Journey to a Bestseller: Four Editing Tips (Series #25)

We are about to enter a different phase with our NEWLY COMPLETED manuscripts! Yay! Yes, I finished “the bestseller” this weekend. If you are writing with me, have you finished your first draft? What was your word count? My final word count for the first draft, which always raises quite a bit by the end, is 79, 347 words. The new phase we have begun is the “Editing” phase. It lasts as long as it needs to, until your book has been edited down to mistake-free and has been read by people other than you and your mom. You shouldn’t need fourteen rounds of edits. If you do, there’s a lot going on and you need someone else’s eye on it for some more opinions.

1] My advice is, if you just finished your first novel, put it away.

No, really. Give yourself a mental break and let it slide out of your focus for a week or two. Maybe start a new story, or begin the sequel, you don’t have to stop working if you don’t want to. I used to need the break, and I took two weeks like I was told. But now that I am working on manuscripts every day, it doesn’t seem too hard for me to continue, since I edit a different manuscript all week long that takes up my brain. It gives me objectivity toward my own work. Meaning, I don’t see it as mine, it’s just another manuscript that I’m trying to make better.

2] Objectivity: It’s a really great place to be, because it’s hard in the beginning to be thick-skinned and objective about your work. I tried and failed, many times. It’s always going to be hard when you deal with the occasional troll who insists on making you and your book the same entity, and condemning you along with your writing. That can’t be helped. But objectivity for your work just takes time. One problem we have isn’t even our fault. It’s our brain trying to help us out. When you see a document that is familiar to you, your brain will automatically “fix” errors that it knows are coming. You don’t even see them when you read, your eyes pass right over them without registering. That’s why we need spell check, which doesn’t work if your mistake is another word.

Here’s a way to trick your brain:

Anytime you change a document, by its color or its font, for example, your brain sees it as a completely new document that it has never seen before, and the errors just pop out at you. So do you want to know my ULTIMATE SECRET WEAPON?

Before I show my manuscript to anyone, I do what I call a “kindle read.” I email a copy of my book to my Kindle. (It’s very easy to do.) I’m telling you, when I read my words as a “real” book on the kindle, those mistakes JUMP out at me. I have given this advice to some fellow authors who have loved the success of this method. I suggest you try it before self-publishing, especially. I usually tell authors this kind of thing when I do consulting, but I’m letting the consulting go with the new year.

I am loving what I’m doing at the publishing house, and my passion will probably remain with consulting, but I am currently allowing my editing to take up the majority of my time. The rest of the time is spent on my own books. Self-publishing is not easy because you constantly feel like there should be a better way to do things and some other people have figured it out and if you only knew the secret, you too could catapult yourself to the stars and beyond!!! No, seriously, but you do feel more “responsible” for the success of your book. When you are traditionally published and fail at your goals, everyone considers it the publisher’s fault, or at least give them half the blame. When you are self-published, you are fully to gain, and also fully to blame.

It’s stressful. And the marketing never ends. Marketing your book is like walking up a down escalator. You have to remain walking just to stay in the same place. If you stop marketing, you immediately begin to slide down the rankings on Amazon. If you jog a bit, run a few ads, do a giveaway or fair, you can reach and even surpass your “normal” ranking. But beware, that escalator never stops. The minute you stop working, hang onto the railing, because you’re going down. Lol. I couldn’t help that. I tried. Sorry.

There are people under the assumption that if you are self-employed, especially with more than one venture, you bring any stress you have upon yourself. They wonder, “Why don’t you just drop that job?” or “Well, then why do you do that?” Etc. But A. it’s doesn’t work that way and B. I take my job(s) quite seriously. If it’s part of my job, I feel like it is important. And sometimes I do bite off an entire mouthful, making it difficult to chew, but I always manage. And through each job, I have learned so much about publishing. In the beginning, I remember asking other agents, “How do you know a manuscript is good or not?” and they said, “You just know.”

I thought I understood what they meant, but I didn’t. When I finally looked at a manuscript and could tell within the sample chapters how the book was structured–the plot structure, any ability in world-building, the characters’ believability in behaviors and dialogue, and plausibility of the synopsis–I knew that I finally understood. And it’s something you have to learn over time. When you are looking for agents in the bigger agencies, even the newest agents have been in the business for some time, working their way up. Though it’s not so apparent with agents in small agencies. There is no training or license to be an agent, so make sure you vet your agents and query people that have been in the business long enough to make some successful sales.

