Allaying a writer’s fears of the editorial process

As a professional freelance editor of fiction, my job is to prepare a client’s manuscript for publication. By publication, I mean that the work is intended to be sold commercially, whether the author wishes to self-publish their novel or submit their edited manuscript to a literary agent for traditional publishing.

I treat a manuscript in much the same way as a traditional publisher would; however, as I do not invest financially in an author or their product, I do not have the final say. At any time, I can only advise from a professional point of view. It is up to the client to decide whether or not to follow that advice.

Ultimately, my aim is to ensure that I help to produce a novel that strikes a happy balance between the author’s wishes (whose words are being represented), and the intended readership (those who interpret the author’s words).

If you are a writer who is planning to publish, but is afraid of losing control of your story through the editorial process, please be assured that I do not rewrite text or alter the author’s voice: I advise on how the words can be better presented. Neither do I tell a writer what they can and cannot do with their words: I advise on the best course of action, with the audience in mind (whilst trying to keep future negative reviews to a minimum!).

I hope this allays some of the fears that a writer considering my professional editing services may have.


Are you an author?

In answering the question, pretend that you have to choose one of the following statements. Which one best applies to you?

  1. No, I write books for pleasure, not for publication.
  2. Yes, my books have been published.
  3. No, my books have not yet been published.

It is a trick question, but the reference to books is pertinent because anyone who writes a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, whether published or not, is an author.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) main definition of author states:
A writer of a book, article, or document.

“The word author is based upon Middle English (in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something’): from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote’.”

Clearly, there’s more to being an author than just writing. I’m informed that when referring to novels, the author is a writer who has the imaginative skills to invent stories by creating plots and characters, and with a degree of originality.

Whilst it is argued that there are no original stories now, just different adaptations, the publishing world is often led by trends. All it takes is one blockbuster to hit the market and, for months or years afterwards, alternative versions of the story scribed by different authors are taken up by publishers. Trends are a lucrative business.

Recently, I was chatting with a lady who works in a library. She said that a current trend of young adult fiction is to include the words “Secrets or “Lies in the book’s title. Recently, in general adult fiction, the word “Girl” was a hot favourite.

Since publishers are looking for new talent, perhaps it now pays for the author to create a story as original as possible; however, given that the BBC has just started to show an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, could that genre set a publishing trend in 2020? My library friend suggests it will. In that case, writers: prepare for the long haul! Then again, maybe 2020 will bring that long-awaited blockbuster that the publishers are waiting for.

Book writers – no, authors – it’s up to you! 🙂


My top ten tips for successful self-publishing

It’s time to upgrade my desktop computer; it’s getting on for eight years old now and I think it’s coped well. Whilst sorting through my documentation, and deleting anything that’s no longer relevant, I came across this. I think it’s useful so I’m posting here.

Here is a list of my top ten tips for a successful route to self-publishing.

  1. Shop around
    Take the time to find a good editor. Remember: “Good service, cheap, won’t be fast. Good service, fast, won’t be cheap. Fast service, cheap, won’t be good!”
  2. It’s never too late to learn
    Make sure you understand the different stages of professional editing (structural, copy-editing, proofreading) and where they fit in to the overall publishing process. Never assume that your manuscript is error-free; you’ll soon be eating humble pie!
  3. Patience is a virtue
    As with traditional publishing, self-publishing takes time. Do not rush it! Allow months rather than weeks, and do not impose too strict a deadline on yourself or your editor. Rushed work means sloppy work.
  4. Make your voice heard
    Be prepared to put some work in during the editing process. Be wary of editors who suggest rewriting large chunks of your text. The story belongs to you – not to the editor – and should be presented in your voice.
  5. Give the people what they want
    Publish your novel in both e-book and paperback formats, to appeal to both markets, but bear in mind that they do require two separate preparation processes.
  6. Look after the pennies…
    Do not expect to make a living, or retire, from the royalties you receive from self-published book sales. The reality is that you are likely to receive pence, rather than pounds, every time you sell a book, but these will add up over time.
  7. Don’t let ’em get to you
    Try to develop a thick(er) skin. Friends and family may have been kind about your creation, but the general public will be different, and there are always people who will give negative reviews, however good the story and whoever you are.
  8. Sell, sell, sell!
    Market your work as much as possible. Create a website and/or blog page, use social media, contact local newspapers/radio, relevant magazines, and give talks. Order a small stock of books to sell privately.
  9. Make sure the price is right
    Don’t price yourself out of the market; there is far too much competition. Work to the suggested retail price advised by your self-publishing provider.
  10. Reap the rewards
    Finally, sit back, relax, and reap the rewards from all your hard work. Ensure that your editor is on hand to update your source documents, or to make any amendments, if required.

Good luck! 🙂

Do your characters wear night-vision goggles?

This happens so regularly, it has become one of my editing bugbears. To make matters worse, I recently read a traditionally-published novel (where the main character spends Christmas at a beach hut), printed by a well-known publisher (think star constellation with a belt), that had the exact problem. The exact problem being that when it is dark and there is no moonlight, street light, torch, candle, or any form of illumination, a character can see exactly what they are doing and where they are going, in great detail!

Although it’s obvious that we humans cannot actually see much in complete darkness, this simple fact is constantly overlooked by writers, and in straightforward genres where nothing unusual or different is taking place. In fact, the last couple of novels I have read have all had the problem. If I’m not careful, it will become an obsession.

What’s worse, though, is when the author, in realising the problem, has their character pulling out a lighter, torch, hurricane lamp, from their pocket that had never previously existed before… and the editors have not spotted this! But let’s not forget the torch app on the smartphone, which has now become the answer to every character’s tenebrous needs. The battery life on some mobile phones is amazing!

I urge all writers whose characters perform an activity or make an observation in scenes of darkness to first carry out some research of their own. Try running through a forest without so much as a glow worm. Stand on a shoreline looking out to sea – what can you actually see?  Walk into an unknown house in the middle of nowhere and not only find your way around with ease but also describe what’s there…

While I’m ranting about light levels, I do feel the need to mention sunrise, sunset, and the various stages of twilight: civil, nautical, and astronomical.

  • Civil twilight is the brightest of the three. The sun is just below the horizon, so there is generally enough natural light to carry out most outdoor activities.
  • Nautical twilight is the second phase. Both the horizon and the brighter stars are usually visible at this time, making it possible to navigate at sea.
  • Astronomical twilight is the darkest of the three. It is the earliest stage of dawn in the morning and the last stage of dusk in the evening. Before and after astronomical twilight, it is night.

The bullet points were taken from a great website: You’ll find more information on the above, as well as other celestial matters. There’s a useful chart that provides sunrise, sunset, and twilight times for any given day during the year. Just type in the city and off you go. Very handy for calculating whether or not your character can see what they are doing!