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Denise Covey on Writing, Revising & Editing!

 
Take a supersonic jet ride into the wonderful world of writing, revising and editing!

I felt a bit of an imposter when I was invited to write a guest post here today. All/most of the previous guest posters have been published -- what have I to say about revising and editing? 

Well, after considering saying 'no' to this great honour, I thought...well...I do have something to add to the debate. I have been published -- in short story and travel magazines, and in online writing competitions. And even though I've yet to submit a novel for publication, there is a reason. I don't belong to the 'Don't try to be perfect; just get it written' school. If I don't think my ms is ready, it probably isn't.

I  appreciate all the books in the world, beautifully or badly written, big or small, print or e-book. Whatever the format, I like to read a story that I feel the author has sweated over, polished, and not submitted or self-published until it was ready. 

In the long-gone world of publishing books, an author had so much help. Huge names had personal editors. It wasn't just their magnificent writing talent! (Although author Margaret Mitchell is reported to have re-written Chapter 1 of Gone With the Wind 60 times -- in longhand, people!) 

Readers had certain expectations when picking up a Margaret Mitchell, a Raymond Carver, a Jane Austen. The truth is, readers still have certain expectations when they buy books -- they expect it to be a masterfully-structured story with great characterisation, great settings, great prose, even if they got it free on Amazon or paid 99c for it...but very few authors these days have an editing team. They are all too often a team of one. 

Nowadays, one writer replaces a whole team of development editors,  structural editors, line editors etc. Who these days has the time, money or even the desire to hire a development editor when he/she first gets that story idea? Or a structural editor to find better ways to make the story flow, to make sure all the little duckies are lined up in a perfect row? Or a line editor to painstakingly check every word, every phrase for typos and grammar misuse? These days, sisters and brothers, we're doing it for ourselves...for better or worse.

But we'll never have all the skills and resources that publishing houses offer to their best-selling authors. The small or smallish presses where we shop our mss request polished work, publication ready. They have little/no budget for editors. They don't tell us where we're going wrong. Writers have to make their stories sparkle without a team of minions!

This is the new reality for publishing, and is behind the phenomenon of the plethora of self-published books, some of which would once have stayed in the publisher's/editor's slush pile. But those nasty gatekeepers have disappeared, right? Anyone can publish anything! Yes they can, but readers are the new gatekeepers. And once a reader is exposed to our writing, he/she will make a decision whether to recommend/slam our book to his/her friends or write a great/terrible review for all the world to see. It's a long, hard road back if our book fully sucks because we were in such a hurry to get it published -- quickly, relatively painlessly, cheaply (no editors at all!) I blogged about this under the title: 'You never get a second chance to make a first impression' which explains why I am taking my time with the editing process.

For every problem, there is a solution. I suggest the new, successful publishing paradigm looks something like this:

Okay...we've had a great story idea, workshopped it with trusted writer friends, then written a premise and even a synopsis so we are ready at any time to sell our story to an interested editor we might meet -- in the lift (elevator), at a conference, just about anywhere editors hang out.

Yay, our manuscript is now finished! Congratulations sisters and brothers! We've beaten more than most of the world! WE ACTUALLY FINISHED A BOOK

Um...sort of...it's just the rubbishy first draft after all, which we didn't edit as we wrote...we were too busy soaring into the stratosphere in our personal jet plane and couldn't take our hands off the controls long enough to fix all the pesky bits! But go us! Now...what's next?

Read it through in a hurry, preferably in one sitting -- OUT LOUD! -- some writers print off a hard copy and painstakingly make corrections using pens/sticky notes etc. Others stick to the computer...our flying days are over for now...and read through the whole novel, highlighting tricky parts, cutting and pasting etc, but NOT EDITING for typos, grammar etc. What's the point? We might end up revising or deleting whole sections we've spent ages polishing -- (don't rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic!)

