I mentioned it before, but I got my marked up manuscript for Half Past Midnight back from my editor, Lynn O’Dell, about a month ago. Once I began to work on it, I figured I probably had a couple of full days of work to get it done and send it back to her. Well, here I am a month later, and I’m finding that I grossly underestimated the amount of work that goes into the editing process.
A lot of that comes from the obvious problems of work and life in general. They constantly intrude on my writing, as they do for everyone who can’t afford the luxury of being a full-time writer. Another part of it comes from the fact that I’m determined to try to do as thorough a job on this as I can. I’ve seen too many books out there that look like they’ve been thrown together haphazardly, and I do not want to have my book seen as one of those. That may be a pipe dream, but I’ll do the best I can.
Yes, there is always the possibility that my whole manuscript is crap and I’m deluding myself, but I don’t really think so. I think I have a fun story to tell, and a reasonable talent for writing. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t bother with all this. That may sound egotistical, but I think a certain amount of ego is necessary for any kind of artist or craftsman. You have to believe that what you do is worthy of being shared with others. If not, why would you do it?
But I am also a product of my upbringing, and one thing I was always taught was that anything I made would forever be associated with my name. I want that association to be the best that it can be. I want people to see my name on a book and be assured that they will get a decent product.
So I’m editing my ass off.
So far, I’ve gone through the manuscript about six or seven times, each time looking for a particular thing. See, one of the things Lynn did for me (one of many things) was point out some of my repetitive words and phrases – things I got complacent about or used excessively. I normally do a few of these editing passes for the obvious words anyway (that, then, nod), words that I have a tendency to overuse without initially realizing it. But Lynn’s list included some that I wasn’t aware I had used – words like “silent”, “silence”, “grin”, “grinned”, “grinning”, “smile”, “smiled”, “smiling”, and “indeed”. I didn’t realize just how often I use these, and a few other words and phrases in my writing. And each one of them requires that I go through the manuscript and search for the word or phrase, and determine whether each instance really adds anything to the story as it is used. That means reading the whole scene (again) and seeing the word in context to determine whether or not it needs to be there.
So far, I’ve done a “then” edit pass, a “that” pass, a “grin”, “really”, “looked”, “nod” edit, and I’m currently in the middle of a “silen” edit that should catch both “silent” and “silence” instances. And I think each pass, while time-consuming, helps tighten up the story a little bit more. There have also been things that I never would have noticed. For instance, there were two sections in the manuscript where my quotation mark formatting changed from standard “straight” quotes to “curly” quotes. I have no idea why that happened, but it drove me nuts trying to figure out how to change them (hint – if you run into this yourself, check your “smart quotes” setting in Word).
There were other things Lynn questioned that by the very nature of her questions, showed me that I had not explained something well enough. For instance, in one section, I had used the word “was” several times within just a few sentences. Lynn consolidated those sentences into one, but in so doing completely reversed the meaning of what I had originally intended to say. Obviously, the way I had originally constructed the scene was not clear enough to get across my meaning.
And there were the instances where she caught little things that I wrote one way, but my mind read another way. All writers know this problem – it’s caused by being too close to the story. A good instance of this is a scene where my antagonist cocks a revolver twice within the same scene. He cocks it, screams at someone, then cocks it again to threaten someone else. Doh! I knew in my mind that he had reholstered the weapon before walking over to the protagonist, but I never stated it in the story.
But I’m learning that this is a part of the process of putting out a good product. And not going through the process is why so many authors who are self publishing are giving that portion of the industry a bad rap. They are so eager to get their stories out to the public that they aren’t taking the time to make sure their product is the best it can be. They aren’t admitting to themselves that they need help, and as a result, we get books on the market that readers and reviewers shake their heads over. I mean, come on! It’s got to be hard enough to get a decent book out of a major publishing house (not that I would know , and those guys run their books through teams of editors! Yet still I find some of my favorite authors that have books out there with mistakes that even I catch.
No one is perfect. No book is perfect. But it behooves us as authors, as small business owners and entrepreneurs (because that’s what self pub and indie writers are) to do the best job we can, and create the absolute best product that we can. Otherwise, we will lose the confidence of our customers and never do anything more than waste our time and the reader’s. Worse yet, we give ourselves and our fellow writers a bad reputation. That kind of product leads to readers looking down their collective noses at self pub authors with an attitude that says, “oh, you’re one of those authors!”
I find my mind wanting to branch out on this topic, but I need to get back to my edits. This is enough for now. Maybe I’ll expand on it another day soon. For now though, I need to get back to work.
Keep reading and writing, and I’ll do the same.