Posts tagged with: editing

A Cautionary Tale

It’s been said that, in a courtroom, the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Something similar can be said for a writer who does his or her own editing.

StarshipIn an earlier blog, I mentioned fine-tuning my SFR and that it became a cautionary tale in and of itself. Here’s what happened:

Some of you know family obligations made it impossible for Cuz to relocate when his employer chose to move.  With him facing unemployment, we decided to polish a manuscript that, although begun as a writing exercise in the 90s, would not die. Unsure whether those old ideas still had merit, we entered the first chapters into a contest and—Hallelujah!—they did. To ice our little happy cake, while the story sat, SFR emerged as a viable genre. Whoopee!

Reality soon changed whoopee to whoop ass—with mine in its sights. Half the chapters remained in WordPerfect®, the program we had grudgingly abandoned when Word® rose to industry dominance. Some existed only on legal pads. The last handful were doc. and docx. files.

Have you any idea the garbage a story can collect over nigh eighteen years? Upon seeing the merged files, I darn near had a coronary. Over 120,000 words, huge gaps, duplicate scenes, missing scenes, more inconsistencies than I care to enumerate, and despite comprehensive profiles, the characters had morphed. Oh, and no ending. That’s right. At 120+K. It. Was. Not. Finished.

But wait. There’s more. Since we were having so much fun, circumstances added a smidge more crazy.

My CP, who planned to help us navigate indie publishing’s vagaries, announced her impending out-of-state relocation. In a strange twist, although they didn’t know each other, Cuz and her hubby worked for the same outfit.


With the deadline approaching and beta-readers waiting, we escalated to panic mode. I settled in to work. I kid you not when I say I gained about fifteen pounds because I did little but sit and type until I sent the story to the readers.

Nobody liked the hero. Too alpha. No evidence of a softer side. The heroine, while likable,  didn’t fare much better. The villain . . . Well, you get the idea.

I returned to my chair and, comments in hand, knuckled down.

Many sleepless nights, pots of coffee, and PB&J sandwiches later, we had something viable but, given its age, realized holes we stood too close to see might yet exist. Both Cuz and I have solid general science backgrounds and experience within specific disciplines. Neither of us can claim more than a basic grasp of physics, however, and we had, of course, ventured there.

Pooling our resources, we hired a developmental Sci-fi editor who, we were assured, had experience with romance.

While he found several oopsies on the physics/space-science front, making him well-worth his hire, his comments and handling of the love story declared ours wasn’t the story he wanted to read. Unfortunately, what he wanted to read, we didn’t want to write.

We thanked him and parted ways.

I’ve done plenty of editing during my life. These days, it’s mostly for my CP, but in years past, I edited publications, ads, form letters—Yeah. Fun stuff—and books that eventually found place in traditional publishing. I could handle this. No sweat.

Thus, without fanfare, I donned motley and joined the fools’ ranks.

More eighteen and twenty-hour days behind the desk followed. My feet swelled. My hips spread. Each tick of the clock, it seemed, claimed another strand of hair.

Somehow, between midnight phone debates, sometimes-grudging compromises, incessant typing, and gritty eyes, time ran out. Cuz and CP made the long trip, squishing into my dinky office to navigate the publishing process.

After an almost nineteen year gestation, the book went live 25 January 2015.

It wasn’t ready. We knew it. We priced it high to discourage buyers, but like proud parents who refuse to believe they created an ugly child, kept the pictures on display. 

People bought it. Our family and friends led the way, but we sold too many for just that forgiving group.

Instant panic—for me.

Cuz moseyed on to Book Two. I couldn’t make him understand Book One of a series carries the weight of every book that follows (we have three gestating), and ours didn’t have the muscle yet. Our developmental editor had become so fixated on the alien pronoun usage several discrepancies and plot holes evaded his detection just as they’d escaped mine—until I read the book in print.

Nightmares had nothing on this mess. The book bled red ink. Depression, a specter most writers battle at times, found a foothold. I republished over and over while fighting the demon (I forget how many print copies I bought. I can’t seem to see this stuff on the computer), enduring Cuz and Hubble’s jokes about how anal I was and their advice to let it be. No argument made either male understand why I persisted. The months that followed proved hellish.

On 1 August 2015, I downloaded The Sword & the Starship for the final—I hope—time, and can, at long last, say I’m proud of it. It’s sixteen pages and several thousand words leaner than its January incarnation. The bits that went nowhere are gone. The timeline issue has been resolved. The hero and heroine boast complete character and emotional arcs. As for the villain? No complaints.

AND (cue Angel Choir) Cuz has finally seen the light.

Here’s what we learned:

1.) Hiring a content or copy editor would have been wise. Despite determined attempts at objectivity, my knowledge of the story and characters led to ill-advised assumptions, skimming, and more reworking than there had to be.

2.) Nothing catches errors quite like the ear. Read the book aloud. Hearing it read works, too—if you can avoid zoning out.

3.) Not all editors are created equal. While grateful for the solid science, we would have been better served by an editor who shared our vision for the story.

4.) Trust yourself. If your inner voice is screaming, listen; it’s probably right.

5.) Chair time is not always time well-spent. Get up. Move. You can’t think very well with your blood cushioning your tush. You’ll accomplish more with it energizing your brain.

6.) Sometimes, in the long run, it costs less to spend. If you work best with print, then print. While shredded paperbacks are excellent soil-enhancers, and pages spread over soil stop weeds, they’re expensive alternatives. Your flowerbeds will be just as happy with computer paper. Better a garden than a landfill. 

