To Edit or Not to Edit

Last week, Steve Evans responded to my post about fair eBook prices. It got me thinking about the writing and publishing process, and the reason why I expect to be paid for my work. I realize, it wasn’t the writing itself, but rather the stuff that comes after writing which turns the whole thing into work.

I Enjoy Creating

I enjoy the entire creation process. This includes developing plots, creating characters, writing, and even developing book covers. Oh… what fun I have! I have 4 novels which are 75-95% finished with the first draft, a few more that are in the 50% range, and a host of other ideas floating around. However, when I think about going back and polishing those books, my motivation falls flat. In fact, I don’t even want to finish them when I think about having to prepare the for publication. So, I have some choices when it comes to getting my books out there.

Outsource

I can outsource the stuff I don’t like. One of the things business owners should realize is they don’t have to do everything. What they’re unable to do or just plain don’t want to do, they can outsource it to others. For instance, I can pay someone to critique my works, pay for a proofreader, editor, and marketing person. However, the key word is pay. 🙂

One thing everyone realizes is that resources are limited. There’s a cost benefit to pretty much every choice we make. If I pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do or am unable to do, there are other things I won’t be able to afford to do. And I’ll be honest here. I don’t have a few thousand dollars to blow per book with little chance of recovering the costs.

To Hell with It All!

What Steve really got me thinking about was why I continued to do things I didn’t enjoy. It’s not like I have to prepare my books for publishing. In fact, I can write my first drafts and shove them in a virtual drawer, if I wanted.

On the other hand, I’ve been feeling rather guilty… especially when it comes to the sequels to Shadow Cat. I really feel as if I should finish what I started, and get those other two books out. In fact, book two is pretty much written. While polishing it, I thought about feedback I received from Shadow Cat, and wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes. So, I went back and rewrote a section. Now the whole thing needs to be reviewed for consistencies. The final book is at that 75% stage… so I’m pretty close with being done with them all… but then I’m in the to hell with it all stage. I just don’t feel like going back and reviewing and polishing them. So why should I continue doing things which make me unhappy? 🙂 There’s enough unhappiness in the world. I don’t need to add an optional unhappiness to my list.

To Hell with My Reputation?

Then again, I can take that attitude and do something different with it. I’ve read quite a few literary agents say they see books on the market which aren’t ready for publishing. I wholeheartedly agree with them. Dare I take my not quite ready drafts and put them on the market? Just the idea feels me with anxiety.

I talked to my husband about the pros and cons of doing that. The reality is I have works I’m sure someone would like to read. However, they’re unlikely to make it into readers’ hands if I’m stuck on preparing them for publication… at least if I continue to work on them to the extend they satisfy me.

However, I can write my first draft, then do a pass or two before sending it off into the world. I can stop obsessing over getting each phrase to sound just right.

What Do You Think, Readers?

Literary agents have their own viewpoints. However, they aren’t my market, readers are. From the reader’s standpoint, would you rather see an early draft of a story or bypass the story all together? I ask because I’m in the to hell with it stage. The works I’m just on the edge of completing will either be filed in the virtual folder or I’ll likely finish them and do some rudimentary passes before sending into the world.

Is it better to get the work out or to slave over the work with the chance it’s just not going to get the attention it needs to be “ready for publication?”

What are your thoughts?

Special Post: Kickstarter Project Launched

Well, it’s out there. I’ve launched the Kickstarter Project for I Loved You First. Head over and check it out. And if you’re so inclined to push I Loved You First on to publication, feel free to pledge. 🙂

Ever wonder where I get my ideas? Everywhere. Until then, check out the origin of I Loved You First.

 

Authors Helping Authors: Self-Editing

We didn’t get a Friday Authors Helping Authors post. So how about a Sunday extra by yours truly. 🙂

I have a confession to make. Despite the pressure to hire an editor, I forwent one with Shadow Cat. Yes, it’s true. Shadow Cat has never visited a professional editor. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me to run it through a proofer. My mother told me last week she found one error in the first 100 pages. Another writer mentioned I’d spelled “entrée” as “entree” in chapter 2.

I cringed when those errors were pointed out. Were there more? Most likely. After all, I’m not perfect.

“Have you found any more errors?” I couldn’t help but probe from time to time.

