If I were an editor I’m afraid junk food would be my only friend. Maybe editing the work of other writers is different from editing your own, but editing my own is the most tedious, mind-numbing work I’ve ever done.
Consider that I’ve already read my own work at least ten times and probably more. I’ve taken out and put away this particular manuscript many times over the years. I’ve rewritten it and revised it at least as often.
More recently I’ve read through it again and organized it as I prepare it for formatting. Then I printed it out because I’ve been shocked to find how much better it is to work with a paper copy. I catch many more needed edits than I would just looking at a laptop screen. Now I’m transferring the paper edits back to my Word document. Did I mention that I originally wrote the entire story in past tense and then decided it worked better in present tense???
Mind. Numbing. WORK. I need to be rewarded for this effort, don’t I? This has been a four-year process and I’m finally closing in on “the end” literally and figuratively.
My reward of choice, my distraction, in fact the only thing that’s getting me through days of sitting with my laptop and my paper copy and my red pen is chocolate. And Cheetos. The giant Hershey bar with Almonds. Half of one of those gets me through a grueling afternoon of editing. But sometimes you need something crunchy, right? Isn’t junk food a reward for just about any feat you survive or are undertaking? Just for variety, a giant Mr. Goodbar joined the party this afternoon.
Did I mention it was Partner Appreciation Week at my day job? Which means a bag full of goodies from my manager. I weeded out all the little Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and gave what was left to my husband.
If it’s not chocolate (or Cheetos) who needs it?
Variety as they say, is the spice of life. Editing, I can assure you, is not. Like any true artiste, however, I am willing to suffer for my art. And so is my waistline.
Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I started this book over twenty years ago. But I’m not. I didn’t date anything when I first started writing it, so I’m not exactly certain of the date, but it was the mid-nineties. I have a copy of a Parade magazine dated February 25, 1996 in my file. I kept it because John Gotti was on the cover and the connected article asked, “Who Is The Mob Today?”
Rule Number One: Date everything and keep everything.
Sub-Rule Number One: Back up everything and when technology changes, back it up again.
A lot of the original manuscript is handwritten on legal pads. The original title was Mike’s Love. Because the heroine’s name was Michelle, but she was a tomboy called Mike by her older brother Tony. Tony’s best friend, the hero of the book, was named Shane. (Gag me.) Tony got to keep his name. He turned into Tony Fontana, a name I lifted from one of my son’s friends.
I have more handwritten notes dating from 2003, 2004 and 2009. An excellent but undated critique from my writer friend Sandy which I kept because she outlined the problems she saw with the manuscript and made suggestions. Some of her encouraging comments: “I love your set-up…It may be my subjective opinion, but I have never read any romance author who writes better sex scenes than you.” And the problems as she saw them: “You have two separate stories going on here…Your romantic conflict is resolved before it gets started.” Sandy is the one who also sent me Debra Dixon’s book, GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT. Because for a long time, even though I was writing steadily, I truly did not understand these essentials of a good story.
I never give up on a manuscript. You can take that to the bank. I have proven to myself and to my publisher, that my early ideas worked. The execution, however, took time. A MONTH FROM MIAMI and NOBODY’S FOOL were both “manuscripts under the bed.” They both sold ten or so years after I started them.
Rule Number Two: Never give up on a story idea you believe in.
FANTASY MAN went through several metamorphoses along the way, but the original idea stayed the same as does the opening scene. One of the big things I did was change the names of the protaganists. My friend Nick has a sister named Quinn, although she spells it differently. I wanted something different for the hero. He was never a “Shane.” I Googled baby names and played around with them and can’t quite recall the process, but the name Reif fit him.
Rule Number Three: If something’s not working in your story, it might be the names of your characters.
I kept working on FANTASY MAN and I submitted it to the same editor at the same time I sent him NOBODY’S FOOL. He turned FANTASY MAN down but he kindly explained what didn’t work for him. He didn’t ask me to revise and resubmit, but I revised anyway based on his suggestions (because he was right) and asked him if he wanted to see it again. If he said no, I planned to send it elsewhere. Because I was confident I could sell it.
He looked at the revised synopsis and offered a contract.
Rule Number Four: If an editor is generous enough to tell you why a submission didn’t work for him, use that information to improve your manuscript.
Rule Number Five: Give that editor an opportunity to look at the revised manuscript (realizing he may not want to). Also realize that same editor may regret offering you a contract!
My editor at Samhain Publishing is Noah Chinn. I think he was surprised at how much work was left to be done on FANTASY MAN, since he offered a contract based on the revised synopsis. But since he hadn’t offered a revise and resubmit to begin with, he put his head down and went to work. I ended up with nine pages of notes about what needed to be done on the first round of edits.
This was discouraging. I’d lost count of how many times I had pulled this one out from under the bed and worked on it at this point. Now I realized I’d have to rewrite about a third of the book. But a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do. So I put my head down and went to work. For a solid week, my every waking available moment was spent on revisions. Until I just couldn’t look at it any more. To make matters worse, some of the track changes did not come through for me, so I was looking at sections where Noah had made suggested changes with no idea how they got there or what had been changed.
Second round edits went more smoothly, but there was still a lot that needed work, including the ending.
During the editing process I repeated my mantra which I lifted from a Writer’s Digest article years ago: “Want-to-be writers admit defeat easily. Successful writers never give up.”
Rule Number Six: When you find a good editor who is willing to work to make your book the best it can be LISTEN TO HIM and thank your lucky stars he found you.
