Tag Archives: editors

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Book)

You there, about to load a first or second draft to a publishing platform. Yes, you. Don’t you hit that upload button. Back away from the keyboard nice and slow. That’s it, sit back, relax, we need to have a chat. Look, I know you’re excited about getting your baby out in the world, of having it read and getting those sales, but is it the best version of your baby? Or, are you sending it out half-formed and with shitty clothes? I said back away from the keyboard.

Okay, I understand that writing is mostly a solitary endeavour but the processes of getting your book out to readers is not. Doing that alone is a fool’s errand. I’ve listened (somewhat) patiently to authors telling me they don’t need beta readers or an editor or a cover artist or a cover designer or layout artist – they can do that all themselves and not have to worry about expenditure. Technically they’re right. With the advent of self-publishing and the associated platforms you most certainly can do this alone. The question is: should you? The answer is: no.

Expenditure is an issue, I get it, but if you don’t invest in your book, don’t expect readers to invest in it either. With the traditional route, your publisher will take care of this: the editing, the cover, the proofreading et al. (Note: with traditional publishing you shouldn’t pay for any of this – money flows to the author, not away – but that’s a subject for another post.) Author-publishers? Yeah, you need to pay for this yourself.

So let’s take a look at the processes you need to put out the best damn book you can. So you’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story and you’re pretty happy with where it is – characters are on point, plot is kicking-arse, sub-plots are woven nicely, narrative is killer. Time to get that baby out in the world! Yeah… no. What you have in your hands is a ‘rough draft’, the foundation upon which you will build. A strong foundation it may well be, but a foundation is what it is. Write, edit, redraft. Rinse and repeat.

You’ve spent a good lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you’re well past being able to see any issues with it. You don’t just hammer out a first draft and upload it. I suppose you can do that if you like (plenty of people have), but be prepared for any reviews to point out exactly where you went wrong. Plot holes? You got them. Spelling and grammar issues? Kill me now. Point-of-view hops? What’s happening! Layout all over the place? My eyes!

gouge eyes

It’s bad reviews for you. And bad reviews, especially when it comes to poor spelling and grammar, clichéd story, Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters will guarantee low-to-zero sales. Readers take note of bad reviews, especially those that cite all of the above. Remember, there’s that ‘look inside’ option, and you’ll lose that potential sale right there. Not only will you not get sales, readers tend to not give you a second chance. Why would they when there are plenty of other authors doing it the right way.

Because I love the point form, here’s a breakdown of who you need in your village (just step over the books strewn about the place):

  • Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the writing/publishing process. You’ll need at least two (but no more than five), and ones with differing skill sets ‒ someone who reads in your genre, and someone who doesn’t (librarian, book reviewer), someone who has an understanding of grammar and/or story mechanics. Not your nanna. She may be lovely, but… no.
  • Editor. And by editor I mean someone with qualifications (ask to see these), industry experience, and one who understands the genre in which you write. Beta readers are not editors. Editors know structure and syntax and speech, they know consistency, cohesion, and characterisation. They understand foreshadowing, and herrings, and Chekov’s rifle. They know subjects and predicates, showing versus telling, and they know dangling participles and why you shouldn’t have them. They know language, and they will tighten the crap out of your narrative.
  • Cover artist/cover designer. These can be two different people, so make sure you know what you’re getting. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ve covered this in my previous post: Art of the Cover.
  • Layout artist. Yes, you need someone who understands desktop publishing and has the right tools for the job. No, you should not load a Microsoft Word document to a publishing platform ‒ the internals will be off-kilter, as will your kerning and typography. You don’t want bland and vanilla internals. With the right desktop publishing tools, your book becomes a reading experience. Layout is only noticeable when done poorly. And if someone tells you differently, run far and run fast.
  • Proofreader. This will be the final point at which you can catch any small issues eg. errant spaces, widows and orphans, correct page numbering etc. This is usually done with a PDF file called a galley proof. Best suggestion is to have someone other than your editor do the proof. New set of eyes means they’ll pick up any missed issues.

Now you’re probably bemoaning the processes and the associated costs, but if you want to put out professional product and be taken seriously then it needs to be done. Some editors will be happy to work with a  payment plan (and if asked will provide a sample edit), beta readers may ask for reciprocity, you can find reasonably-priced good cover artists and stock images, cover designers as well. These are processes you can’t skimp on if you want to do self-publishing right.

Check out Devin Madson’s episode on ‘Storywork’ about the 5 Steps to Professional Publishing. As a self-publisher, Devin has gone about this the right way. She gathered a village of beta readers, editor, cover artist, cover designer, layout artist around her and put out a book that rivals any published by the Big 5. Just take a look at one of the covers for her Vengeance Trilogy.

gse

This is author-publishing done right. Devin talks about your reputation as an author, and she’s not wrong. As I mentioned earlier, if you put out sub-par work don’t expect readers to return to your books, to buy them. Reputation can make or break you. Have it ‘make’ you.

