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.


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?

3 thoughts on “To Edit or Not to Edit

  1. Hi Reena – thanks for writing as you do. Before I comment properly I’d like to acknowledge your refreshing attitude and your honesty.It gives me a wee ego boost too to get a mention from you. That I provoke interesting thoughts like yours makes me feel good.

    Now, from the mid-1980s until a year or so ago I was a professional writer – a journalist, editor and sub-editor for newspapers. People actually paid me to turn up and play with words! There are differences in newspaper writing and its associated skills and difference between all of them and fiction writing. They do however share some things, and perhaps when i turned to fiction beginning about 2000 this made going through all the facets of getting a novel completed less arduous or irksome than it has been for you.

    For a long time I cherished the notion of getting published in hard copy by a “proper” publisher, though I only submitted a few of my manuscripts. They seldom got read – it didn’t take long to discover that agents and publishers were so inundated by offerings from wannabes that it was really a matter of chance if a professional reader even cracked your ms and a further matter of chance if she or he read it and further if it tugged at their “good” bell cord.

    This has been as we all know exacerbated by the rise of e-literature and in a theoretical sense I welcome it. “Gatekeepers” in publishing are far from my favourite people and all of us know examples of writers whose success came in spite of them – J K Rowling and Stieg Larsson just two relatively recent examples. As you rightly say, they stand in the way between any writer and the public.

    E-literature has made for a different kind of gatekeeper – the flood of wannabes all pushing stuff out onto the net via Smashwords and other e-publishers. It’s a good thing, very democratic and open, but it makes it hard too to get noticed. A great deal of it, scanning the Smashwords new titles, is unadulterated rubbish: bad grammar, dull and worse. But it’s there, and it’s in the way. New “professionals” will try to help raise the profile, but nothing I have seen that is not a matter of shelling out wads of cash really overcomes this. To me, I’ve decided to keep going and hope that time will become an ally – that the ripple effect will actually work and I’ll eventually get the public I think wants to read my books and enjoy them.

    One of the impacts of the wannabe tsunami has been that I’ve realised that people accept some standards in “finish” that are more obviously bad in hard copy. Smashwords sometimes for example, sets out the pages a bit weirdly after “processing”. Readers just cope, or don’t even notice! “Literals” – spelling mistakes and punctuation errors – also are just taken in stride. Every one of my books has mistakes in it despite countless readings and re-readings.

    I’ve just decided to make this an asset – a political statement! I’m going to continue to strive for perfection in these things, but unless the sense is too obscure for a reader to divine, I’m not going to worry about it.

    To me, these mistakes say to every reader that she or he can be a writer: “I do this. It’s messy sometimes. So? I’m going to try!”

    It takes a great deal of the worry out of being close.

    The other aspects of editing – well, it seems to me if you don’t have “readers” who will read your mss weed out many mistakes, you should.

    But there are other painless ways of doing things that I am sure you do, but if you don’t: I usually write a draft and leave it for a while so that when I come back to it, it is “cold” or colder. Even though I know what happens, even to the point of what the next word is, there is a perspective there that helps me see if something is actually unintelligible to another person, clear as clear as it seems to me. As an editor in journalism I was often struck by work presented to me that was difficult if not impossible to understand. The writer was “in his own head” and couldn’t see the story the way others would see it. Time can teach this skill, so that it is done at first draft stage, but all writers will have this blind spot in some way or other.

    Me – I would not pay an editor; there is a good writer or two who will read my stuff for free in exchange for me doing it for them. Fiction writing is also to some degree a matter of taste, and many “editors” in my experience, watching them work on other people’s stuff, put their taste ahead of what the writer is trying to achieve. That’s not editing in my opinion.

    All this to say that I hope you publish the two sequels. You should. You should say I give yourself some credit and also allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes. If they’re not critical, don’t worry about them. Think what they say to the budding writer – “Hey, I can’t do as well as that!”

    Meanwhile if you want to send me an ms for a point of view, do it. I’m footloose at the mo.

    Go well Reena. Hope this was of some use to you.

  2. I think minor mistakes are realistic, whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. I wasn’t nearly as observant of mistakes in writing until I delved into the indie world. I was just an avid reader, looking for a bit of entertainment. It wasn’t until after I read books have to be polished and error free before even submitting a publisher, my eyes became open to reality. How were books getting published traditionally when the writer polished it before it hit the agent, the agent did some touch ups, it went to the publisher, and was fully edited before it hit the shelf, but were still full of mistakes? ha ha There is no perfection.

    I definitely see where you’re coming from… in being a role model. From time to time, I come across what others are doing (not necessarily writing related) and find myself saying, “I can do that!”

    Guess it’s time to hop back on the bicycle. 🙂

  3. Don’t know about being a role model. I have some experience it’s worth it to ponder maybe, and have spent a lot of time in an industry where mistakes are shall we say not welcome.

    Before there were computers much less the internet there was a considerable process of getting books to print, similar to newspapers. For newspapers just a few years ago there were still as many as eight pairs of eyes looking at copy before it was finally set: journo, chief reporter, news editor, sub, check sub, news editor again, chief sub, night editor and possibly editor. Mistakes still make it, but…

    Book publishing was a lot more leisurely in the pre-computer days but there were still quite a few people involved in getting work into print past the author. Even so errors did crop in. But a writer was less expected to be able to spell and punctuate as there was an industry there to do that stuff. Famous writers got more – they got editors and researchers and readers. The first hurdle was the hardest. But mistakes got in despite all these people poring over the manuscript. I remember as a teenager reading a war novel that had the hero shot and in hospital weaving in and out of consciousness. The last word in the book was “oblivon”. It just seemed so wrong to me that that should be the word. It was just a mistake but it took me a lot of searching of dictionaries to decide that was the case.

    The British newspaper, the Guardian, even in an age of computerised checking, is still riddled with errors. Before it was known as the Grauniad – as affectionately as otherwise – for the many errors.

    But I think that people who say you should have every i dotted and t crossed before submitting a manuscript are just talking tosh. Good writing is good writing and it’s not just about spelling and grammar.

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