and give me feedback. Let me tell you, it was a fantastic thing and a must-do for any writer, particularly if it is a first or second book and you're still learning the ropes. 

How do you get Beta Readers? Here are a few tips from my experience:

  • Avoid asking anyone you think might just praise your writing no matter how bad it is. You're looking for feedback, not flattery.
  • Likewise, avoid asking anyone you think tends to be overcritical. If they tear apart everything, your poor book will be torn apart, too, and that won't help you at all.
  • Offer your beta readers either an ebook or a bound galley of some kind. Do not give them a huge printed wad of a manuscript - think about making it as convenient as possible for them. I offered an ebook in any format they wanted and used Calibre to create them (proofed them, too, before sending to make sure they weren't an illegible mess).
  • Tell your Beta Readers that they will be mentioned in the Acknowledgements (and do it) as well as receive a print copy once the book is published for their library. Of course, make sure they actually want a print copy (almost all of mine did).
  • When you get feedback, thank them for their time and help and note what their issues with the book were. Do not feel that you have to make every suggested change, but be open to it - otherwise, why bother asking for feedback? If more than one person finds the same problem, you HAVE to fix it. If you can't figure out how to fix it, either join a writer's workshop and submit it or get a developmental editor to help you with that section/part of the book. But if more than one person had a problem with anything in the book, the majority of readers will have the same problem and that must be fixed before any readers buy the book (and subsequently get pissed off, rightly so).

Hope this helps and, while I'm talking Beta Readers, a big shout-out to mine is in order. My eternal gratitude to Elise Gallivan, Tanya Hale, Yvette Hochberg, Rita Morgan, and Tanya Wells for your help and wisdom - you are all goddesses!