After a relatively quick read through, mainly for big picture problems, we'll start looking for particular problems. This is a good time to send the first three chapters to a trusted Critique Partners or beta readers. Their feedback will be worth its weight in gold. Why three chapters? Because our bad writing habits are obvious in these opening chapters. Wait for feedback.  Start dreaming up our next novel, because some editors want to know we have more than one story in us....When our CPs get back to us, fix all this bad writing in our whole novel before sending the complete manuscript to our CPs.

Am I the only one who has bad writing habits? (Are you with me here?) I'm on my fourth edit of Fijian Princess (the first novel I've finished), and this time through I'm looking for anything that can be sharpened up before asking my 'sharpest' CP to read through the whole novel. 

My next step is to employ a professional editor. No matter how much we adore the editing process, we always miss so many of our own mistakes. Finding an editor who's a good fit isn't easy.  Find recommendations before shelling out too much money. But I don't think this step can be overlooked if you want your manuscript to be the best it can possibly be before you submit it. 

Having said all of the above, who knows what leads to acceptance/rejection these days? Every writer must choose their own path. 

Congratulations to those of you who have published novels without all the effort I've described and yet have hit pay dirt. I'd love to hear your stories.

I truly appreciate the time, the inspiration, the patience, the effort and the head-aches of any author. We are a brave bunch. Here's to us!

I RECOMMEND:
* Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland


 Available at Amazon.com

Writing 21st Century Fiction, by Donald Maas










Available at Amazon.com

Connect with Denise:


Denise has recently begun Write...Edit...Publish, a monthly bloghop for writers to post in any genre to a specific theme. Make friends. Share feedback. Help each other along the writing journey. This month's theme is VACATION and goes live on August 21st. She invites you to join in the fun!

38 comments:

  1. Getting to the end of a first draft is a big achievement and we should be proud if we manage it - but we should also understand it's just the first step towards writing a book.

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    1. Yes, Patsy, it's the beginning, not the end!

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  2. Ha! Great to see you here, Denise. Of course, I applaud your efforts to spread the gospel on editing.

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    1. Thanks Armchair Squid. The more editing, the better in my opinion. Just need to collate a recommended team of trusted editors. Even the top sellers have too many typos/grammar mistakes lately!

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  3. I agree that it's so hard to catch your own mistakes. You need CPs, betas, and editors to help you get your book polished and ready.

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    1. Yes Kelly, we'll never catch all our own mistakes but we can catch most of the pesky little varmits then paying editors won't cost so much!

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  4. Great take on this. And the publishing companies aren't spending as much of that stuff either. I see more errors in books from the big companies that I've ever seen before.

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    1. Yes Donna, I can't help noticing the mistakes and I read A LOT of books!

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  5. I've been very lucky that although I was first published by two small publishers, the editors I got were EXCELLENT! I know I shouldn't shout, but the editors I worked with at both houses were very good.

    Getting in a hurry for publication leads to mistake I can attest to. I made some mistakes with my last book, rushed some of the the process, but I've learned from that. One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is the flexibility in terms of a publication schedule.

    Excellent post, as always. It does take a team to produce a good book.

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    1. Your books attest to good editing, Joy. They are a delight to read.

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  6. Oh Denise, would that we had the teams of editors that they had in the past! Both my published books have been edited professionally and proofread professionally too, but I have still found mistakes, and one of them wasn't in the original manuscript! I also work very hard at polishing my manuscripts, but even still, it is not the same as having someone who will do it meticulously for you. I am doing a proofreading and copy-editing course at the moment, but nothing can really replace another pair of experienced and professional eyes.

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    1. Val I haven't got to your book yet but I will be interested to read it when I can.

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  7. Little mistakes distract me, so I admit I often rearrange those chairs.
    The more I write, the longer I spend on the outline and story, planning it out in advance. That helps in the editing stage, and I use two test readers followed by three critique partners. My publisher does have an editor, but she's just one person, so I do my best to polish my manuscript as much as possible.

