Monday, September 08, 2014

This Writing Life 8: Editing and Editors or Just Because It’s Done Doesn’t Mean It’s Done

(Note from Erik: My blog posts have been too long. Since I’m talking about editing this week, it seems like a good time to start shortening them)

Last week I talked about writers as Explorers or Engineers. I said that no matter which a writer was, when that writer finished their book, they were confident that what they have written was the best it could be. I also said they were wrong. Here’s why:

First drafts are never the best they can be.  Ever.

Some people say first drafts are always terrible. They are wrong. Some first drafts are terrible, some are OK, some are good, and some are great. All of them can still be improved.

And here’s the big secret: You can’t make your book the best it can be all by yourself.

You can improve it. You can fix typos and grammar and spelling. You can fix characters, change plot, remove inconsistencies, and correct timelines. But you still need set of outside eyes to look at it.

Too Close To Notice

When we write a novel, we are too close to see all the flaws. Maybe because it’s all in our heads, and therefore we see things on the paper that aren’t there. Or maybe we’ve looked at the work so many times we’ve stopped really seeing it.

Here’s some of my favourite mistakes:
Saying the same thing over again.
“You know how Sir Robert says [X] on page 243?” “Yes?” “He died on page 31.”
Writing the same word different ways, like Mill pond, Mill-pond and Millpond.
Saying the same thing over again.

And one that I didn’t do, but which is my personal favourite:
“Remember how you said, “Make every person count”?”
“You left out the “O”.”
 (Yes, it really happened)

When to Hire a Professional Editor

If your book has a publisher already (congratulations!) your publisher will supply you with an editor.  Otherwise, you should hire an editor when:

  • You’re getting ready to send it to an agent
  • You’re getting ready to send it to a publisher
  • When you are self-publishing (please, please, please!)
  • When you are stuck – you know the book could be better, but can’t figure out how, and neither can your first or beta readers. 

An Important Note

If your novel has been accepted for publication, the publisher should bring in an editor to work with you. If they do not, run screaming. Seriously.

If your publisher does not bring in an editor, it does not mean you are a perfect writer. It means that that publisher publishes unedited manuscripts, i.e.: crap.

What Stage in the Writing Process?

Everyone has his or her own process, so the answer is, “it depends.”

The amazing Tanya Huff, for example, is able to edit as she writes. By the time her first draft is done, it’s ready for her publisher to give it to their editors.

My books don’t go out to my publisher/editor until the fourth draft. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First draft: Yay! I’ve written it! Pour the whiskey! NO ONE SEES THE FIRST DRAFT!
  • Second draft: Fixes the messes I made and puts in all the things I left out of the first. This goes to my first reader (thanks, Katrina!)
  • Third draft: fixes the things I missed on the second draft and those that my first reader says are inconsistent/stupid/don’t work (this involves lots of fun arguing). This goes to my beta readers.
  • Fourth draft: Add in input from my beta readers, do another scan for typos, etc., and fixed anything that still bugs me. Off to my publisher/editor.

Next Week: More Editing and Editors, or More Than Just Copy vs Substantive

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