Friday, April 25, 2014

Countdown to a Self-Published Book 2 : Putting Together My Editing Team

As Carola Dunn illustrated in her recent post, in traditional publishing the author is sometimes at the mercy of her editor. One of the benefits of (and problems with) self-publishing is that the author-publisher gets an overruling vote against the editor she hires.

Look at all the pretty colours...
(a screenshot of the multiple edits of a now-deleted scene)

As a history major, I was taught to seek multiple sources of information, and, even with my own fictional brain-matter, I don’t feel comfortable until I’ve had several opinions on it. Since I had the budget, I decided to hire two editors for Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, knowing that I might be tempted to outvote a single editor, but two against one would show me there really was an issue that needed fixing. I also placed a request for teenage beta-readers. And the final member of my team would be proofreader Julia Gibbs.

My editors, Sally Odgers and our own Debby Harris, both picked up on an “incomprehensible” beginning (caused, I have to confess, by not having a true antagonist in the first draft and trying to retrofit the bad guys) and a lack of explanation of key elements affecting the plot. Even more telling (and embarrassing) was that only one of my beta-readers actually managed to finish the book and provide feedback. Out of ten.

In addition, Debby Harris brought her thirty years of experience to bear when she pointed out that the fun I’d been having jumping my protagonist back and forth between Earth and an alternate world (Ground) had forced me as the writer to come up with plot threads to justify the situation, extra characters to carry out the extra threads (and provide expository information), and then extra complications to justify the existence of the extra characters. In effect my book and characters had run away with me. I had allowed the plot and characters to meander in the beginning—having fun, but not really doing anything of value—and towards the end I’d sprinted through the wrap up in order to complete the book before I birthed my daughter. Three quarters of the book had a good proportion of showing (but very little of it important to the plot); the last quarter was mostly exposition (and vital to the climax). And if I wanted to keep everything as it was, it was going to have to be a much longer book—or perhaps split over two books.

Or perhaps there was a simpler solution. But that’s a tale for the next post.

Previous post:
Countdown to a Self-Published Book 1 : Making the Decision

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, which is now available on Kindle. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. To keep in the loop about “Maddie”, join her mailing list here, or find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

19 comments :

  1. Excellent post. Pushing the "publish" button too soon--without getting professional editing--is part of the reason indie-publishers are often viewed as "Second Rate" authors. Nobody wants to hear anything negative about their babies, but that's what you have to do to end up with a quality product.

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    1. Thanks, Terry. Strange as it sounds, I quite enjoy getting critques and editorial feedback. I don't view it as negative, but as pointers to how I can improve the story. Even if the reader in question has misunderstood what I intended, that shows me I need to write more clearly (not defend my baby and correct the reader).

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  2. I could not publish without my amazing critique group. They don't let me get away with anything. We are all secure enough to kick each other's butts in the nicest possible way. If you can't take that kind of criticism, your story can suffer. No matter how clearly you see someone else's work, it it really hard to see your own with 20/20 vision.

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    1. Absolutely. It's like a safety net, isn't it? And, as confident as I am about my self-editing skills, my proofreader still picked up a couple hundred errors.

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  3. One of the few (and I mean 'few') benefits of writing in the business world was learning that a writer has to have a thick skin ... you can't take it personally. I mean, those guys were brutal ... if you let 'em get to you, your creative soul would be crushed. I've found editors of fiction to be much more tactful ... tough, but easier on the ego.

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    1. Glad I stayed out of that as much as possible.

      I think humility in an editor is a valuable trait. The author is the creator. No matter how many newbie errors the author has made, it is still their creation and the editor should respect that.

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    2. I like professional, corporate editors - they've taught me a lot, and I don't see them as "brutal" at all. I see them as "the people who keep me from looking like an idiot in public." They don't spend a lot (any) time stroking egos - that's true - but I appreciate that when I'm on a deadline. I don't need someone tearing me down personally, but they can have at the writing all they like - provided they're improving it.

      In my experience, other writers make the worst editors. I include myself in this. It's not that we don't know what we're doing - it's that we are too likely to want to rewrite the whole thing in our own style. I prefer to work with editors who LOVE editing and have little interest in writing their own material, at least not in the same genre.

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    3. That's a very good point, Holly. As I mentioned, a good editor needs to have the humility to back off and respect the author's voice and the author's choices for the book. It's not the editor's book. I've had some hilarious "suggestions" from editors, and the nice thing about self-publishing is the ability to leave them as suggestions and not have to incorporate someone else's reworking of your story.

      Thanks for stopping to comment :-)

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  4. Oh my gosh Elle, people are going to love this post. Not many of us have the bravery to hang our creative underwear out on the line this way, but good for you—we've all been there, and this highly relatable tale will resonate with so many writers hoping that their early drafts might possibly display creative brilliance without the hard work required of pulling together a novel. Eager for the next installment!

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    1. "Creative underwear" - ha, I love that!

      This book has been a very interesting ride - I thought it was going to be an "easy" one, but it really went through so much development. And I just have to laugh whenever I open that working document and see the glorious colours that represent... well, I'll have to go and count how many passes it went through.

      Thanks, Kathryn.

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  5. Sounds like you've got a great team there! Was cost something that influenced your decision in hiring two editors (and a proofreader)? Thanks so much for the helpful post!

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    1. Hi Anna,

      You're welcome :-)

      I was finding my feet a little bit. And I also thought I would be able to publish a lot sooner than eventuated. I contacted, and researched, a few editors, some of whom couldn't fit me in at short-ish notice. I was always going to finish with a proofread, though. With a tighter budget I would probably rely on several critiques and a proofread.

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  6. I love your idea of getting two editors - that resonates with me. It's hard to argue that two people could be wrong and I'm right.

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    1. I know, Elspeth. I can be really stubborn sometimes ;-) I thought "Maddie" was worth swallowing some pride, though.

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  7. This is why even editors need editors when they write. The sharp eyes that hone the works of others so well are often out to lunch when we peruse our own manuscripts.

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    1. Indeed they are, Linda. I had a couple of "how did I miss that?" moments when my proofread ms came back ;-)

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  8. Two editors? If only we could get indie authors to use even one! As Linda says, even editors need editors.

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  9. Indeed, Larry. It would be great if everyone recognised the need for a second opinion.

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  10. I'm a firm believer in having more than one editor. Those who don't have even one, shame on them and good luck making back their investments. Great post!
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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