Fiction editor and bathroom installer…not so different after all

Those who know me on Facebook will be aware of the recent bathroom installation carried out at my house. It took a little longer than expected, due to a delay caused by the plumber’s van breaking down on the very first day. Eventually, all went well and everyone was pleased with the result.

I had been concerned that I wouldn’t get much work done due to the general noise and disturbance; usually, I work in complete silence, but I somehow found the ability to shut everything out around me for short periods of time, and so I was reasonably productive.

One day, the plumber (clearly intrigued as to why I spent most of my day glued to a chair staring at a computer monitor, pulling strange faces, talking to myself, and drumming away on a keyboard) asked me what I did for a living. I considered a range of glamorous responses, but finally admitted to being a freelance editor of fiction. After I had explained what this entailed, he nodded sagely and then went about his work.

The next time we spoke, some hours later, he said: ‘So the writer gets all the praise and you don’t get any.’

Astute thinking on his part. After consideration, I replied, ‘Yes, I guess it’s the same for you, then.’

That might have sounded like a snide reprisal, but it wasn’t meant that way. I had drawn several parallels between our respective jobs. We were both ‘fixing and fitting’ something that was somebody else’s original creation. We had no involvement at its conception and we wouldn’t benefit directly as a result of its completion (other than being paid for doing the job). We were simply working to a plan and a procedure for a paying customer. I’d be no more likely to see the words ‘This work of fiction was meticulously edited by Sue Shade’ within the prelim pages of a published novel I had worked on than the plumber would see a plaque on a bathroom wall bearing the inscription ‘This installation was painstakingly carried out by Lenny Atwell’.

(Name changed for privacy…apologies to any Lenny Atwells out there!)

Later, came the plumber’s riposte: ‘At least a visitor to your bathroom is more likely to ask who carried out the work.’

Ouch. ‘But, there’s potential for my client’s novel to be read worldwide…’

Touché.

For any completed work of creation, third-party involvement is generally taken for granted, so this is a thumbs-up from me to all those – editors and bathroom fitters included – who slog tirelessly behind the scenes to turn someone else’s dreams into reality, but who aren’t directly recognised for doing so. 🙂

bookreader

Mistaken identity and negative reviews

I recently discovered that a previous client, who published his first novel with an independent publishing company, had received a 1-star review on Amazon. As this was inconsistent with his other reviews, which were all 5-star, I had to investigate.

It became clear that the reviewer had mistaken my client with another author of the same name. He had written that, whilst the author’s first book was excellent, this one was disappointing. He then went on to post a sarcastic and unconstructive comment.

My client was understandably upset. Even though he realised that the reviewer had confused him with another author, it made him doubt his ability to complete his second novel, a sequel to the first. This got me thinking…

It seems obvious now, but one thing a new writer needs to think about is their nom de plume, especially if they plan to publish independently, and they happen to have a common name; although, not all may want to give themselves a fancy pseudonym. Most independent authors I have worked with use their actual name, so what can be done to differentiate them from another author whose name is the same?

Firstly, I suggest using their middle initial. That’s simple enough. Although, if this creates a negative acronym, I suggest choosing a random consonant instead. Just one initial following the first name is adequate. In my opinion, initialising both the first and middle name looks pretentious (sorry JK!), as does having more than one middle initial (sorry JRR!). If the pen name is decided upon at the outset, it will avoid the costly and time-consuming process of making alterations later on.

Secondly, on any website where the author’s book is marketed, I suggest they set up an author page. This should help the customer to find books written by the relevant author, as well as provide some publicity. Amazon use Author Central; Goodreads uses the Author Program…Other author pages are available.

The good news is that my client has now completed his sequel and has passed it to me for a beta-read, but I can tell that the negative review has shaken his confidence. Given the success of his first book, I am sure it will be fine. My advice to independent writers is to try and develop a thick skin; to focus on the doughnut, not the hole. If seven out of his eight reviews are all 5-star, then there can’t be much wrong with the story. Another positive is that, even though the reviewer mistook one author for another, he still paid to buy the book, providing my client with some royalties. Perhaps that’s what he was really sore about! 🙂

Professional editing as a transferable skill… interested?

A few years ago, I had a great idea…well, I thought it was.  Why not set up a local group to help writers become self-published; offering advice on the creative writing process, the editing process, and the publishing process?  I went through the motions of advertising, finding a venue, and paying for it. I had received enough enquiries from interested parties to make it worth my while, and so I prepared everything for the first session.