You can find that info on www.publishersmarketplace.com with a subscription of $25 per month, available for purchase one month at a time. It has a database searchable by agency or agent, and shows all the deals they have made, with the dates, genres, authors, and descriptions. If you are querying, it is worth your time and money to pay the fee and be able to see this information. You want to look for agents who have sold at least one or two works to one of the top five houses or their imprints. If the agent has only made deals with small houses, then that is their network of connections, and that is the kind of contract you’ll get.

I’m not saying you don’t want a small publisher, but MOST of them, even if they say they don’t, will take an author submission. Do follow submission guidelines, though. Submit your query directly to the small publisher and you don’t need an agent. In the case of a small publishing house, the agent doesn’t do much anyway; most small houses have a standard contract that is non-negotiable. You might as well keep the 15%.

3] Sorry, I digress. Back to editing the novel… The next thing I want to do is to have my first read-through and pretty much add things I forgot, fix mistakes that I see, run spell check and Grammarly, if I haven’t already. Think big. Imagine your book is a movie and you want to describe it to someone. How would you describe it? Make the big parts bigger, make the anticipating parts deliciously stimulating. Add details. Can you sense what’s around you in the story? Do you “see” where you are? Do you have info dumps?

4] Here’s another tip regarding info dumps. I went through a scene the other day in which our MC (Wyll) goes into a kitchen and he takes note of the shiny wooden cabinets with cutouts in glass, and an octopus-shaped chandelier with lightbulbs in each tentacle, and a table that looked like a giant ship’s steering wheel. And then they leave out the back door.

That is also an info dump. Even though it is small, the things he notices are not the way we normally take inventory when we enter a room. We don’t walk in and stop, and look around before we follow the other person, or listen to their conversation. The characters need to interact with whatever you are describing. I hope I’m making sense.

So what I did was, I had the man go into the kitchen and open one of those shiny wooden cabinets with the cut out window where Wyll could see him getting a key and putting it in his pocket (This just happens to work for later). The man gestures for Wyll to sit at the table that looked like a giant steering wheel, and he almost bonks his head on an octopus chandelier, and the man gives him a snack. And THEN they leave. I added a snack, which was probably good, because I had forgotten to feed my character in awhile (Which is odd for me. I’m often teased about the amount of food information I usually include.). Don’t starve your characters!

But did you see what I did there? I made the characters interact with their environment. It’s sometimes enough to say the room was concrete; sometimes enough to say it was elaborately adorned with delicate crystal. But the most impactful world-building will be when the characters come into contact with their world. Let’s give one more example.

Take this paragraph: Character A. sees _____ out the window, and sits down, putting their feet up. The chair is faded and worn, the ottoman doesn’t match. The only side table is also Jean’s sewing station–cluttered in bobbins and pins and half finished gingham curtains for the kitchen–and there’s a fireplace made of rock with a mantle of dark wood holding Tim’s last swim trophy.

Try this instead: Character A. gazes out the window and sees____, then flops into the worn, brown chair. They prop their feet up on the ottoman from their last favorite chair, toward the warmth of the river rock fireplace with a dark wood mantle holding Tim’s last swim trophy. They pluck their glass from the only side table, that doubles as Jean’s sewing station–cluttered with bobbins and pins, and half-finished gingham curtains for the kitchen–and downs half the glass in one gulp.

Do you know if this person is happy or sad? Nope. No idea. There’s no way to know right now what they saw out of the window, who they are, what they want, what year it is, or what gender they are, but did you see a place? A room? Did you see the living room of a cabin maybe? A trailer? A small house? Did you have a picture in your mind of a vaguely headless, generic person with a drink and feet propped up toward a fire? I didn’t have to say much, but it flows naturally when you involve the character in their surroundings.

Sometimes that’s what they mean when an editor will tell you to “break up” an info dump. And now you know!

That’s it for this week folks! Give yourself a much needed rest this week, or get to work on something else. If you’ve done that already, start reading through your manuscript and give the “kindle read” a try and see what jumps out at you!

Keep Writing!

~jenn

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