Tag Archives: editing

The art of knowing when to stop

I am in the thick of final, final, FINAL proofing for my next novel, The Last Dreamseer.

Somehow, I thought it would be quicker than this. I’ll explain my editing process: I’ve written the book, had writer friends look at it, revised and revised again. It’s then been to a professional editor for substantive edits (what’s wrong with the plot/characters), and revised. And then to a line editor (what’s wrong with the sentences), and revised. It’s then been printed out and read through by me, as well as being proofed by two professionals and fed through my Kindle to catch any errors I couldn’t see on the PC screen. I’ve then gone through the formatting, so all that was needed was to upload the final version to my retailers (Amazon and Smashwords).

I thought it would take me maybe an hour.

Two days.

It’s the oddest thing, but reading it through on the Amazon on-line checker made me see all manner of repetitions (and a few, plain, good-old typos) that had managed to escape all the eyes that have looked through the book so far.

Finally, it’s now done and uploaded and I’m relieved to see the back of it, if I’m honest.

Cover of Katy Haye's The Last Dreamseer
It’s beautiful … but it’s time it got off my PC and out into the real world.

Because the thing is, writing is the kind of art that doesn’t ever have to be finished. As well as checking for typos and errors, I was also aware of my fingers twitching over the keyboard, while my mind nagged at me, “Is that the right verb? Are you sure?” and “Maybe that scene would be better if it took place outside instead of in her room.”

I had to grit my teeth and stop myself making some unnecessary changes, thankful that I had a deadline because otherwise I might still be tinkering with the thing on my deathbed.

So that’s my tip for this week. If you have a piece you can’t stop messing about with, but you’re confident it is, fundamentally, fine as it is, then set yourself a deadline and move on. Publish it, if you plan to self-publish, or get it sent off to agents and editors.

And then move on to the next. Because that’s the other ‘always’ – there’ll always be another story to write.

And I can’t wait to get on with my next.

Please Release Me

My blog this week is in support of the hugely talented Rhoda Baxter, whose new novel, Please Release Me, is on sale RIGHT NOW!

Please Release Me features characters who are all ‘stuck’ in some way, so I’m taking that as my theme for today.

Cover of Rhoda Baxter's Please Release Me

What I’m stuck on right now is the dreaded edits for my second novel, The Last Dreamseer. Although they’re not really dreaded. My brilliant substantive editor (the uber-talented Rachel Daven Skinner) has done her usual wonderful job pointing out the plot holes large enough to lose a character into, and while I am in the middle of a big job of work I’m looking forward to how much better the novel will be once I sort out all the kinks in the plot so it will carry my readers effortlessly through the story.

If I could be stuck anywhere I liked … Well, I’m a big Dr Who fan and I loved the library episodes (Silence in the Library and Forests of the Dead) because I can’t think of a better idea for the afterlife than for it to be the most enormous library in the universe. However, my problem with the afterlife is that eternity trumps anything finite, so sooner or later I’d end up having read all the books ever written and having nothing left to read (at which point a heavenly afterlife would become hell). So I’d better ask to be stuck there with a load of writer friends so we could spend the afterlife writing and keep each other supplied with new books for the rest of eternity.

My favourite stickers Once you’re an adult you don’t really get given stickers much (boo), but if you become a writer you do get the opportunity to play with Post-It notes. Oh, the lovely bright colours, the space to scribble ideas on … and that lovely strip of stickiness that means I can put it where I like on my planning board and move it to fit the ebb and flow of the story as it grows. Love ’em!

Rhoda’s last novel, Dr January, was a stunner, and I can’t wait to get stuck in (see what I did there?!) to Please Release Me. Now, where’s my Kindle got to..?

Cover of Rhoda Baxter's Please Release Me

What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?

Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.

That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.

In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.

But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after …

Buy it now: myBook.to/PleaseReleaseMe

A Life Well-Edited

Social media is often lamented for providing a stream-of-narrative, unexpurgated account of what’s going on in people’s heads (for some reason, people Tweeting what they had for breakfast is the most-often quoted evidence of this).

I won’t argue that social media does allow for a sizeable degree of over-sharing, but I would take issue with the idea that it’s unexpurgated. One thing I find fascinating about social media is the degree to which it allows us to edit the face we show both friends and complete strangers.

In particular, it allows us to improve how we present ourselves – to edit our lives for public consumption. A glance through Facebook makes me think all my friends have lives that consist of non-stop beautiful cake baking/eating, magazine-cover-worthy home improvement, sun-filled holidays and fantastically stylish AND on-sale clothes buying. Realistically, I know this isn’t the truth – my friends have to deal with dripping showers, lost TV remotes and socks with holes when these occur. We all just choose not to mention those aspects of our lives – we edit the dull stuff out.

Editing is a particular focus for me at the moment because I’ve just received back substantive edits for my next book – The Last Dreamseer. I wish it were the case that I only needed to edit out the dull stuff. Unfortunately, my editor has pointed out a number of gaping flaws that will need significant repair-work.