The day arrived.  I took myself off to the venue (an upstairs room in a community hall), set myself up, and waited in anticipation for my ten students to present themselves… Only two people turned up. To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Also, adjoining the room was the main hall, in which a rumba class took place.  Distracting, to say the least! All that the three of us could hear was loud distorted music and the yells from the tutor; not to mention the boom-boom that vibrated through us.  It was not ideal, and given that the two people who kindly turned up were not even on my original list, I decided not to continue with the group at the time.

I still believe that there is a demand for this service, because many writers who wish to self-publish do not understand what editing for publication is all about, although many are coming to realise what it means and how much work is involved. It doesn’t matter what anyone says; a writer cannot truly edit their own work. Having made the transition from writer to editor and having undergone the necessary training to carry out that task, the reasons why are obvious, but these are not always apparent to the independent writer.

It is a universal truth that nobody has to read a novel.  Just because a writer spends four years, or four weeks, writing a story, it doesn’t mean that a prospective customer is going to like it enough to spend money on it, especially if it hasn’t been edited or typeset professionally. But, in order to be able to use that service, the independent writer has to invest hundreds of pounds in preparing their work for publication, with no guarantee that they will recoup the outlay from sales of their books. It’s a risk; a gamble; but has far better odds than simply publishing their raw text – which without professional editing, their hard work will always be…

Hence the reason for my desire to set up a local group.  I would still like to be able to share what I have learned about the editing process with independent writers, face-to-face, so they can enter into self-publishing with a complete understanding of what editing for publication is all about. If nothing else, passing on some of the transferable skills to the writer will certainly make my job easier (maybe even cheaper!). However, as I have mentioned previously, an ongoing family illness prevents me from having much time to pursue this, unless I change the way I carry out my day-to-day editing, which is also on the cards at the moment.

Watch this space. 🙂

‘How long will it take to edit my novel?’

This is a question that I am often asked by independent authors, and has to be the second reason why I, sadly, turn prospective clients away. Some have unrealistic timescales, but this is usually because they don’t understand the editing process. They haven’t carried out any research (or bothered to read the information on my website!). Understandably, they are keen to submit their typescript to a literary agency or get on with the task of self-publishing, so want editing to be completed as soon as possible. Some also think that the more time editing takes, the higher the fee, but this is not always the case.

To provide a realistic answer to the question, one needs to be aware of the traditional publisher’s schedule.  It can take nine months for a book to reach actual publication, with copy-editing taking 6 weeks, first page proofs taking 3 weeks, and revised proofs taking a week.* That’s almost 3 months taken up with editing alone.

The work that an experienced, and qualified, freelance editor or proofreader carries out should be no different to that carried out by in-house staff, except perhaps the hours they work. Although, due to increasing workloads and financial restraints, publishers now often outsource editorial staff.

Until a freelance editor has built up a reasonable amount of experience, it may be difficult to determine how long it will take to edit a novel. Word count is a factor, as is the level of editing involved, and the number of hours that an editor can commit to in any one week.

So, to answer the initial question, I would suggest that an independent author be prepared to wait at least 6 weeks for their typescript to be copy-edited. If it’s sooner, then that’s a bonus. If they are serious about having their work professionally prepared for publishing, the wait will be worth it.

It’s also worth mentioning that traditional publishing companies usually set their publishing date at the outset and work towards it. For independent authors who wish to self-publish, this may be a useful working practice to acquire, as timing is important from a marketing point of view. 🙂


*Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (fifth edition), Routledge, 2014.

On a personal note…

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s mainly due to family illness.  My elderly mother, a widow of three years, was recently diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. As the only child, any duty of care falls on my shoulders, but I have a family of my own, with the responsibilities that go with it, as well as some minor health issues, so there is only so much I can do.  However, I have made the decision to put my editing work on hold, and am not taking any new bookings at the current time.  This is the second occasion that I have done this.  In 2013, it happened because my father became unwell and my mother found it difficult to cope. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in the April, and he passed away at the end of August the same year.  It was very quick, and stressful for all concerned. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve had a bit of a time of it with family members and friends becoming unwell and passing away!

I am fortunate in that I do not have to go out to work.  I am grateful for that because if I did, I would not have been able to support my mother as much as I have.  However, I enjoy being a freelance editor.  I enjoy helping fiction writers to achieve their dreams of becoming authors, whether self-published or trying to become traditionally published, and the extra pennies always come in handy.  I have a contract to fulfil with my clients, as they are paying me for a professional service, and I am still in the process of trying to work out how to strike a balance between my mother’s care and existing work commitments.

The nature of editing work means that I need peace and quiet, and the ability to concentrate and focus. Well, my concentration has flown out of the window, and my focus is currently on my mother.  Any peace and quiet I have, I use to recharge my batteries. I have not even been trying to edit, but I will be keeping my hand in with regards to editing-related topics; this blog being one of them. I have also returned to my next passion, creative writing. Certainly, I have created all sorts of rubbish these last few weeks, including entering a fiction competition, hopefully not with rubbish!

