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






17 responses to “A Cautionary Tale”

  1. liz Talley says:

    Thanks for this frank look into the process of getting an indie book where it needs to be. I agree so much with going with your gut and sticking to your vision of a book. I’m so thankful that I have others to edit my stories. When you’re too close, you cannot see the forest for the trees and writers must see the forest, for that is what the potential readers see.

    • Gwyn says:

      Amen! The trees must be thinned, but with the forest in mind, and that’s no small task. I’m certainly not tall enough to see the whole while pruning, and running up and down a ladder is exhausting! 😉

  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    Your cautionary tale highlights a lot of the reasons why I’m nervous to pick up some of my books-under-the-bed. I would love to revise them and I think there could be something great there, but getting them into shape feels like an Odyssey and reading about your experience… WOW. Huge undertaking! Thanks for sharing this, Gwyn.

    • Gwyn says:

      Don’t let my mess scare you, Vivi. First, I doubt you have any manuscripts old enough for college, and I’ll bet each is done using a single program. Second, you don’t have a collaborator to accommodate. Third,you’re too smart to fall into the rewrite trap. You’ll take what’s good, even if it’s just the idea, and dump the rest, giving the whole thing a fresh take–which is what we should have done instead of freshening it one paragraph at a time.

      Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  3. Kate Parker says:

    Gwyn, I’m afraid I had a good laugh at your expense while reading this. That said, I’m in the throes of self-pubbing my first solo venture. It’s like doing new math with an old math mind. I will take your cautionary tale and use the lessons. Wish me luck.

    • Good luck, Kate. I’ve no doubt you’ll get through the process like a champ.

      I’m glad you got a laugh. In retrospect, even I find some of it funny—in a Dear-God-how-did-I-not-kill-someone sort of way. 😉

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Gwyn, self-publishing is challenging enough with one person at the helm. I can’t imagine what it must be like sharing both creative and business decisions with someone who might not always agree with you. Thanks for writing about this.

    Mistake-wise, let me assure you that you have plenty of company. 😉 The best we can do is learn from those mistakes, and regardless of how one publishes, the learning never ends.

    • Gwyn says:

      Thanks, Tammy. I’ve often wondered if I would have been as distressed by the mistakes had we not used the family name. I usually roll with that stuff, but my dad was uber excited when we decided to ditch the pseudonym we planned. How excited? Dad isn’t a reader, but when the book arrived, he didn’t let Mom have it until he finished. He didn’t even watch TV, which is unheard of! Dad has the squarest eyes in town.

      When Mom told me, I was flabbergasted. I’m like, “But Mom, there’s sex in the book.” Mom replied, “Hon, we had seven children. I’m pretty sure your dad knows what sex is.” Yeah, that’s how Mom rolls. 😉

  5. Wow, Gwyn, what a challenge you embarked upon! I hope you took some time to celebrate when August’s version met your approval. 🙂 Congratulations on surviving the process!!

    • Gwyn says:

      If sleeping counts, Anne Marie, I certainly did. Finding the time-line issue (MAJOR discrepancy) after working so hard nearly derailed me. I’m the queen of self-castigation and couldn’t fathom how I’d missed it. No reader has noticed, to my knowledge, but you and I both know leaving it wasn’t an option. Someone (probably, an anal sort like me) would have noticed, eventually.

  6. Never rush the work for the sake of a self-imposed deadline! At least, that’s what I’m telling myself right now. 😉 Timely post!

  7. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great post. I don’t know why, Gwyn, but when I saw the title of today’s blog in my e-mail, I KNEW you’d written it.

    Can I use the excuse of “I’m not rushing it” for why my 2nd Vietnam era story is still unfinished. 🙂 In truth, it’s best that it is. The story gets better and better the longer I mull it over. Still, at some point, I have to get serious about writing the rest.

    • Gwyn says:

      Maybe you recognized the title because you talked me down a few times during the debacle? Couldn’t have done it without you, Laur.

      Stew must simmer to blend the flavors into something savory, so I’ve no problem with the delay, but there comes a point it’s time to eat lest it becomes gloop and burns. Only you’ll know when your stew is ready, but don’t let it simmer too long; while it might still taste good, gloop is unappealing so will, probably, go to waste. 😉


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