One or a couple was the typical response after finishing Shadow Cat. Of course they could have overlooked some. They’re not perfect either. 🙂

So I told myself, three or four errors wasn’t bad. Please let it only be three or four errors. [crosses fingers] A traditionally published book gets looked over by several people and still has errors in it. Doesn’t justify shoddy work, of course, but it does allow for the human factor to come into play (within reason).

So why you ask did I forgo an editor? The simple reason is I’m not in the position to shell out that kind of money. For a 90K+ piece of work, we’re easily talking in the thousands of $$$. The salary of a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) doesn’t quite cover that. And let’s face it, kickass editing doesn’t guarantee a financial return.

HOWEVER, I still value presenting the best foot forward. I don’t want people to look at my work and label me as unprofessional, sloppy, or any other unpleasant adjective. So I do the best I can, and now I’m going to share with you the tools I use to do it.

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I do my writing through a program called StoryBox, which includes a spell check feature. I typically use it to spot check while writing, but for the big editing, I still prefer MS Word. The red underlines really catch my attention. Plus it includes a grammar check. I export my work into an rtf file, do a quick spelling/grammar check in MS Word, then I import my work back into StoryBox.

I edit my work in sections (usually a scene). For me, it’s just easier to work in pieces. And since I use StoryBox, I can set the status to First Draft, Second Draft, Final, or Done for each scene depending on the stage I’m in. By the way, StoryBox is inexpensive—$35 last I checked. You can try before you buy, so it’s virtually risk free. I have to say, I’m quite satisfied with the program. I wish I’d know programs like that were available when I first started writing, because MS Word definitely isn’t designed with the novelist in mind.

My most important tool when editing is text-to-speech. It’s easy to overlook errors. Often our minds read what we expect to see rather than what’s really there. Some folks say to read the work aloud, but even then I sometimes read what I expect. Not with text-to-speech software. The program reads exactly what’s there (with a few oddities). Not only does it help me pick up silly errors the spelling/grammar checks miss, but also ensure the sentences and paragraphs flow well.

 

Bryan added with a winked.

 

Why in the world spelling/grammar check doesn’t catch that, I don’t know. My eyes might miss it, but my ears give me another chance.

If you’re using Windows, you likely have a feature called Narrator. It’s rather computer sounding, but it’s free. SAHM, remember? Free is good. The way Narrator runs is so flakey, it’s almost worthless as it is. So why in the heck am I mentioning it? When implemented in a program, it’s effective.

StoryBox has text-to-speech which uses the Narrator program. Ctrl + Shift + s toggles the feature on and off. If you don’t have StoryBox, shame on you. That’s okay though, you can create a macro for MS Word which also uses Narrator. Before Mark Fassett added text-to-speech to StoryBox, I relied on the Word macro and still do from time to time. Here is an online tutorial that shows how to set up your own macro in Word.

Autocrit is the next tool I use. Usually I sandwich Autocrit between two sessions of text-to-speech. Why? Because after I make corrections, I want to make sure what I’ve done still sounds right.

So what is Autocrit? You know how you send a work to some critters and they highlight EVERY SINGLE “was” or cross out EACH and EVERY adverb? The list goes on, but if you’re like me, you probably chafe under those kinds of critiques. “To be” verbs, adverbs, “that,” and other overused words have their place in writing. The key is not to overdo it. That’s where Autocrit comes into play. It ferrets out those overused words and gives suggestions to eliminate some when you’ve gone overboard. YOU get to choose which ones to keep and which ones to ditch.

Since I’ve started using Autocrit, I’ve become more aware of the weaknesses in my writing. Autocrit offers a whole list of features that I’m not going to go into. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you might use some more than others. For me, Overused Words is my big thing, but lately, I’ve been visiting the Pacing feature. If you have a problem with putting too much back story in your work, that’s a great tool. There’s a free membership for Autocrit if you want to check it out. It’s very limited, but it’d give you a chance to decide if it’s for you. Paid membership ranges from $47-117. For me, it’s worth every penny. Have a look see at my opinion, if you’re looking for Autocrit reviews.

So I’ve done all I can do to make my work shine—spelling/grammar check, text-to-speech, and Autocrit. I’m done, right? Uhm… no.

Next, you need the people factor. That’s right, critters. Those extra pairs of eyes make a world of difference. Do your sentences make sense? Is your plot unfolding nicely? Oops, you missed a typo or misused a word. Plus critters can tell you what works and doesn’t work. And trust me, YOU are not the best judge for this stage. No matter how great you are at editing, you cannot possibly know how others will view your writing unless you’ve got some kind of supernatural insight.