How did FANTASY MAN get published? I had a story idea. I wrote it down. Then I rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it. It got rejected by an editor but I took his advice and revised it yet again. He offered me a contract and then WE revised two more times. You be the judge of the end result.
Yes. You do. But only if you want what you write to be readable. Only if you care about your readers and want them to get the best experience they can from reading your work.
Otherwise? Sure, just throw it out there and see if it sticks. Maybe it will.
If you are an avid reader like I am, you may have come across some truly lousy books, especially since the self-publishing surge of recent years.
Everyone can write a book. Everyone does write a book. And all of those everyones load their books onto Amazon and sell them for 99 cents or give them away for free. And idiots like me download them and read them because we think, well, that sounds interesting or funny or unusual.
Maybe I’m more aware of a book’s lack because I’ve been writing for many years. Some of my work has been edited and published (Samhain Publishing) so I know what goes into editing. I’m also guilty of self-pubbing a few books without an editor, but I may never do that again because I’ve just read too many bad books and I don’t want to add to that pile of smelly stuff. (Although I’ll never believe mine are stinky, only that proper editing could have made them much better. But that’s probably what the everyones think, too.)
I just finished reading a book I’m quite sure I downloaded because it was free. It sounded like a cute idea. A housewife who is also an assassin. But after just a few pages, I thought:
this doesn’t make sense
the pacing is terrible
what a cute idea
too bad she didn’t get it edited
wow, some of this is so completely unrealistic
Ultimately, not only was I disappointed, I was annoyed. Once an author has annoyed me, I will never read another of her books even if she’s giving them away. If, however, I had loved this author’s freebie, I would have given it a positive review and possibly I would have purchased more of her books.
What could a good editor have done for this author’s book?
Picked up on the flaws: chapters that drop off to nothing; unresolved situations; unrealistic behavior from the characters (especially the children).
Smoothed out the flow of the story.
Better to ask what a good editor couldn’t have done to improve this book..
Instead I rolled my eyes as I read, (and yes, I did finish it because I knew I’d blog about it) got more disgusted and ultimately felt sorry for the author because HER BOOK COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER! If only she’d had an editor. Oh no. I feel a Dr. Seuss-like poem coming on.
Her book could have been so much better
If only she’d had an editor.
He would have picked up on the flaws
And told her to take a pause
To look at what she’d done
So her book wouldn’t be so dumb
He’d say, “See this part here?
“You haven’t made the motivation clear
“And this section near the end?
“Don’t expect your readers to pretend
“That you haven’t disappointed them.
“Do you want your book to be the best it can be?
Then I think you need an editor like me.”
Note: Watch for several blogs to follow on the subject of editors and editing. I do not disclose the names of authors or their books if I have nothing positive to say about them.
Dear Self-published author: Oh, God. I hope this book of yours was self-published. Because if it wasn’t the decline of published literature is worse than I ever imagined. Whew. I double-checked. It was.
First of all, before you ever publish another of your books yourself and offer it for sale to an unsuspecting public, there’s a little technique I’d like to acquaint you with. It’s known as proofreading. Let me explain.
READ BACK OVER YOUR MANUSCRIPT. MULTIPLE TIMES. Check for the following:
Check to make sure that you used the right word in the right place. For example: The expression on her face is not indigent. It might be indignant. Get a dictionary and try looking words up if you don’t know what they mean. Better yet, when you use your word processing program’s spell check feature, make sure it’s spellchecking the appropriate word.
If you’re too lazy to proofread your manuscript yourself, then I beg of you, get someone else to do it. When that individual points out your mistakes the time to correct them is before you hit that publish button.
While you’re reading back over your manuscript, try to determine if your story makes sense. Does it have a beginning a middle and an end? Does it wander off into distracting tangents and sub-plots that somehow become disconnected from the story you started to tell?
Are there characters in your story that don’t belong there? Will your reader wonder who Max or Sarah are because they mysteriously show up in the middle of your book with no prior mention?
Oh, and those words and phrases you use repeatedly? The excessive number of times you remind me of the color of his hair and her eyes? Stop it!
Did you write this book to preach to me about something? To inform me about a cause or an illness or a political point of view? Because if you did, what you most likely did was piss me off. I will remember you and I will never buy or download another of your books. Not even if you try to give it to me for free. Because you know what you are? You’re a bad writer.
I don’t care what your web site says. I don’t care how many traditionally published books you have under your belt or how popular you are with readers. You disappointed me. You ripped me off. You took my money in exchange for a piece of garbage.
Your five-star reviews are meaningless once I’ve read or attempted to read your “book.” Did you pay for those reviews? Did you twist the arm of every friend and relative you have to write one for you? Or did you make up those personas yourself and write your own reviews? Probably not because the reviews aren’t full of misspellings. I don’t know what idiots are giving you five-star reviews for this piece of garbage, but I’ve got about as much respect for them as I do for you.
The worst thing is I think maybe you can write. I think maybe there’s a decent story in here somewhere. Maybe. But it’s buried under a lack of editing, proofreading and basic knowledge of grammar. Which makes me think you haven’t got a clue.
Your characters behave in conflict with their thoughts. Their motivations make no sense nor do their actions. Don’t tell me how they feel. Show me. Don’t tell me how I should feel while I’m reading about their dilemma. Make me feel it!
You are what’s wrong with this brave new world of self-publishing. You’ve got no standards (unless they’re low ones). You’re unprofessional and you give those of us who are offering a quality product a bad name.
I will never use your name. I won’t post a bad review. I hope I don’t need to. I hope you don’t need any help losing your readership and that you slowly fade away and never write a bad book again.