A little word on the Indie Author/Editor self-editing conundrum

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in #writing, new writers, writers | 6 comments

Lately I’ve found myself on the wrong end of several sticks on this subject – oddly being perceived as being anti-editing, which I’m not. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Finally, though, I did. It’s me. Or at least, maybe it’s reality.

So… Now I’m about to burst some bubbles.

For those who think editing doesn’t matter, but especially for those who think being an Indie writer is a short cut to the kind of success Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath and a few others have had switching to traditional publishers…

It’s not.

And most especially for those who think your prospective agent/editor/publishing house will do your editing/polishing for you.

You’re about to have a VERY rude awakening.

Think editing is supposed to be collaborative? Interactive, a polite interaction between professionals? Pardon my bluntness, but… grow up, you’ve been watching too much TV.

Here, courtesy of Jessica Faust from BookEnds LLC – a well known literary agency – from her Submissions 101 blog entry:

Before getting started, before even writing a query, you need to make sure your book has been written, rewritten, edited and polished, and, as you have heard from me before, I even suggest you’ve already started writing your next book so you have something to focus on besides just the query process. Fiction and narrative nonfiction (i.e., memoir) writers will need to have completed the full manuscript.

I didn’t even submit my first manuscript until the second was complete.
That’s a submission folks, not a completed manuscript. In the traditional publishing world you not only have to be a good self-editor, you have to be a really good one! If that manuscript isn’t polished to a fare thee well, it will end up in the circular file beside their desk with a form rejection letter back to you for your troubles. They don’t have time to ‘fix’ your work and to them it says volumes about your commitment to your writing. Or rather, the lack thereof.
A multitude of errors says the same thing to your readers – that you just don’t care enough about your craft to do it right! Get enough comments about mistakes and they will stop reading your books. Amanda Hocking hired a good editor as soon as she made enough money to afford one. Konrath was a pro already but there’s no doubt he had someone editing for him. What makes you think you’re so hot that you don’t need to do the same? Or at least a beta reader or three – preferably ones for whom English was a subject they did well with in school.
A good editor doesn’t have the time – or to be honest the patience – to mollycoddle your sensitive feelings.  Even, or (that word again) especially, editors for small presses or for Indie writers. It’s a job. It’s how they make their living and they make their living by doing a lot of editing for a lot of people. And they may do it in addition to their day job, just like you. (Same thing for reviewers, BTW)

A good editor will send back your manuscript with corrections and notes. In the non-Indie world these are NOT suggestions and can come off as downright rude. After all their job isn’t to do your work for you, that’s YOUR job, and you should have done it right in the first place. A small press editor in this new world doesn’t have time to waste. Think they won’t ask you to change your manuscript to suit them or what the publisher wants? Think again. Their job is to get a marketable product out. Fast. I know of one author who was dumped by both agent and major publishing house simply because she took too long and it was taking too much effort. And it showed.

Even so, even with all the care I took, my first professional edit was a shock. Believe me, they weren’t sensitive to my feelings. Every edit, though, taught me something else. I learned how to look at my work honestly, to see where perhaps this sentence, phrase or paragraph might work better someplace else and that I have a problem repeating myself. Which is why I need my beta readers so much. (God bless you Erin, Angela, Andy and Mateo, et al.) 

So I learned, and learned fast, to be a very good self-editor. It never occurred to me to do anything less. How could you possibly consider yourself a writer if you didn’t? Was I really so arrogant as to believe I had written the Great American Novel  in one try? (Heck even Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote multiple drafts.) No. My books were and are edited and re-edited every time I find a new pet peeve on a blog somewhere. Even so I still go back to do another polishing draft, just to be absolutely sure, before I post a single book anywhere.(I’m on tenterhooks waiting for feedback on the latest.) That’s why I’d get so frustrated to find myself in the middle of this argument. I thought every Indie author wanted the same, to be as professional as they could be. I still get anxious every time someone contacts me to say they caught a mistake. 
And if you’re a good writer, a professional writer, you should, too.
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Holding out for a hero

Posted by on Jun 13, 2011 in #writing | 3 comments

I miss heroes. The real ones, not the surly, lip-curling badass on a motorcycle, the alpha male who treats a woman like a helpless idiot, but the real ones. You know, the good old-fashioned kind of hero, the average guy just trying to do what’s right, or who finds himself caught up in a situation he can’t turn his back on.
What brought this up? Someone mentioned the difference between the (relatively) new Cape Fear movie with Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro and the old version with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum.
In the new version, under the frequently misguided decision to add ‘flaws’ to the lead character, they made Nolte a shadier character than Peck was in the original and that took some of the edge away for me right off the bat. In the original, Peck is a lawyer trying to do a decent job but Mitchum blames him for not getting him off. Right away, you’re rooting for Peck. And the burly Mitchum is clearly a tough guy, while Peck isn’t. The odds are clearly stacked against him, setting up the ending.
There are some who would argue that heroes should have flaws and I couldn’t agree more. But most of the true life heroes you see aren’t six foot six biker type dudes in leather. In most cases, those are the bad guys. The real heroes are the firefighters, the policemen, the citizen soldiers. If you look at them, they come in all shapes and sizes. All of them have problems and issues, the same kind many of the antiheroes do.
Our society sometimes almost seems to encourage our helplessness – you can’t fight city hall, don’t get involved.
There’s a TV show out of Canada, called Flashpoint, that epitomizes what I’m talking about. Oh they’ve got a pretty guy, but the two leads Enrico Colantani and Hugh Dillon aren’t your classic hero types. Both are follically challenged *grins* but Hugh could park his shoes under my bed any day. Just don’t tell my husband that – although to tell the truth what got me a little about him was his slight resemblance to another ‘everyday’ hero – Michael Biehn from Terminator.
I think of the volunteer firefighters in most communities, who risk their lives to save those in burning homes. And I think of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or the men who ran INTO the Towers that day. You look at their pictures and you see extra-ordinary men – who put their lives on the line every day. We should celebrate, and write about, those heroes. And remember the ones who inspired them.

