As a novelist-do you use an editor? Writing without one is like home schooling your children. It can work, if you treat it seriously.A professional editor is an expense many self published authors try to do without. Personally, I had n assessment for my first three manuscripts then, going on what I had seen them do, continued on my own. However, I always use beta readers and have outside help with proof reading.
Recent discussions on editing have alerted me to the detail required for the job. A good editor considers characterisation, structure, plot, continuity and style, giving an assessment of whether the story captures and holds the imagination of a reader and suggests cutting unnecessary waffle to keep the action tight. People who add nothing to the story have to be eliminated or merged. Points of View should be adhered to whether they be first person, third person or omniscient narrator as a multitude of voices clamouring to be heard can spoil a good story. The balance of internal thought, dialogue and description should be kept and characters should act consistently. Can the reader differentiate between them or will they get Millie and Maisie confused?
A professional editor will also ask who the book is intended for and, while for most of us it is just something we want to write, if we want to be commercial we should listen to advice. I intend to learn more about editing as I believe it could be even more important than marketing!
Yesterday the Sea scribes had a meeting where they decided to update their trifold, a little leaflet with information about all the books we have written with cover pictures and portraits of the authors. Oh dear! Once one has white hair it doesn’t show up on a white background and most of my photos were taken about ten years ago when I was really into self publication. Who was that happy looking beige blonde?
If you want to do your own marketing a good portrait should be part of the package and I am lucky that both of my websites have professional photos. However, I don’t look like that any more and as I am still doing talks I need an up to date photo or the groups won’t believe I am the speaker they booked! As I am the family photographer when I search for OK images of myself all I can find are ones of hubby, the dog and the granddaughter.
I used to get very angry when self published novels were dismissed as rubbish. I knew a number of authors who wrote books that were better than some traditionally published works but recently I have come across the kind of book that makes me rethink my attitude.
It is too easy to pay for your work to be printed and feel that wonderful sense of achievement when you hold it in your hands, but then it goes out into the world and the spelling errors that you missed and the gaps in the plot and the overwriting and the poor grammar are pointed out by readers and reviewers and you realise there is more to producing a book that just getting your ideas down on paper.
How many edits are enough? How many eyes saw your manuscript before it was published? How much experience have you had? Did you read it out loud? Did you show it to anyone skilled in assessing your work?
Time and again we self publishers are told to use an editor and still we think checking and proof reading it ourselves is good enough. Yet we know our characters – the reader doesn’t. We are not writing for ourselves, we are writing for an audience. It is important that they have a firm idea of the participants in the story and if we use too many they can get confused. Multiple viewpoints are irritating but so many writers use them.
After seven novels I am still learning my craft and encourage all authors to treat writing as a skill that is not naturally picked up at school but, like all skills, needs a period of apprenticeship before being confident that what you have produced is good enough to offer to the world.
Yesterday I went to the Self Publishing Exchange run by new Generation Publishing in London. Two of us travelled up from Worthing, recognising that the journey would be longer than usual because there were no trains on the Brighton Line. What we hadn’t reckoned with was, on reaching Victoria, we found there were no underground trains on the circle and district lines which meant, instead of going direct to our destination, Charing Cross, we had to take in two more stops on two other lines which meant walking up and down stairs and slopes and arriving at the college exhausted and late.
Once the event restarted, after welcome coffee, we were treated to some interesting panels with a variety of speakers on editing and marketing but, by lunchtime it became obvious that we were only scratching the surface. There was so much more we could have learned given more time. In fact, the scope was so broad it could take a whole weekend. This was followed by group ‘pitches’ to experts in the field and we were happy to find out more about New Generation and hear advice about approaching agents but, of course, did not know what the other groups were discussing.
On the way home we were offered seats on the underground but as we were only going one stop we declined the offer which made me think about how we were perceived. It all started when I asked about libraries in the panel session and realised most people thought they were redundant. Then a speaker almost suggested printed books were also unnecessary and I began to feel old. When I arrived home I looked in the mirror and tried to imagine what I looked like to other, younger people and came to the conclusion I must look like an old woman whose ideas and attitudes belong in the past. It was nice to be offered a seat but I think maybe it means I shall from now on be dismissed as unworthy of attention – the ‘invisibility’ of the old has arrived!
Thinking about the book show I was wondering what other writers might like to discuss and realised that one of the fun things about being a self publisher is deciding on the cover for the book. Traditional publishers like to have a separate style for each of their writers so that readers can recognise the books by each author and I realised I had been doing that, too.
The Lane books had scenes on the front with a rather old fashioned font. The Never books looked more modern and spikey and the one odd book, the romance, had a cartoon rather than a photo. I wanted it to look chick-lit without being pink!
I was reading this month’s magazine when I came upon a little piece about me and my books. It was such a long time since I sent it in I had forgotten all about it.
I should have added a web address but otherwise it was fine, although I always think other writers cannot possibly read books by all the authors who submit to Writing Magazine. Just occasionally a review or a story might make a reader search out more by that writer and one can hope that a publisher might be curious enough to find out whether one would be a good bet for promotion.
Having been told once that my work was’not commercial’ I gave up sending to agents. It is enough to constantly be asked for another book by the folk who do buy a copy. It will be interesting to find out if anyone shows an interest at the UK Southern Book Show on 28th October at Field Place, Worthing. It should be a great showcase.
Thinking it was about time I wrote something about the writing process I asked myself what is it that helps a writer to do their own first edit?
We all try to spot spelling, punctuation and continuity errors before we send our work off but I don’t think everyone reads their written work out loud. I suppose it is easy with poetry but perhaps some folk think reading prose is boring and makes them doubt the worth of what they have written.
When we read in a familiar writing group we often find mistakes and correct them as we go along. Also, we get feed back as to whether the dialogue actually fits the character or the period, but if you do not belong to a group, what do you do? You could record yourself reading or just shut yourself away and try not to feel stupid! You don’t have to be an actor – if no-one else is listening just think of it as an alternative editing method. I believe you’ll find it useful.
Of course, nothing is as helpful as another pair of eyes!