Category Archives: Editing

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Does your book have a shape or only potential? CC image “potential” courtesy of yukky.u on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I wince a little inside when I hear someone describe a self-published book as having “potential.” At the same time, I feel a small piece of acknowledgment—because not every author sticks with the project through the final, frustrating revisions that would make the book truly excellent.

In my work, I’m privileged to read a lot of books. Design elements aside, the one element that bugs me about many indie books is the short shrift given to the editorial process. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll have heard me say this before: EVERY good author works with an editor; no one comes out of the gate with a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. If [insert name of your favorite author] needs to go through revisions and editing, don’t you think you should give it a try?

When you self-publish, you get to call the shots. That’s both the blessing and the curse of the model. I love that authors get creative control with independent publishing. Unfortunately, some authors use this control to veto work that would be good for their book. So, how do you know when your book might need more work? Below are a few clues.

Clues your book needs more editorial work

1. Have you finished writing your manuscript, and then gone back and re-read the whole thing, from beginning to end?

You haven’t? What are you waiting for?

I promise you, your story has logical gaps, discontinuities, and/or repetitions. If you haven’t re-read your entire manuscript, you are making a huge mistake, period.

2. Do you have title/subtitle ideas?

While you’re working on a first draft, it’s perfectly natural to have only a working title for your book—you might call it “My book.” You’re figuring things out. However, beyond the first draft, you should be getting other ideas. If you don’t, this is a sign you probably need to work more on your manuscript. Writing and revising will provide ideas.

3. Have you read your last chapter as often as your first?

Writers have a tendency to spend a lot of time with Chapter One. And the beginning of your book is important. But, newsflash: so is the end of your book. The end is what your readers will remember—assuming they read all the way through. If you haven’t paid attention to the end of your book, you’re not ready to publish.

4. Have you read your “middle” more than once?

Some of you are now thinking, “OK, this now makes EVERY part of the book an ‘important part.’” Yes, yes it does. Did you see #1 above?

Those readers who get to the end? They have to make it through the middle of the book. The reason I call out the middle by name is that writers give it even less attention than book endings, and by far less than beginnings. For this reason, it’s earned the name “muddy middle” in the writing world. Your book can get flabby around the middle—just like we can. Have you spent time working it out?

5. Did you make any big changes in your story/topic while writing was in progress?

I guarantee you will want a complete re-read of your manuscript, if you have. Skip this step, and you’ll hand your editor—or, so help us, your designer—a hot mess.

6. Are you clear on your audience?

If you can’t picture one specific person (not your mother) reading your book, stop and take a minute. You should not—I repeat should NOT—publish without this knowledge.

7. Are you sick of reading your manuscript, or only sick of writing it?

I get it. First drafts are hard. Most of us don’t want to look at the darn thing anymore, after we finish what we think is “The End.” That’s not the same as reading your manuscript a lot. By this I mean, you’ve taken a break after you reached The End; you’ve read either a hard copy or you’ve refrained from beginning to edit as you read; and you’ve done #1 more than once.

Being done writing is not the same as being done revising. You better be sick of revising before you publish.

8. Your editor hesitates AT ALL when you ask whether your book is ready for the next phase.

MAJOR red flag.

9. Your designer asks you, “Has this been edited?”

See number 8.

10. The people who read your manuscript say, “It’s promising.”

Ugh! This is like saying something is “interesting.” It means it’s not finished and they don’t know how to tell you.

The bottom line

If you at all wonder whether your book needs additional work, chances are yes, it does. Even after many revisions. This is your opportunity to ask an expert for their assessment.

Be careful to not let your enthusiasm and impatience for getting the wretched project out of your hair lead you to pull the plug too early on writing and editing. I love seeing manuscripts with potential. But published books should achieve that potential. Get out of the B leagues—do the work.

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Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price doesn’t add up

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price  doesn’t add up

piggybank next to a calculator-are you counting pennies for your book

Counting your book pennies? CC image “Investing” courtesy of 401Kcalculator.org.

April is the month that everyone in the U.S. thinks about money—which makes this an appropriate time to talk money and indie books.

Although comparing dollar amounts is an easy way to try and compare services for your book, including editing, this practice gives you an incomplete picture at best. At worst, it leads you to make a choice you later regret. Being cheap often leads to looking cheap, and may actually cost you more in the long run. Let’s go over the top parameters your editor considers—and why these are more useful than price.

Key information your editor wants about your book

Continue reading

statue of a woman holding her head

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

statue of a woman holding her head

All this editing makes my head hurt. CC image “headache” courtesy of threephin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Friends, I’d like to address a difficult and emotional topic: the developmental edit.

You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor for developmental work. You’ve completed a draft! The world is a beautiful place, filled with hope. Rainbows, puppies, and kittens are everywhere. You buy everyone dinner.