Now before I let you return to your keyboard, think about all I’ve said, and think about the work you want the world to see. Professionally done books will bring readers back; the poorly done books will not. First impressions last.

It really does take a village to raise a book, a good book, a professional book… and when done right, you get a whole other village – readers, fans, those who will market upcoming releases for you, and who are willing to party with you for every book to come.

** Special shout-out to Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the suggestion for blog-post fodder — you rock, dude! Oh, and check out Grimdark Mag, they know their stuff!

Editors Aren’t Your Enemy

I don’t hate you. Really I don’t. These are phrases that often go through an editor’s mind as they work through your manuscript. We don’t hate you or your story; we’re not evil trolls ready to destroy your work. We’re not monsters who hack and slash at your words with wild abandon, our red pen dripping with the life-blood of your characters.

bloody pen

We’re not the enemy. We will, however, be your story and your characters’ advocate – devil or otherwise. That’s our job. And editors love their job. I know I do. We get to help a writer push the limits of their storytelling, to advise and collaborate to bring out its best. We question plots and sub-plots that aren’t cohesive, characters that appear to be acting out of character. We see what you don’t. Why? Because we’re not as close to your story as you are.

Objectivity is what we bring to the table, and it’s why all stories, no matter how they’re published (self or traditional) need another set of eyes (or more) to look over them. We haven’t been in your head developing the character(s), we don’t know the intricacies of their backstory – how they came into being. All we get is what’s on the page. If we question a particular point, or are confused about a character’s motivations, chances are so will your reader.

When going through a manuscript, we’re constantly aware that any edits, questions or suggestions may not sit well with an author; I mean we’re taking their lovingly-crafted baby and making marks all over it. We understand the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into bringing your work to life, especially those of us who are writers as well. We don’t laugh maniacally when we ask you to consider changing something, or deleting a scene altogether – we know it hurts, but we also know it could be the best thing for your baby.

One of my clients had a character she had been living with for a very long time, and about halfway through the manuscript, I noted the character was acting and speaking in a way that didn’t reflect them or their purpose. When I mentioned this to the client, they were surprised they hadn’t noticed it – I had the objectivity the client no longer had. When I saw the next draft of this manuscript, the character was better than even I could have imagined. I couldn’t have rewritten it – that’s not an editor’s job, they’d never be so presumptuous – but I could point out the issues and return it to the creator who knows their character far better than I ever could. Collaboration: when it works, magic happens.

book imagination

I know a lot of writers dread the editing stage of the manuscript, but this is a stage that needs to be embraced and enjoyed – you’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of the publishing process. Yes, if you misuse a comma or your verb-tense is a little off, we’re there to pick those up for you. We ensure your syntax is just right, that your characters and places are consistent in description and spelling, and will explain why.

Editing is a place where a writer can learn those intricacies of the English language, and we’re happy to share our knowledge. Why? Because we’re word nerds. I will happily walk through the reasons why you can or can’t use a semi-colon; why I’m a proponent of the Oxford comma, or how short, sharp sentences convey tension within a scene. I will explain why ‘showing’ works to create a deeper connection to the reader than ‘telling’ ever will, and why the passive voice can make the reader feel like a spectator rather than a participant, and why there are very, very few instances where punctuation exists outside speech marks. (This is usually where you’ll need to tell me to shut up, as I can wax lyrical for hours. Just ask my husband – he’s the one over there with the perpetual glassy-eyed look.)

So yes, editors are an essential part of the publishing process, whether you’re going the self-publishing route or traditional, and perhaps more so with self-publishing as this is a step quite a few SP authors overlook (or, sadly, believe they don’t need). I’m here to tell those authors you’re not only doing yourself a disservice but that of your potential reader. Nothing will piss off a reader more than a poorly written, non-edited book they’ve paid money to read. I know; I’ve been one of them.

bullshit

With the enormous amount of choice out there for readers, it’s getting harder to have your work, your stories noticed among the millions. But what will always help, what will always bring a reader back is when an author takes the care to put their very best work out in the world. Part of that process is to work with professionals. I read a post from a self-published author on this very thing – read it here; it has some great insights about finding a professional. (Yes, I’m her editor, and you absolutely should read her collection of short stories when it comes out – I can’t recommend it enough.)

And a professional is what you need. When sourcing an editor (or proofreader, cover artist, formatter/layout artist), check their credentials! I’ll say it again: CHECK THEIR CREDENTIALS! A professional will have studied, they will have qualifications backed up by paperwork, and they will have experience – all of which should be available to you. Ask. And ask for a sample edit – most will provide one.

There are a plethora of sources to find professional editors, but word-of-mouth is your best bet. Ask other writers who they’d recommend, ask forums and social media. If you can, source someone who specialises in your genre as they’ll have insights other editors may not. And speak to at least five editors before you make a decision. Not all editors will be the right fit, but when you find the one that clicks, you’ll make magic.

magic book