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Reviews and Reviewers – Learning curves

Posted by on May 20, 2011 in #writing, books, new writers, novels | 2 comments

After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have a reviewer overlook them and invent others. – Edith Wharton (paraphrased)
Asking a working writer what he thinks about reviewers is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs – Christopher Hampton (paraphrased) 
The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews – William Faulkner
And, of course, it all depends on the review, and the reviewer. We’re talking professional reviewers at the moment, personal reviews will come shortly. 
So, what brought this up, you ask? Well, several things. One was a review I received yesterday, another was a request by a reviewer and the third was a dialogue about differences in  a particular genre. As with everything we all bring our own preferences and prejudices, from both sides of the situation.
Reviews are critical in the writing business. At their most basic level they can help a reader decide if this is a book they want to read, at their highest they can help lift a book from obscurity. So every writer looks at them with both dread and anticipation. I know I do. (I’m not a reviewer although I have reviewed, but I won’t speak from that side of it.)  I also view them as a learning experience and yesterday’s review was a wonderful example of that. 
With my little heart going pitter-pat, I opened it and began to read, my heart rising with the compliments, then *thwock* wincing as the knife went in. *grin* And, being who I am, I took those criticisms severely to heart – as I should. Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, but as a writer every review is an opportunity to grow, to learn your craft. 
So, was she right that I can sometimes be repetitious? *grudgingly* Yeah, sometimes. Do I head-hop – that is, change points of view among the characters, particularly secondary characters? In this case, and in the case of many of my series books, yes. I like to have my readers get inside the heads of my primary characters so they know, for example, that John is a little judgmental of other cultures. That can be a matter of taste, too. Some people like it, some don’t. None of my ten or so beta readers complained about it. Even so I went back and took another look, particularly in the beginning and took out some of both. (The benefit of an Indie writer, that I can adjust my writing on the fly, so future readers can benefit from what I’ve learned.) For those people that don’t like it, though, this review will either forewarn them or steer them away. Which is fine in either case. 
She objected to the romantic elements in the book, she didn’t think it advanced the story. Again, this can be a matter of taste. Like the difference between hard and ‘soft’ sci-fi.  Hard is more science-edged and tends to have little interpersonal interaction while soft tends to add some interpersonal and romantic elements. Although many tend to think of that as a male/female thing, the best sci-fi has elements of both. Asimov was a romantic.
For me, though, a book is somewhat incomplete without that soft side, the interpersonal side. Friendship, love and sex are a part of life. In all my books I want my readers to share the feelings my characters have for each other, whether it’s the strong friendship between Elon and Colath in The Coming Storm or the growing attraction between Kyriay, the Queen of the Fairy, and Morgan in Song of the Fairy Queen. Or Ky and Raissa in Heart of the Gods. Now I could have written the story as a straight action/adventure but I didn’t. It’s actually part of a series, the prequel of which will be released soon. When I wrote both books, I wrote them with the intent that they would be the first in a series and that strong relationship would be at the heart. Still, I had to ask.
A poll of my beta readers about the question, though, came up with an outcry against changing it – particularly and oddly, from my MALE beta readers, which surprised me.
And this is where those personal reviews come in. Now to other readers there’s no doubt some of those personal reviews come from friends and family. And some do. Because of that I cringed when an unsolicited review – quite wonderful otherwise – referred to me as Valerie rather than Ms. Douglas or some such. On the other hand, the writer knows when it’s friends or family, and when it’s not. I was thrilled to see a wonderful review on my novella Not Magic Enough – a fantasy that’s unabashedly romantic- and delighted to discover the reviewer, again, was male. So my perception that if there’s a strong romantic element to some of my stories it would keep men away is wrong. Hurray!
She also mentioned a disappearing character and the instant it was mentioned I knew who she was talking about – or at least I think I do. I thought I’d handled it, more or less. Sometimes people do just disappear, especially since he’d been taken away by the bad guy. You don’t always know what happened. The fact that she mentioned it, though, brought up that little niggling voice inside me. And I knew I had to fix it, or at least resolve it. So I did. (One of the blessing of Indie writing.)
Oh, and I forgot to mention a few important details. One, that she gave me a 3.5 out of five – slightly better than average. Would I have rather gotten a four? Absolutely. But some reviewers very rarely give out a five and I suspect from the review that she’s one of them. So, knowing that might be unachievable, it wasn’t bad. 
The other details? 
This quote – “…the recipe for a spellbinding story. This one makes a good attempt at achieving this, with a plot that kept me hooked and characters that carried the story forward strongly. There were a few twists that left me pleasantly surprised. The author clearly took care to do her research, and was able to artfully weave the finer details into the story without taking away from the narrative at all.” (paraphrased)
And this – “The story held my attention to the last page by riding on a fantastic concept and strong characters and a brilliantly quick pace. The solid ending has made me interested in seeing whatever she has in store for the team on their next adventure.” (paraphrased)
Above anything else those two comments are what are most important. Because a spellbinding story with a fantastic concept, strong characters that leave the reader wanting more is what it’s all about. 
Those are the judgments a writer has to make – to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (reviews)… or to do as Faulkner does. And perhaps miss becoming a better writer and giving readers a better book.

To see the review – http://theviewfrommykindle.com/ebook-reviews/review-heart-gods-valerie-douglas/
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