Then:

Your editor returns your draft manuscript filled with comments, cross-outs, lines pointing everywhere; or they’ve rearranged the content for you, and nothing looks like it did. There are questions, so many questions! You think about the pristine draft you sent out and realize now that it’s obviously defective and awful. You spend a week hiding in a dark room, blinds drawn, listening to sad music or watching Dead Poets Society on repeat.

A developmental edit is as necessary as it is painful

The best and worst part of a developmental edit is how radically it can change your book. Continue reading

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

The difference between dud and dazzle

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

CC image “Feedback” courtesy of Dennis Skley on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

New beginnings! Why is it we only think of them when we have spare time?

Truly. Ask anyone who has had to work over the end-of-year holidays: have they sat down to have a luxurious talk with themselves about the year past and the year to come? Probably not. What about that problem you’ve been trying to solve for months: how often did you solve it in the shower—when you weren’t thinking about anything else? My bet is: often.

When we’re in the middle of a situation, we often don’t see it for what it is. The same goes for that book we’re writing.

As you write your book, eventually you give in to the temptation to go back to the beginning, and “fix” it. Unfortunately, after you tweak one paragraph, you need to fix the next one, and the next… By the time you get to where you need to add new material, a lot of time has gone by, you’re tired, and you don’t produce much.

The more you play this game, the more likely you are to question any writing choices you make. Maybe the first way you said it was better? You can’t stop second-guessing yourself. Continue reading

black and white shot of audience from stage

Why does anyone care what you write?

Why does anyone care what you write?

How to not lose an audience

black and white shot of audience from stage

CC image “Audience @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-9308” courtesy of OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The single most heinous crime you can commit as an author—and the one most likely to lose you readership—is to make the whole story about you, and you alone, and to forget your readers.

But wait, you say. What if I’m writing a memoir, or a book that builds on my own personal experience? Surely that’s about me!

Not so. Your memoir or the details of your experience are interesting to your readers because of how it relates to their lives and experiences. Your readers care about what your book offers to them. You are purely incidental. Unless you are Michelle Obama, no one cares.

Be the reader

Think about yourself. What’s the first question you ask yourself when you think about whether you want to read a book?

Is this interesting?

When you read a book, you answer the question in the affirmative. If you skip it, the answer is no. Now ask yourself:

Why is it interesting?
What makes this book interesting?

This is the key to your audience.

Write down the titles of the last three books you read. Below the title, write what made that book interesting to you. Maybe you love books that make the technical accessible; you love books that inspire; you love books with actionable information; you love books with great characters; you love books that create alternate worlds you can lose yourself in.

Books are about the reader first. This is usually obvious to all of us whenever we’re reading a book…and we often forget it when we write one.

Don’t forget your audience

You the writer love what you are writing about. Whether your book is about sea urchins or is a fantasy novel, you’re mostly thinking about yourself. It’s easy, while you are writing, to get caught up in the story and forget those other people, your readers.

I see this happen a lot in early in early drafts. This is normal and perfectly fine—as long as we fix it before going to press. The most common ways writers forget their audiences are:

Nonfiction: while telling an anecdote or giving an example to illustrate a point, the writer keeps adding awesome details, and five or maybe ten pages later finally runs out of ways to express how cool s/he found all of this information.

Fiction: in writing a scene, the writer discovers that a secondary character’s backstory needs fifteen pages of manuscript space, or gets lost in a love poem describing the setting, where we have no paragraph breaks for several pages.

This is where the editor comes in and asks you why it’s all there. This is code for, “Why would the reader find this interesting/need to know this information, at this particular point in time, or in this way?”

After you finish an early draft, turn around to look at your audience. Bring the focus back to the reader. What are they going to do with this information? How would they relate to it? What questions would they have?

In nonfiction, you can directly ask your audience questions. That’s one way of turning to look at them. In fiction, generally we need to be more subtle. Does what we wrote make sense only in our heads? We may need beta readers to give us feedback.

The good news is, you can use your “whys” as a reader to help you build a wonderful book as a writer. Go back to the lists I had you make on the last three books you read. If you were to put together a list of whys for the readers of your book, what would that look like? What do you want your readers to say?

The bottom line

No matter how autobiographical your story is, your book is never about you in the way you think. If it was, you could keep a diary and be done with it. Why are you publishing?

This is a very, very important point from an editorial perspective. Readers, like all other humans, appreciate when we pay attention to them. If the story was clearly written for you the author and it’s an accident that other readers stumble into your monologue, how long do you think they’ll stick around? Treat them with respect. Build your book for them, as well as for yourself.

Proofreading

What a Proofread does and does not do

This post is the third in a series about different editorial services. Click for Developmental/Content editing and copyediting. Coming months will cover the manuscript critique and creating an outline.

closeup of medieval handwritten manuscript

CC image “Manuscript” courtesy of liz west on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

People assign characteristics to a proofread that actually belong to an edit. The two are not the same animal. Be aware of this, so you know what you are contracting (and paying) for, and so you are not disappointed with what you get. Continue reading

Working with an Editor

Working with an Editor

black and white closeup of dice

Working with an editor can feel like a dangerous roll of the dice… but fear not! CC image “noir” courtesy of Steve Johnson on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A lot of my clients have questions about what this working relationship looks like. If you haven’t worked with an editor before, you might find the process mysterious and strange. We’re not mysterious and strange, really. At least, not all of us.

