Today I have invited Brian W Foster to write a guest post on editing – something he has rather more experience of than I do. So here it is:
My three year old tends to scribble with crayons a lot. My wife and I, as parents are wont to do, exclaim over these works of art and place them prominently on the refrigerator.
I imagine, if you have or have had little ones of your own, you understand this well. Nothing wrong with it. Consider, however, what you would think of me if I decided that these tremendous works of art should be sold on Amazon.
If I’m being honest, Little Man’s work isn’t any better than what billions of toddlers throughout history have produced. Why would I think that anyone, beyond his grandparents, would pay money for his scribblings? Am I delusional?
The truth is, if you’re an inexperienced author getting ready to self publish your first book without having engaging the services of a good professional editor, I seriously doubt your product is much better than the efforts of my three year old. Without knowing you or having seen your novel, I can tell you that you, at the minimum, have the following problems:
- There’s simply not enough tension. Instead of putting the protagonist in constant trouble and getting him out of the frying pan by throwing him in the fire, you’ve let him off the hook. If you have managed to include conflict in every scene (a prospect I have a hard time believing), you’ve made stupid mistakes that rob the tension instead of ramping it up.
- You’ve told when you should have shown. I know, I know. This is where I’ll get comments saying, “It’s okay to tell.” I agree; there is a time and a place for telling. I guarantee, however, that you have places in your story where you have told where showing would convey your story much better.
- You have character and story arc issues. I don’t care how many times you’ve edited it or how many beta readers you’ve ran it past — you absolutely have not considered all the ramifications of everything you’ve written.
How do I know all this? From experience writing and experience reading manuscripts created by people just like you.
I’m a smart guy, and I’ve studied the craft of writing. I have excellent beta readers and a fantastic writing group. I made each of those mistakes and more, and it took a professional editor to point out the errors.
Through four revisions, I thought my book was okay, but not great. I’m not finished with the final version yet, but, after my editor pointed out all my mistakes and made great suggestions to fix them, I’m hopeful that the novel will stand out.
- By drawing attention to every place where I robbed tension, she forced me to make the book much more interesting.
- By explaining where the telling fell flat, she gave me the opportunity to bring my audience more inside the story.
- By finding all my tiny mistakes with character and plot, she helped me keep from turning off readers.
Hiring an editor is an expensive proposition, and having all your flaws exposed is not a pleasant experience. If you’re serious about producing a quality product that has a chance at winning you an audience, it’s a step you simply cannot skip.
Brian is a registered mechanical engineer who studied writing for more than a decade before getting serious about putting epen to epaper in the last few years. He’s almost finished with his first book, Power of the Mages, an epic fantasy featuring a medieval lab geek who seeks the girl of his dreams and who, while fleeing for his life, gets caught up in a war between kingdoms. You can catch his blog posts and download the free novelette, Abuse of Power, at www.brianwfoster.com.