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  8. It's a good thing to be meticulous Alex. I really want to become a better outliner.

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  9. As an outliner/plotter, I hope I catch most of the big picture stuff before I even begin writing. I've lucked out that one of my critique partners is an editor for a few small presses, so she's always quick to catch where I didn't make sense or need more details (I write clean and lean first drafts usually). Rewrites/edits are definitely the most important part of the writing process.

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    1. Clean and lean first drafts Cherie. I wish. Lucky you with that editor CP.

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  10. Oh Denise, you put writing in a whole different light..... ever harder than I originally thought it to be. hahaha I could never sit still long enough to do all you say as I'm in my Mercury dasha (Vedic astrology) But I do admire all you writers and that is why I like to hang out with you.
    Very interesting and I wish good luck to you and all you beautiful writers.

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    1. Thank you Manzanita. It's great having you hang out with us!

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  11. A fun post, Denise! I wish it didn't take so many edits because I'm lazy - drafting is so exciting and editing always feels never-ending. But I guess it's the goal of being published and reaching many more readers that keeps us going...

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    1. Ah I'm sure we all wished it was quicker and easier Deniz. Editing does seem never ending which is why it is hurried along at times.

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  12. I feel very much the same way. That's why I take my time when I write. And this time I've been getting feedback as I go to identify the problems/writer tics early so I can be aware of them as I move forward. I also agree that first impressions in publishing count more than they used to. Gotta put your best effort out there. :)

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  13. For me, there's a fine line between finished and tweaking the novel to death. I can be too much of a perfectionist, and potentially the writing can never be finished ;)

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    1. I hear you Lyn. Maybe I'll never be satisfied.

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  14. That's a very good book you've recommended, Denise. Thank you.

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    1. Sorry, didn't mean to be anon. I'm Maria from MBB and RBH. That's Maria's Book Blog and Romance Book Haven. LOL

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    2. HI Maria. LOL. Glad you like the recommendations.

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  15. Great book recommendations and great advice. Every writer should employ a professional editor before they put their work out there. Readers deserve to have their time valued.

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    1. They sure do Charmaine. As a heavy reader I no longer waste my time.

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  16. Great to hear from Denise about the editing process. I especially liked when she said to read our work aloud. :) I have found so many errors that way! I also think it is important to hire a professional editor when self-publishing (or when publishing with a smaller house).

    Thanks for the recommendations too! :)

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  17. Editing is SO important! It's impossible for us to see the big picture with our stories sometimes!

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  18. Yep you summed it up nicely, Denise. And I agree, just cuz we want it to be done and we typed "The End" doesn't mean it is. Stories take months at a time fore revisions and edits. And part of that is time away from it. I usually go thru four-6 rounds of revisions before I feel confident. But reaching actual perfection will never happen. That's ok tho, cuz general readers aren't looking for perfection. They're looking for escape.

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  19. Mighty fine post, Denise. Revision & editing take a different mindset than drafting, but I find that after I've set aside a manuscript for a few months, I can tackle the revision process with a fresh sight. Don't enjoy it at first, but it grows on me. Then I can share it with my wife, which I always enjoy. Her feedback is priceless!

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  20. Great post, Denise. It's so hard to know when a novel is ready to query (in the case of those going the traditional route) or self-publish. Sure, our steps become obvious after that first draft, but what after that? Once our crit partners have handed us their notes and we've followed their advice (or not) how do we know our work is ready? This is one of the reasons I haven't dared to self-publish. I guess I'm afraid of putting my work out there to soon, and like you say, there's no turning back after that.

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  21. Great post with lots of great advise!
    I just saw another blog recommending another book on writing by K.M. Weiland. I totally need to check these out. :)

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  22. Yes! I totally have bad writing habits! :)

    Thanks for the book recommendations!

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  23. This is all great advice! I will have to look into those books! :) Great post Denise! :)

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