The main points for you to consider as you get ready to work with an editor are:

  • What you want done
  • When you want it done
  • What your prospective editor does and is good at
  • Your editor’s style

Continue reading

Copyediting: What does it actually mean?

Copyediting–Don’t Let Your Manuscript Leave Home Without It

view of open book from top spine

CC image Light Reading courtesy of Martin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

This post is the second in a series about different editorial services. Click here for Developmental/Content editing. Coming months will cover proofreading, and the manuscript critique.

In the post, “Am I ready for an editor?” I pointed out that editing is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different types of editing have specific goals. One of the most confounding types of editing is the copyedit.

What a copyedit does

As the word “editing” in the name implies, copyediting deals with content. It is all about one major theme: CONSISTENCY. Copyediting focuses on consistent language and presentation, and therefore comes after any developmental editing or big-picture revisions to the manuscript.

The copyedit exists to ensure that the work is strong and clear from a technical point of view. English gives us many choices we often don’t think about, but copyediting does. Conventions govern the use of hyphenation, the spelling out of number words, serial commas, and more. Copyediting looks at the following:

  • Readability
  • Word choice and repetition
  • Language coherence and organization
  • Transitions
  • Acceptable character/narrative arc
  • Front and back matter
  • Spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Style and formatting
    • Chapter and section headings and breaks
    • Capitalization, hyphenation, abbreviation, use of proper names
    • Paragraph indentation, spacing, and margins
    • Font, font size
    • Captions, tables, graphics, bulleted lists
  • Citations, references, and more

There are levels of copyediting. The spectrum moves from less to greater intervention (a “light” versus a “heavy” copyedit). Copyediting begins with grammar and overall cohesion, and becomes more detailed the heavier the copyedit gets.

Style and formatting choices, although not “verbal,” play a big part in how your book conveys meaning to your audience. Page breaks and a chapter headings let your readers know they are moving to a new set of ideas, occurrences, geography, or time. Headings and subheadings let readers know how ideas are linked. Although these considerations are often overlooked when doing content review, they are a big part of the copyedit.

Are you ready for a copyedit?

When you have a manuscript that has completed at least one full draft, you are ready to consider a copyedit. If you are still playing with narrative structure, or if your manuscript is incomplete, you are not ready for this type of review. This is because a copyedit needs the whole manuscript to be able to see and impose consistency.

When you want to make sure the paragraphs, sentences, and style choices play nice together, you are ready for a copyedit. You want the manuscript to flow cohesively, and be consistent in tone, word choice, character details, and formatting. You are happy with the overall flow of the manuscript and are not planning on moving any big chunks around.

Do the manuscript format, choice of language, headers, and other visual cues guide the reader, or confuse them? And if they confuse, how can we correct this? These are the big questions of the copyedit.

What happens in a copyedit

Your editor will confirm with you which style guide they are using to review your manuscript. Typically, in non-academic book publishing, the Chicago Manual of Style will apply, unless you or your editor decide otherwise.

Your editor will review the work in total, marking up any changes so they conform to the chosen style, appropriate grammar, and spelling. Additionally, your editor may leave comments or questions on the manuscript, particularly if there are any items which are unclear (phrasing or organization). For this reason, you may go through a second round of copyediting to verify your choices.

Usually, you will have the choice to accept or reject changes. Be cautious about rejecting them. Be sure you know why. Always explain your decision to your editor.

The bottom line

Because it considers the total internal consistency of your manuscript, the copyedit must happen after any developmental or content work has taken place.

A copyedit is one of the most important things you can do for your manuscript, no matter what genre or style you are writing in. You might have made some big changes during the developmental edit or during your own revision. The copyedit reviews the entire manuscript from top to bottom to make sure it’s in good shape.

A good copyedit can make the difference between a work whose impact is “ho-hum” and a text that sizzles. When done well, the average reader may not notice it’s there, but everyone notices when it’s missing.

The Developmental Edit: What does it do for you?

The Developmental Edit: What does it do for you?

This post is the first in a series about different editorial services. Coming months will cover copyediting, proofreading, and the manuscript critique.

scenic overview of the mountains

CC image courtesy of Luigi Mengato on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

As we saw in the previous post, “Am I ready for an editor?” editing is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different types of editing are useful for different reasons. The developmental edit is one of the most under-appreciated types of editing.

In the self-publishing community, developmental work—also sometimes known as a content edit—is considered either the be-all and end-all of editorial involvement in a book, or the first line item to get cut from the budget once the author sees the costs for their book begin to pile up. Continue reading