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!
* 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!