Knee-Deep in Editing

Feb. 23rd 2011

I’m self-publishing my debut novel in May. This is a book I’ve worked on for nine years. No, wait — 10 years (since 2001). It’s gone through six top-to-bottom rewrites. It’s been laid to rest once, only to be resurrected a year later when, out of the blue, I figured out how to fix the beginning, which had been dogging me since version 1.0. It went through a bunch of beta readers, and each time, I revisited the piece and reworked it some more. I wrote, rewrote, put it aside, rewrote, revised, proofed, and then this past fall, I finally felt it was ready.

And when I say “ready,” I mean ready to go to a copy editor, not the virtual bookshelves at Amazon or B&N.

As I mentioned in this post from last week, we indie writers have an enormous responsibility to put out polished work. (Yes, all writers do, but bear with me here.) Indie writers don’t have to use an editor, whereas traditional writers do. But I believe all indie writers should use a professional editor, even if that means pushing out the date of your release or working a second job for a little while to get the funds to pay for one. I’ve read too many indie works lately that have punctuation errors on page one. Page one! There’s no excuse for that. None. Don’t peddle schlock. Put out your best work.

I’m lucky. I’m friends with a professional story and copy editor. Her name is Laura Matthews and she owns thinkStory.biz.

We met in Niblets (my writers group). What I love about Laura is that she’s a “literal” reader and writer. I’m not. I’m all about the implied and the indirect, so Laura provides great insight into my work. She also is great at calling me out on my crutches: I know I overuse words like actually and just; I exorcised most of those from my manuscript before she got it, but she pointed out the crutches I missed because I’m too close to the work. Words like really and starting too many sentences with and.

Before Laura edited this version, she read version 5.0 and provided feedback on the story, characters, and the arc. I made some revisions based on these comments and then continued making more until I got to the point I was at this past fall. Then I sent it to Laura around Christmas. She sent it back to me the end of January, and I’ve been working on the edits ever since, poring through every line, every scene, and debating titles (another thing that dogged me with this book. I finally came up with a title I’m happy with — more on that in another post once I finalize the cover art).

I really think indie writers are doing a disservice to their work, to their readers, and to the self-publishing industry in general if they don’t go through this process. While I had only a handful of actual typos in 371 Word doc pages, Laura caught enough inconsistencies, lazy language, crutch words, etc. to show why an editor is needed. It’s not simply a worthy investment; it’s a necessary investment as well. If you’re an indie writer, don’t skimp.

What do you think, readers and writers? If you’re a reader, have you ever read something and wondered where the author’s editor was? And writers (indie or traditional — we’re all the same), do you make sure your work is professionally edited (before you self-publish or before you pitch an agent or publisher or submit to a lit magazine)? Feel free to share info about the person you use in the comments. Copy editing is not an easy job. Props to anyone who does it and does it well! (And in case you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend Laura.)

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Indie Writers: Credo & First Commandment

Feb. 16th 2011

If you had asked me a year ago if I’d ever self-publish, I would have given an emphatic “No.” At the time, I was busy at work on the draft of my second novel, and I was still caught up in the dream of landing an agent and a traditional publishing deal.

Now, I won’t lie: parts of those dreams still exist in me, but thanks to the digital revolution that’s taking place before all our eyes, I’m quite excited to be part of this venture. I don’t even cringe internally anymore when I tell people I’m going this route and that I’m self-publishing my work as eBooks.

That said, I’m aware of what some people — both fellow writers and readers — are thinking. Self-publishing is a last resort. Self-publishing means you couldn’t make it as a “real” writer. Most of the self-published stuff out there is crap. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t take it personally. How can I? I was one of the people thinking those same things not even nine months ago.

And here’s the dirty truth: a lot of crap is still being self-published. I mean “crap” in a totally objective way. In other words, the author doesn’t have the piece professionally edited (your mom and BFF don’t count, unless they’re editors in real life), resulting in numerous mistakes in punctuation and grammar. And the author hasn’t received sufficient feedback from beta readers on the story itself.

I think we indie writers have an important task at a pivotal moment in this revolution: we MUST be committed to putting out quality work, even more so than traditionally published authors, just by virtue of the fact that we self-publish, which, in essence, screams, “I feel strongly in this work and think it’s ready for prime time.”

Rushing something to market just because we can doesn’t mean we should (this isn’t an original thought, by the way). Unfortunately, those who do are the ones who really give self-publishing a bad name (and it’s the main reason I avoided it for so long). Thanks to people like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking and so many other serious writers who take pride in the quality of their work, that’s changing.

But we ALL must adhere to this first commandment in the indie writer credo: do no harm; put out the best work possible no matter what. And yeah, that might mean postponing the release or taking a step back to review the work one more time. Just to make sure. Do it (I’m doing it too). It will be worth it in the end. And maybe — just maybe — we can dismantle that ugly indie writer stereotype for good.

Indie writers, what do you think? Should this be the first commandment or can you think of something more important?

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