After a four-week stay in hospital, my mother is now at home, with carers visiting three times a day. With this care in place, I am hoping that I can find the time to finish off my existing editing project. I am planning to return to a more normal editing service in the New Year, but this will depend on circumstances.

The Importance of Being Edited

If you had asked me in 2003 (when I first took up creative writing) what an editor did, I probably would have said, ‘Someone who helps to publish books’; such was my ignorance at the time. If you had asked me, ten years later, whether my self-published book of short stories had been copy-edited, I probably would have said, ‘No, why should it?’. Such was my ignorance and arrogance at the time. If you were to ask me today whether I would have my own work published, I would reply with, ‘Of course! It would be self-defeating not to!’

So, what changed? Well, four years of studying, courses, experience, observations, research…an accumulation of knowledge; that’s what.

Before the days of self-publication, the editing process was generally something that only happened within the confines of a publishing house. We weren’t quite sure what it was, or how it happened, but within their hallowed halls the transformation of raw manuscript to printed book took place.

With the ability to self-publish, all kinds of new terminology has surfaced. Some are still not quite sure what it all means: proofreading, copyediting, lineediting, developmental editing, structural editing, typesetting, formatting…except that having it done might make their work more saleable, so it must be a good thing.

It seems that self-publishing is here to stay, and I’m all for it. Not least because the modus operandi of traditional publishers means that many promising manuscripts never see the light of day as a printed book. Self-publishing allows those slush-pile stories to break free, but the downside is that the independent author is simply not able to prepare their own work for publication in the same way that a dedicated (read as both ‘devoted’ and ‘exclusively allocated’) editor would be. Why?  For a writer, not being editorially qualified, and too close to their own work, means it is impossible for a writer to self-edit properly. Sadly, this means that a large proportion of self-published books do not meet professional standards and invariably fall by the wayside. What a waste! What a shame!

It makes no logical sense for a writer to invest time and energy into producing their novel, but not invest time and money in having it professionally edited. They are doing themselves, and independent publishing, a great disservice. After all, nobody has to read a novel. So, if yours isn’t enjoyable, page-turning, fit for purpose, then you may just get 5-star reviews from friends and family who feel obliged to say that it’s wonderful, and then, ultimately, no more sales. Why would you want that? You deserve more!

As a creative writer, I can relate to why self-publishers may not want to have their work professionally edited, but if you are serious about making (some) money from your writing, and you want recognition for all your hard work, be prepared to put it through a professional editing process. It is important, and what you learn from the experience should help you (and any subsequent editor) enormously, when you come to work on your next novel.

Happy writing! 🙂

 

Nobody’s Perfect

Previously, I suggested with tongue in cheek, using the abbreviation ‘E. & O. E.’ as a disclaimer against any errors made in your self-published novel, in order to protect yourself from buyers’ bad reviews, but the truth is that nobody is perfect, and making errors is part of being human.

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a previously published author who wanted her paperback novel self-published for the Kindle platform. She did not have an electronic version of the typescript, so I painstakingly scanned – using my trusty ‘Deskjet’ printer and OCR software – every paper page of the novel, and proofreading it as I went to ensure it was as error-free as possible before publication.

Within the 426-page novel, I flagged up forty errors: an assortment of incorrect spellings, punctuation mistakes, textual inconsistencies, and an incorrect quotation. This book had been copy-edited, proofread and printed via a well-known publishing company who are still in business. When I have mentioned, to friends and colleagues, the mistakes I have spotted in books printed by mainstream publishers, they have invariably tell me that they are always spotting them. It seems to be a fact of life.

Clearly, it is important to get things right when planning to self-publish, but it’s probably not enough to get things as right as possible. A publication has to be as perfect as it can be, particularly so with non-fiction. I’m not just talking about spelling, punctuation, and grammar, either, but getting the facts right, being consistent, and making sure the typography is correct. These things are equally important.

However, as rigorous as we might think we are, we all make mistakes: the writer, the copy-editor, the typographer, the proofreader…we all do it – and that includes me!

The fortunate thing about self-publishing is that it is simple enough to update and re-publish a novel; required when the customer has bought the book and published an error in their review…as I once discovered, much to my embarrassment:

“There was no doubting whose father Edith was.”

Oops! Not my mistake, but one I did not spot the first time round. It’s correct now.

So, if you do find an error among these blog entries, remember ‘nobody’s perfect’, although I do try my best to be. Some days are just better than others.

E & O E

🙂