7.) Publishing sites have draft modes. Unfortunately, I noticed the option too late. We could have learned what we needed without risking our—or our book’s—reputation. Instead, we went all in, releasing it during its almost-but-not-quite-ready-yet, chrysalis stage—a decision we might yet regret.

So there you have it, my cautionary tale. If you take nothing else from it, take this:

Some things never attain their potential if they’re rushed, so don’t cut the chrysalis. 

Wait for the butterfly. DSCN1118






Sometimes the Mirror Lies

During my teens, Max Factor and Mary Quant dominated the make-up aisles.  Periwinkle-blue cream eyeshadow (looked like silvery-blue foil), Petal Pink lipstick (one drop of blood in a vat of chalk would have had more color), thick, black eyeliner, and blackest-black mascara applied with a trowel to lashes later separated with either a straight or safety pin were de rigueur.  All the coolest gals added a ‘cat-eye’ flourish to their eyeliner, mimicking the models walking NY’s runways. 

Like all teens, I wanted to be cool, so I followed the program.  The heavy black, with a little assist from the shimmery periwinkle, made my crystal-blue eyes shine like beacons across a midnight sea.  With my lips all but erased, they made a striking focal point.  I knew it to be true.  My mirror told me so.

Now, our high school had mirrors on every corner of every hall—ostensibly for safety, but who cared about that?  Teenage girls just want to be certain they look good.  So, being a teenaged girl, I knew the location of every one.  There should have been no room for suprises, right?

One day, while walking to class and arguing with a friend over a potentially tricky AP bio test, I glanced up.  Some garishly raccoon-eyed chick who looked like death very slightly warmed stared back at me like I was the nightmare come to life, not she.  It took me a moment to realize my friend and I had reached an intersection, and since that death-masked horror wore the same outfit as I—well, you get the picture.  I wanted to vomit.  All the people who’d offered make-up advice (including my mom who I had, naturally, ignored) hadn’t been jealous or spiteful or just plain mean.  They’d been trying to make me see the truth.

That’s when I realized mirrors lie.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we lie to ourselves, seeing what we expect to see—until faced by a mirror for which we are unprepared.

The same can be said of our writing.  We look at it and look at it until we cease to see what’s there.  We can practically recite it by rote, so when we read, we see only what we want to see and ignore flaws evident to anyone but ourselves.

I’ve often heard other writers suggest putting a work aside for several weeks before attempting to edit.  The idea is to see it with new eyes.

Newsflash:  You haven’t changed much in those few weeks or months, and the story you wrote, the product of your imagination, research, blood, sweat, and tears, is still yours.  You will pick it up determined to be objective, but you won’t see the death mask; you will see crystalline-blue and be deluded by your own expectations.  Your eyes can never be new to the story again.  It’s like trying to regain innocence lost.  It isn’t going to happen.

So many people are going the indie route to publishing these days, which is good in many ways.  However, we can all agree there’s a great deal of dreck available, tarnishing the credibility of hard-working, responsible indie authors.  While many can’t afford professional editing—yet—there are alternatives that can better the product of both the indie and traditionally published author.

I do the lion’s share of the editing for my critique partner.  I don’t claim to be an editor, mind you, but I am rather anal about quality, and when trying to make something the best it can be, that usually undesirable characteristic can be a blessing.

One of the tools I use is a voice program that reads the work aloud.  A word missing?  Your ear will catch it even if you eyes don’t.  Awkward phrasing?  Trust your ears.  Unrealistic dialogue?  Ears are a much more reliable detector than eyes.

Even so, never underestimate the value of a second set of eyes.  Don’t have a CP or a particularly anal friend?  Get a couple of Beta Readers.  These can be anyone who reads romance.  Romance readers have expectations, and they’ll let you know if you fall short.  If you confuse them, they’ll tell you.  They don’t need professional training to recognize slow pacing or cardboard characters before you submit to an editor or agent or make the jump to indie publishing.

If you plan to go indie and can afford it, hire a professional editor.  Of course, finding a good one may require some work, but both  the effort and the cost will be small in comparison to the potential rewards.  Ask around.  Talk to other writers.  Join the appropriate loops.  There are good, free-lance editors available.

Don’t let yourself be deceived.  Realizing that ugly girl in the mirror is you is nauseating, but make-up comes off with a bit of soap and water.  Realizing you sent your book into the world too soon, painted on a death-mask that no amount of cleanser can remove, could destroy something precious.  Don’t risk it.

Have you encounted a mirror, whether literal or metaphorical, that has revealed something you’d rather not have seen (fitting room mirrors don’t count; those things are simply diabolical), and how do you go about the editing process?

Get Thee a Nitpicky CP — aka Cattle Prod

Many of us are furiously polishing a manuscript we entered in the Golden Heart so it will be ready to submit to agents and editors on March 25th when we get a call from one of the RWA board members telling us our story is a finalist.  (Note:  I say WHEN and not IF.  Positive thinking is always a plus.)  If you want to be sure your manuscript is truly editor/agent ready, I suggest finding a CP aka cattle prod to help you.  (And be sure to become one in return.)

Anyone who’s ever heard my critique partner and me discussing our work would swear a violent homicide was imminent.  We argue LOUDLY, sometimes for hours, until one of three things happens:

  1. One of us has an AH-HA! moment and finally sees the other person’s point
  2. The one being critiqued comes up with a solution or compromise that addresses the critiquer’s concern or issue
  3. We reach an impasse and lovingly agree to disagree

Occasionally our discussions are about what some might consider a trivial and inane matter.  But is it really?  If our debate was truly insignificant, would the critiquer have been pulled out of the story?  In my opinion, anytime something in a manuscript stops a reader (aside from a passage so funny, touching, or insightful it begs to be reread) it’s a potential problem.

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