Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tutorial Tuesday - Hired Guns and Editing

Ah, joy.  You’ve finished your novel, and it’s a thing of beauty.  It’s like having a child.  After all, you created it, nurtured it, and brought it to completion.  You’re justifiably proud.

Now it’s time for a second opinion.  Much like sending your little ones off to school for someone else to take a turn at honing their skills, it’s time to hand off a little responsibility for your creation.  You need a new pair of eyes to look at your manuscript and see what works, what doesn’t, and to catch the mistakes you missed.

It’s time to engage the services of a proofreader/editor.  Do not skip this step.  As I mentioned in last week’s tutorial, you’ve now gone edit-blind.  You can no longer see many of the differences between the story in your head and the one on your computer screen.

And your spell/grammar check, as valuable a tool as it is, didn’t catch everything either.  It doesn’t always intuit the correct usage of their, there, and they’re.  It gets confused as to whether you meant its as possessive or it’s as a contraction of ‘it is’. 

Not only that, but what you thought was plain as day in your storyline might not be so clear to a reader.  Every single thing I’ve ever written has had that issue.  My editors, whom I get to look over my work before I send anything off to my publisher, have always come back to me with, “You know, this didn’t ring quite true,” or “This character would never do what he does in Chapter 7,” or “How did you get to this point when there were these issues that weren’t resolved?” 

Sometimes I disagree with them.  I don’t always go along with what my editors say.  But 95 percent of the time I am clued in to a problem I hadn’t seen before, so I give every comment serious consideration.  Even when I think, “How can you say that’s not clear?  I made a point of dealing with that in the last chapter”, I take another look at the point under discussion and strive to make it better.  If one person is having issues with what I wrote, it’s almost guaranteed others will too.

This means having a thick skin.  When you’re so invested in your story, as you no doubt will be, even constructive criticism sounds like an attack on your ability to write.  Swallow it.  Get over yourself.  Smile and thank the kind person who took the time to make your story better.  And make those corrections. 

Choosing an Editor/Proofreader

As to where to find these excellent editors who make sure you don’t send a steaming pile out into the world, you have many options.  You can pay for professional editing .  As with anything else, you will find both the good and the bad offering their services.  Just remember anyone can call themselves an ‘editor’.  If you’re going the paid route, get references from other writers.  Don’t fall for just any ad in the back of a writing magazine.  This is your money, and I don’t want to see you get taken by a person who thinks ‘a lot’ is one word.

Another alternative is hiring a college student who majors in English.  You can probably get this kind of help cheaper than the professional editor.  A caveat for hiring either pro or student:  pay by the page, not by the hour … you don’t want to get charged for time your proofreader spent texting, yapping on the phone, or whatever other interruptions occur.

If free or bartering is your thing, as it is mine, then it’s time to look around your circle of family and friends for help.  Make sure these are people who will give you honest opinions, however.  Anyone who will gloss over what they didn’t get from your content because they don’t want to hurt your feelings is not doing you any favors at all.

My editors are all family and friends.  Yes, I said editors plural.  I have more than one because I finish a book every two to three months, and I don’t like to presume on the goodwill of these people who are kind enough to lend a hand.

 A fellow author is my go-to guy for the Clans of Kalquor series.  As an erotica author with a command of the English language that far exceeds mine, I know I can count on him to give me excellent feedback.  Plus having a male perspective on the uber-masculine Kalquorians is invaluable.  We have an agreement that I will do the same for him once he moves from short stories to novels.   I highly recommend this bartering system.  Finding a writer to trade editorial services with can be a win-win situation for all concerned.

My paranormal erotica is proofed by my mom.  She has a terrific grasp of grammar and makes no bones about when I’ve slipped up with a character or the storyline.  I know I can trust her to keep me from allowing major lapses in storytelling.

I have a third editing team, dear friends of mine.  One is someone with actual proofreading credentials, who examines my non-erotic writings.  His wife, no slouch herself in writing and grammar, also gives me her valuable two cents worth.  I know I won’t get away with anything with this pair.

No matter who you find to put your story through its paces, make it someone who likes the genre you write in.  If you write erotica, you shouldn’t ask your preacher’s wife to look it over, even if she is an English professor.  You need someone who loves the kinds of things you write about, along with their ability to edit.  Otherwise, you won’t get a very objective opinion on how good your novel is.

More Reasons for Outside Editing

All this advice on outside editing/proofreading is especially true if you’re self-publishing your novel, because you’re the last stop before the public gets their hands on your work.  It’s all on you to get this right, so you really need another opinion or two on whether or not this story is ready for the world.

I can hear the question though:  I plan to submit to publishers and not do this all by myself.  Won’t the publisher’s editor catch what’s wrong with my writing?

There are two problems with relying on the publisher’s editorial staff:  First, the publisher has to sign your book to a contract before the copy editor ever sees your work.  And if you send a publisher something chock full of typos, grammar errors, and plot problems, you’ll never get that contract.  You cannot afford mistakes when it comes to submitting to a publisher if you want them to give you a chance.

Secondly, even if your novel does get signed and copyedited, it’s a better than average chance the editing will be below par.  It seems the days of excellence in editing have gone by the wayside even in traditional publishing these days.  I’m a huge fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I’ve seen enough errors in these books to let me know that the person editing these books either needs more coffee or less booze in their system.  In my opinion, it’s absolutely horrendous that a bestselling author’s work put out by a major publisher is not being better proofed.

So despite the fact that my publisher has an editor going over my work, I leave nothing to chance.  There have been things she’s caught that got past me and my proofreaders, and there are things that have slipped by her as well.  No one is infallible, no matter how good they are, so put as many eyes on finding the mistakes as you can. 

Heading Off Trouble

Unfortunately, there will be people who buy and read your books who are not good matches for what you write.  They will roast your baby in scathing reviews with great delight.  Any little mistake will only further their cause.  Do yourself a favor and don’t allow poor editing to fuel their bonfire.  Get a second and maybe even a third trusted opinion.  After all, you want your baby to realize its full potential, right?

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