I prefer at least three different people to view my projects. The more the merrier. But remember, you are the author, so it’s up to you to decide which advice to heed. You DO NOT have to implement EVERY change or suggestion. Chances are, if you let critters take over your work THEY WILL DESTROY IT. Why? Because much of the opinions are subjective, but if several are saying the same thing, it might indicate a problem.

I top everything off with another text-to-speech round. So that’s that.

Even if you have the funds to pay an editor, using these tools can save you money. Some editors pay according to the time spent on your work. The crappier the draft you send, the more it’s going to cost you. Others charge by the level of editing. A basic proofreading is going to be a lot less expensive than a line-by-line copyedit, and the cost for a deep edit or rewrite is enough to cause my mind to reboot.

Also, if you use the self-editing tools before sending your work to critters, I guarantee your helpers will appreciate the effort. Critiquing can be very time consuming. The critters I work with are writers and have their own projects. If they’re like me, critiquing isn’t the highlight of their day. It’s not a pleasure read; it’s work. We do it to help one another and because we need help ourselves. It’s a cost-saving tradeoff which works to everyone’s benefit… or so it should. 🙂

So a quick rundown of the tools:

  • Spelling/grammar check
  • Text-to-Speech (available in StoryBox or create a MS Word macro)
  • Autocrit
  • Critters (please don’t tell them I called them tools) 🙂

What tools do you use which are invaluable to your editing process?

Guest Post: Rachel Haimowitz on Work-For-Hire Part III

Rachel Haimowitz has a wealth of knowledge, and she’s back again today to continue her Work-For-Hire series. If you missed part one or two, definitely take a looksee.

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Last week, I went over all the different tasks required to turn a manuscript into a saleable book. While it’s true you can do many of those tasks yourself, there is wisdom in hiring professionals. I mean, you could stitch a gaping wound in your own arm, but it’s probably not a good idea. For one, it’d hurt like a bitch. For another, you’ll probably leave an ugly scar. You might get an infection. You might fail to seal the wound properly so it can heal. In self-publishing, things like proofreading or writing cover blurbs can be just as painful, self-editing can be just as unhealthy, and doing your own cover art can end in results as unappealing.

So if you want to set yourself above the rank-and-file and compete with the professional service package you’d find at a publishing house, hire the pros.

Sounds Great, but What’s It Going to Cost Me? (And What Will I Get for My Money?)

Short answer? You get what you pay for.

Long answer? Is long. Long enough to break into several posts. Bear with me. Today I’m talking exclusively about developmental editors, whose critical functions I discussed last Friday in my first post.

The best developmental editors are both trained and experienced. That doesn’t mean your cousin Vinnie can’t give good feedback about the structure of your novel; it just means that the best of the best could (and may very well) teach workshops and use their own clients’ successful books as examples.

A good developmental editor (DE) will take the time to understand your vision of the book as a whole, as well as the purpose and vision of each chapter, scene, and paragraph. They’ll talk with you. A lot. They’ll question the value of every scene, every character, every primary and secondary plot point. They’ll quiz you about themes, and messages, and motives. They’ll seek to understand both your characters’ desires and your desires as a writer. They’ll make sure you’re getting your point across without jamming it down your readers’ throats. They’ll say, “I think this is what you intended to say,” and if you agree, they’ll work with you to make the text say exactly that.

Understandably, this is a painstaking process. You and your DE might go through four, five, even a dozen rounds of edits. If you’re very lucky and your text is already very clean, you’ll nail it in two or three.

The upper echelon of DEs may charge by the word or by the hour—usually somewhere between $.07 and $.15 a word, or $50 to $100 an hour. (Most will work in the $50 to $75 an hour range. I work for $60, if you’re curious.) They are professionals. They have worked in Manhattan publishing or a professional equivalent. They’ve been thanked in the acknowledgements of successful books, and have significantly contributed to said successes. They do not bullshit with you about how long the process will take or how taxing it will be, nor do they promise that their efforts will lead to a bestseller or even a publishing contract. They do not work on every project that comes their way; they’re busy enough to pick and choose, and know better than to edit a manuscript outside their field of expertise.

