To finish up our publishing series, Megaphone Member Katherine Lowry Logan shares her experience with the editing process. For do–it–yourselfers, it’s hard to know if you should hire an editor, who to hire, how many editors to use, etc. If you get nothing else from this post, know this:
Yes. Yes you should hire professional editors.
Read Katherine’s story to understand why.
Your family and friends have probably read your story and told you that you’ve crafted a book that will get you on the New York Times Best Seller list. I think my sister told me my writing was as good as Sandra Brown. Even in my dreams, I don’t reach that level of success.
Maybe you’ve worked with critique partners who have pointed out grammar and punctuation mistakes, questioned the relevance of some of your scenes, or slapped your hand for head–hopping.
How many times have you heard, “You can’t break the rules?” I’ll let you in on a little secret: Those rules are only guidelines. They are not edicts carved in stone. But, before you can start breaking them, you need to know what they are and how breaking them impacts your story.
Here’s my favorite rule: Try to leave out the part readers will skip.
I wish I knew what that was. I had a reader tell me the other day that she read every word in a story, even the descriptions. I think she’s a rare breed.
While writing The Ruby Brooch, I head–hopped with the best of them, rarely got into a deep point of view, and wrote thousands of words of back story. I meandered. I introduced unnecessary characters and I wrote paragraphs full of descriptions that were boring and didn’t move the story forward. What I learned along the way was that if the story wasn’t moving forward, the reader gets bored and puts down your book. If the reader does that, he/she won’t recommend your book to a friend or write a review. You might have made a sale, but you lost the next one.
What can you do to prevent a reader from putting down your book?
Hire a professional editor. This is not an option.
In 1997, I wrote The Ruby Brooch in ten weeks then spent the next fourteen years rewriting the story.
During the spring of 2010, I hired a developmental editor, Karen Block. Karen looked for dropped story threads, holes in the story, lackluster characters, pacing, and scene development (noting compelling scenes and those that could be deleted).
She created a 24–page Visio drawing highlighting the essential scenes.
What she did was theoretically line up my scenes in front of a firing squad and told me to pull the trigger. She pushed my comfort zone. I cried. I cringed. I stomped from one end of my office to the other. And then I did most of what she suggested. The result was a tighter and more focused story. Yes, I killed my darlings and it wasn’t easy.
After working with Karen, I spent some time rewriting. Convinced I had the story as tight as possible, I hired Don McNair. Don used his “fog–free” writing techniques and eliminated “ing” words, passive voice, expletive constructions, double verbs/nouns/adjectives/adverbs, foggy phrases, character filters, “ly” words and dialogue tags other than said. You should have seen the number of red lines in the manuscript.
After making all those corrections, I was once again convinced the story was as tight as possible. Wrong again. I met authors Cindy Nord and Kathleen Rice Adams and we formed a fantastic critique group. They went through the story word–by–word and reshaped The Ruby Brooch.
I still struggled with the first chapter though. I had gone through the RWA contest circuit, entering dozens of writing contests and been a finalist in a few. The biggest critiques I received were about the heroine’s motivation in the first chapter, the fact that the hero wasn’t introduced and that the chapter was too long and slow.
I hired an editor at the Editorial Department. We spent several weeks working on the first fifty pages, looking at the issues consistently raised by contest judges. The result was a prologue that introduced the hero, which tightened the first chapter to make it shorter and kept the pages as active as possible.
The last editor to work on the story was Kevin Berry. Kevin did a copy-edit/line edit. His word-for-word reading found grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors and misspelled words.
Over the course of two years, I spent at least $2,500 on editors. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely. I learned so much about the writing process and probably wrote a million words. All in all, I think I earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in creative writing.
What are the take-aways?
- No matter how perfect you think your manuscript is, it isn’t.
- It’s impossible to edit your own work.
- Don’t depend on your family to tell you the truth about your writing. They will love your story because you wrote it.
- Your book is your resume. Don’t send it out until it’s as good as it can possibly be.
- Everyone needs a professional editor, preferably one who works in your genre.
- If you can’t afford an editor, wait until you can. You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
- Develop a thick skin. You might not like what the editor says, but if you’ve hired the right person, chances are they are dead right. And the thick skin will prepare you for the reviews.
- Have fun. Don’t get discouraged. Finish what you start. Write, write and write.
Buy The Ruby Brooch on Amazon