Welcome to the final chapter for 2017.
Let’s start with some additional information from Andrew Durkin, see his original guest post here. This part of his guest post answers many questions from the last chat. From Andrew:
The most surprising thing I’ve learned since becoming a professional editor is that not all authors believe in the benefit of professional editing. On the surface, that’s understandable, especially in self-publishing—why pay for something when you can get a friend to do it for free? Economic resistance is often compounded by a very human fear of criticism, as well as horror stories about bad editors who have corrupted an author’s artistic or intellectual vision.
But I’m going to start from the premise that professional editing is the sine qua non for anyone serious about being an author—regardless of genre, and regardless of the type of publishing (traditional or self). The real question is how do you get the most out of the process? In my experience, there are three rules of thumb, and they follow below. (Some of these will seem like common sense . . . but you’d be surprised!)
First, make sure your manuscript is actually ready for editing.
When is a manuscript “ready for editing”? When you’ve made it as good as you can, of course! Again, this seems like common sense. Yet I’ve learned that many authors have a voice in their head that says, “It just needs to be ‘good enough’—the publishing process will take care of the rest.” (It’s the literary equivalent of saying “we’ll fix it in post.”)
That “good enough” voice usually kicks in when you are almost finished with your manuscript. Writing a book is exhausting at best (soul sucking at worst), and you may be tempted to move on when fatigue sets in. But while there is always a point of diminishing returns, there are usually ways to strengthen your work even when you are in that grueling almost-there phase.
Maybe you try doing focused reads, for example (e.g., concentrating on just the scenes featuring a single character . . . or just the scenes occurring in real time . . . or just the turning-point scenes). Maybe you try reading your manuscript out loud. Maybe you compile a list of your technical weaknesses and do a find/replace to deal with them (in my own manuscript, I am currently trying to tamp down on an overuse of the word “gasp”). Whatever it is, take some extra time to look for the things you’re still blind to. This can require a level of honesty about your own writing that is downright painful. But although you won’t catch every issue, you can usually come a lot closer than you think.
Then, once you have hit the point of diminishing returns, share the manuscript with a beta-reader or two. I can’t tell you how many times I have edited a book only to realize I was its first outside reader! (Or at least its first objective outside reader.) It always shows. Hopefully you have been soliciting feedback all along, workshopping pieces of your manuscript in a critique group or partnership. But beta-readers are your test audience for the entire work, and they can be invaluable.
What makes a good beta-reader? Look for someone who is more than a well-read friend, a college English professor, or a supportive family member. Beta-readers can be those things—but they should also “get” the genre you’re working in. And it helps to know how they read. If your beta-reader favors labyrinthine, dense fantasy, she might not be able to give you useful feedback on your sparely written detective novel—even if she enjoys it. (On the other hand, she may be able to bring unusually fresh eyes to your manuscript.) Basically, you want to know where a beta-reader is coming from when she offers her evaluation, so you have the tools to determine what is relevant for you.
Yes, these suggestions for making your manuscript “ready for editing” may seem obsessive. But in the long run, the benefit will be enormous. Editors are not wizards—we have finite attention, time, and energy. Ideally, you want that spent on making a good manuscript excellent—not on making a weak manuscript good.
Now let’s start the chat. Where are you at in your process? Who is stuck and/or procrastinating and what advice does everyone have for them? Mnemosyne requested some advice on the craft of writing book suggestions. I’m on the mailing list from Jane Friedman (here) and finding it very informative. And I have a question – recommendations for cover artists and any advice on choosing.
Ok, there you go. Remember be kind and supportive…