Nervous about paying by the hour rather than the word? I promise you, a professional will only bill you for the time they put in. When I first started hiring freelancers by the hour, I had some misgivings about this: How will I know how much time the job actually takes? How will I know if they’re screwing me? The answer is that reputation is worth much more in this business than a single project, and true professionals won’t throw their reputation away for a few hundred extra dollars.

Less-expensive DEs will work in the $.04 to $.06 per word or $25 to $50 per hour range. As I said at the top of this section, you get what you pay for; I’d give 50/50 odds that a person you hire in this cost range will be qualified to do the work—at least enough so to justify their fee. Not getting your money’s worth would be unfortunate, but not nearly as unfortunate as an editor who is actively destructive to your vision. Even worse, you may not realize that’s happening, or that you’re being ripped off—which can happen even when the editor has the kindest heart and the best of intentions. This kind of work is so specialized and difficult that many early-career writers don’t quite know how to judge the efficacy of someone’s developmental edits.

Anyone charging less than the prices I’ve quoted is very likely not qualified, although of course there are always exceptions. What you’ll find in the lower cost ranges are often professionals, but of the wrong kind: people with advanced English degrees, or journalists, or freelance magazine writers—people who think that these experiences qualify them to do developmental work. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. Even most successful authors will tell you they don’t feel qualified to do professional developmental edits on other people’s work. If you’re going to pay someone for this job, make sure that someone has actually done developmental edits in a professional capacity and has a track record to prove it.

As for how long the job actually takes? Well, that depends quite heavily on the state of your manuscript and your receptivity to being edited in such a fundamental way. Try to remember that the DE is your project’s greatest ally; she only wants what’s best for the book while staying true to your voice and vision. (Keep that in mind when you feel like she’s flaying you and your literary babies alive; this process is not painless.) In my experience, a 75,000-word novel will take anywhere from 30 to 150 hours to developmental edit. (At $60 an hour, that’s a serious investment—between $1,800 and $9,000!) This is a huge span, I know, but like I said, it all depends on how much work your manuscript needs and how adept you are at addressing the issues.

If you have $1,800 to spend, but not $9,000, you may wish to pay for an evaluation first. By which I mean you pay a (qualified!) DE to read your manuscript for the sole purpose of identifying issues. She won’t fix them, but she will point them out. She’ll leave you with an actionable list (either written, via phone call, or both) of items that need fixing, and she’ll be able to tell you (more or less) exactly how much it would cost to retain her services for said fixes. If her list doesn’t ring true to you, you probably don’t want to hire her for anything more. But if you keep nodding your head and going, “Ah, yes,” then you and she are likely to work well together.

Costs for evaluations vary widely, but a good rule of thumb is $1 to $3 per page. A “page” is generally considered 250 words, so an evaluation for your 75,000 word manuscript would cost roughly $300 to $900. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. If nothing else, you can use her list to self-edit to the best of your ability.

If you’re on a fixed budget, you can ask prospective editors if they’re willing to do a less-detailed job for a specific cost. If an editor is willing to do this, she’ll prioritize issues to address the most pressing ones within the time you’ve given her.

If developmental editing is out of your price range, your next best bet is to hire the most brilliant copyeditor you can find. I’ll talk about those obsessive-compulsive workhorses of the publishing industry—and I say this with the utmost love, as someone who’s both performed and depended on this skill for almost a decade—in my next post.

 

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Rachel is an M/M erotic romance author and a freelance writer and editor. She originally dipped her toes into cable news and book publishing, decided the water was cold and smelled kinda funny, and moved on to help would-be authors polish and publish, write for websites and magazines, and ghostwrite nonfiction.

Currently she has a contemporary BDSM collection (Sublime: Collected Shorts) and two M/M erotic romance novels (a high fantasy adventure titled Counterpoint: Book One of Song of the Fallen, and a modern-day slavery alternate universe story titled Anchored: Belonging Book One) in print. Her third novel, Crescendo: Book II of Song of the Fallen, will release in the fall of 2011 with Guiltless Pleasure Publishing; and her first novella, an M/M cyberpunk story co-written with Aleksandr Voinov titled Break and Enter, will release with Samhain Publishing around December of 2011.

You can find Rachel at RachelHaimowitz.com, tweeting as RachelHaimowitz, chatting in the Goodreads forums, and blogging at Rachel-Haimowitz.blogspot.com. She loves to hear from folks, so feel free to drop her a line anytime at metarachel (at) gmail (dot) com.