I wrote this article for last month’s “Coffee Shop for the Fantasy Society” Newsletter (aka “Dragon Scroll”) and just thought I’d put it up here, just in case it turns out to be helpful to anyone. Perhaps it will strike up a discussion, who knows?
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So. You’ve finally finished that manuscript. You’ve worked on it long and hard hours. You’ve studied the craft of writing a novel and applied it every which way to your amazing story. You’ve developed amazing characters that everyone will love … Well, maybe not everyone. Let’s be real here. This is real life. Everyone is different. Not everyone is going to like what you’ve written. But a good many will if you do have that great story and wonderful characters. How do you create those? Well, I can’t tell you that. There is a huge range of advice out there. But I still think there is a certain je ne c’est que about the characters I have totally fallen in love with.
But back to that manuscript. Are you going to send it out to agents? Unsolicited to publishers? Or are you going to self-publish? Self-publishing? Great. Self-pubbing is really taking off. And you can keep more of the profits, and you actually get to pick your own cover design … There are a lot of plusses to going it “alone” (although, there is a HUGE writing community out there, so none of us is alone). But, before you go out there and do all this, I just want to say one thing: STOP!
Run it by an editor. Seriously.
Yes, I know, Twilight wasn’t awesomely written and it sold millions. The first Sookie Stackhouse book (at least) is very poor quality, and look at it now … very popular TV show (but, the TV show is written by others … and no one’s judging them for how they spell or use adjectives), and, yes, then there’s good ol’ Fifty Shades …. Yes. it’s true. Poorly edited work can sell. Poorly edited work can be held up as amazing writing, even (not mentioning names this time around).
But what do you really want you and your work to be remembered for? Do you want to be remembered for great characters and a great story? Yes? [hand to ear] … I think I heard quiet agreement there. Yeah. Me too. I want my story to be remembered. I want my characters to be remembered. Sure, I don’t mind if someone highlights something on their Kindle/Kindle App/Other… and makes a note “Great line”, or “Awesome dialogue” (am I the only one?). What I don’t want is to be remembered for slow moving prose, filled to overflowing with adverbs, writing techniques that keep throwing the reader out of the story and reminding them they are reading, not in my world, or, heaven forbid, confusing my readers.
And as the writer, you can’t tell these things. I’m telling you that now. When you wrote that awesome chase scene, you saw it all happen, and you wrote it down. But how do you know if someone reading it sees, hears and smells what you experienced? Well, for that you need, at the very least, beta readers.
But this item is running away on me a bit here. And I have one other endorsement to make: seriously consider having a professional editor look at your work. Yes, they’re expensive. But they are worth it (and in this day and age of crowd-funding … no excuses!). Especially when it comes to that “Kill your darlings” bit. Your editor isn’t so attached. They can see what really is chaff.
I’m currently going through edits for Healer’s Touch [actually finished edits by the time I’m posting this to the blog… on to final proofread] (I chose to submit my work to a small publisher, rather than go it alone, but that will be another article), and yes, it’s tough. Some of those lines I’m thinking “But that really shows the character!”. But, you know what? The character is still there without my nit-picky stage direction. My editor could see that. I couldn’t. A couple of lines I’ve gone back to my editor and said “Can’t we keep that one?” and he’s either agreed, or suggested an altered version. And he pushed me to re-write a couple of fight scenes, and they are so much better.
Critique partners are grand, but they are also focussed on their own work. Beta readers are wonderful, and indispensible, but they don’t necessarily know where each and every comma should be, and they might also be forgiving of your chatty style. A professional editor won’t be. It may be hard at first, but if you realise that they’re there to help, they’re there to strengthen your writing, then you really can handle it. But don’t be a doormat, either. If that line really matters to you, say so. It’s about team work. And ultimately, it’s your story.
So put your MS’s best foot forward. Make it shine. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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So, what do you think? I don’t want to discount the value of critique partners and beta readers – there is no doubt we need them all. But working with an editor has been the single most valuable thing I have done in my writing “career” (such as it is), so yes, I am spouting gospel about something I only have minimal experience with. Meh.
And on that note, feel free to tell me YOUR most valuable experience when it comes to writing…