Editing is your friend

I’ve been working on getting a book of short stories together for publication for almost a year now. The cover was done about a year ago, most of the stories were written long before then. I asked friends (fellow writers) to read the book and find errors. I even asked friends who like to read to take a look and make sure the stories flow well together.

For the most part, the short stories in the collection are stories I have read and re-read for more than a year. There are some that are newer and did not have that extensive a reread, but still, I have read them more than once.

It takes a long time to edit your own work. If someone finishes a book and publishes it within a month, they have done a disservice to their own work and to the people who will purchase it and read it. Even well-known authors with agents and big publishing houses take a year from finished manuscript to released book.

Writing something and then publishing it right away, with no other eyes viewing it, is not a good idea. If a writer is a good editor, they know they must lay the book aside for a month, re-read the entire book, put it aside for a month, then re-read it again. After that, they must give the book to at least two other people to review. Why at least two? Because if only one person reads the book, the writer can’t know if the mistakes the person finds actually need to be fixed. There are some mistakes, like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, that are no brainers. If an editor finds a mistake like that, a writer should fix it.

Continuity, word usage and ideas within the story are more intangible and need more than one person’s opinion. If two or more people find the same mistakes with the intangible parts, then the writer knows it is something that needs a hard second look.

When writing something, I know what I want to say. It is in my head and I can see clearly what I mean. When I hand my book off to someone else, they can spot inconsistencies, continuity errors, grammar and spelling errors that my brain no longer sees. Once the book is done, I hand it off to three people. If only one of them tells me of a story issue, I take it to heart, think about it and dismiss the idea or take it, depending on how much I like the idea. If two people tell me the same exact thing, I am more likely to change something. If the third person tells me of the exact same issue, well at that point I usually curse because it means a re-write.

Writers don’t have to listen to editors when self-publishing. It’s one of the reasons I like using Amazon. It’s my story being published, not someone else’s idea on what my book should say or how it should be, but that is also why marketplaces like Amazon are fill with terrible books. There are too many writers out there that just don’t care about the product, or care too much about seeing their name in print that they don’t put out a quality product.

If my three editors say the same thing, I know that other readers will feel the same way, which can be a problem. There are times though, that I decide not to listen to editors with good reason. For example, in my book The Elven Prince all the people who read the book before it was published wanted to see how the main character’s love interest, Anan, fought. I wrote her as a badass elven warrior, but never show her in a fight. This was on purpose. The book was about Eloran, not Anan, and I felt that highlighting too much of her would detract from him.

On the other hand, I wrote a novel about angels and demons (not published yet), that I was thinking about publishing as my first novel. I handed the book off to three people. There is one demon, a minor character, that ends up helping a fellow demon, against Lucifer’s wishes. Lucifer seemingly kills the minor character, but the demon disappears at the last moment. He reappears at the end of the book, as a redeemed angel. It is revealed that he spoke to an angel and made his confessions at some point in the middle of the book.

I was told by each of my editors, all separately and without foreknowledge of what the others had stated, I believe, that what I did was a copout. To find out at the end that the demon turned good, and was not killed, was a cheat. They said it nicer than that, but that’s how I thought of it when they were all done editing. I had cheated my way into saving the life of a character I liked.

I don’t like cheating with writing.

Therefore, knowing a major re-write was coming, I put the book down and found something else to publish. I wasn’t sure how to tackle the re-write and felt it best to let it stew for a while before attempting it.

That’s ok to do, too. Once a book is finished, we don’t have to publish right away, and in some instances, shouldn’t. It’s ok to change our minds about publishing something. It’s our prerogative. And if it’s being self-published, it doesn’t matter when it gets out there, or in what order, as long as it is good quality.

Which brings me to the greatness and great failing of Amazon and other self-publishing sites.

I love using Amazon. I don’t pay for any of the services, other than getting the proof and actual copies printed and sent to me. That’s it. I usually have someone I know do the cover, and I usually have people I know edit. There are services on Amazon if you need help with editing or putting the cover together, some you pay for, some you don’t, but since I get that all done before hand, I pay a nominal fee for what I do, through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

And anyone with a manuscript can do the same thing. Unfortunately, there are writers out there that don’t take the time to edit. I recently edited a book that a friend already published on Amazon. I read the book, it’s a solid story, but it is so full of mistakes that I refuse to review it until it has been properly edited. It’s a shame that the novel went public without being edited. At this time, if anyone my friend doesn’t know reads the book, they will get a poor review. If someone complains, Amazon will pull the book.

A bad review for an independent writer, due to grammar, spelling, and sentence structure, can be their end. No one wants to read a book full of mistakes.

Therefore, if you’re thinking about publishing through any market, make sure you edit your work prior to publishing. Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Finish the novel. Yay!
  2. Put the manuscript aside for a month. (Save it in 10 different places to make sure you don’t lose it.)
  3. After a month, read the manuscript slowly to find any errors.
  4. After correcting the errors, put the manuscript aside for a month.
  5. Read the manuscript again, finding new errors. And you will. There are always errors.
  6. Get other people to read your book for you. If you know other writers, they are usually willing to help, but you have to give them time. Send them a copy through Word Doc or Google Docs, as both allow the reader to mark mistakes they find, and make comments. If you want it done now and can afford it, there are editing services to be found on the net. I can’t recommend any paid services; I use my friends, as they are wonderful.
  7. Review mistakes found by editors.
  8. Fix errors you feel are necessary to fix. Take a good long look at the ones you don’t want to fix and ask yourself (a lot), whether or not you should follow the fixes you don’t like. Talk to your editors about why they gave you the edits. That helps, too.
  9. After making all final edits, put the manuscript down for a while, maybe not a month, but let it sit.
  10. Edit the manuscript yourself one last time. It’s amazing how many things slip through the cracks, especially if you fixed things. Sometimes we fix things incorrectly.
  11. Once that is done, figure out what you want to do: self-publish or send to agents/publishers.

Is this a long process? Yes. And it should be. My books are my children. I care for them, nurture them and make sure that everything is damn near perfect before releasing it to the public. The public is not kind. They find a mistake, they are like sharks in bloody water, and the writer is chum.

Do yourself a favor, do your readers a favor: Don’t put out sloppy work.

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