Now, it’s not editing how I present myself to say I’m confident it’ll all work out fine, because I genuinely know it will. I hire an editor on purpose to point out the work I need to do. If I wanted to be told my book was great as it was my mum could do that for free – and then readers could point out all the errors in 1-star reviews. This way round is much less painful.

However, in the interests of full-disclosure I won’t airbrush out the fact that it’s going to be a lot of work and will involve a sizable amount of both wailing and chocolate. But that’s life. Whatever the impression we give on Facebook or Twitter, it has ups and downs. What matters is keeping going through both.


Who are you writing for?

A meme popped into my Twitter feed the other day: A good writer always thinks about their reader.

At first glance that looks like sage wisdom that’s hard to argue with, but my hackles immediately rose. Always? No, I really don’t think so.

Maybe at the editing/polishing stage, but at the writing stage I think the writer should be focused on the story and the characters. Trying to write with an amorphous ‘reader’ peering over my shoulder demanding to know what I’m doing would be incredibly distracting and unhelpful.

The ultimate aim of writing is, of course, to communicate, so once the story is written I try to gain as much distance as possible and see whether what I’ve written communicates the ideas and emotions I was aiming for as well as words possibly can.

But even then the only reader I have in mind is myself (far pickier and less forgiving than anyone else I know when it comes to books). If I were writing for ‘a reader’ which one would I pick, since they’re all individuals? It’s only at the professional editing stage that I start to think about the strangers who may read my book and how to ensure they enjoy the story I’ve created, helped by the fresh pair of eyes my editor provides.

So, a writer should think about the story, then about themselves, and only finally about the reader. Hmm, not quite as snappy for posting to Twitter, but – I think – more helpful to writing a good book.

What’s your opinion? Should a writer focus on their audience at all times, or (to borrow a metaphor) should they write like no one’s watching?

So long as you know what you need to say, the words don’t matter (yet)

I’m in the middle of revising. I enjoy revising. And I hate it. Other writers may feel the same – or differently.

*For clarity – revising is what I call the editing done by myself. Editing editing is done in consultation with a real, live editor who hasn’t lived through the development of the book and so can point out all the horrible flaws I didn’t notice.

Once I have a completed draft in my hands, my revising goes from the big stuff down to the tiniest detail, taking as many passes through as necessary. My current wip (The Last Dreamseer) has been through several revisions, with a considerable amount of chopping and changing already done. I’m content that scenes are happening in the right order, so, while I’m not yet studying the existence of every comma (that’ll come later), I’m scrutinising what happens in each of those scenes to make sure it’s pulling its weight as far as the story goes.

My key aim while revising is to figure out what questions I should be asking. I think improving a book rests on asking the right questions – why does the character do that and not something else; what is this dialogue aiming to communicate – the ideas, not the specific words. Once I know what a scene or a conversation is “doing”, then I can figure out whether I’ve got the right words.

So I’m working my way through the wip, peering squinty-eyed at the characters, demanding to know what they think they’re doing all the time. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind. Maybe they know I’m doing it for their own good – I do keep muttering that it’ll be worth it in the end, and perhaps they can hear!

The Fussy Reader

If you’re a writer, you must read. That’s the one piece of advice that’s universal – every writer you meet will tell you that reading widely is key to developing your writing skills. And I completely agree.

What you aren’t warned, though, is that reading to improve your writing can make you an incredibly fussy reader.

I already considered myself a demanding reader with pretty high expectations, but then my own novel was professionally edited ready for publication and my discernment jumped up to a whole new level.

Currently, my Kindle is bursting at the seams with samples that I’m not going to take any further (why don’t they have a simple button that says, ‘Nope, this isn’t what I’m looking for,’ to clear the decks?). Adverbs leap out at me, begging to be taken away from the pain of propping up weak verbs or the indignity of being entirely redundant next to a well-chosen, strong one. Paragraphs slide into sentence after sentence of telling instead of showing and my eyes skim forward to see how long the torture’s going to continue.

So I put down the unsatisfactory book and go back to writing – and wonder who died and made me God, because look at that horrible passive construction, and do I see a frivolous adverb adding nothing to that sentence over there? And for everything I can see I know there are half a dozen errors my brain is kindly glossing over for me.

But I guess that proves how valuable reading is for a writer, because if I hadn’t seen all those errors in other books I wouldn’t be able to find them in my own. I might be missing mistakes, but there are at least fewer than I started with.

And I can still read for enjoyment – it just takes a bit longer to find a book that won’t rouse my inner editor.

A sunny day, books, and a garden to while away the time in.
A sunny day, books, and a garden to while away the time in.

It’s shaping up to be a beautiful day today, just right for relaxing with a book in the garden. I’ve got high hopes that my recent library visit netted me several things I can relax and simply read rather than tutting throughout. Wish me luck!

A whole new world

I love writing fantasy because in that genre you get to make it all up as you go along – don’t you?

You absolutely do make up a new world, but “as you go along” might be problematic – whatever you create has to be internally consistent and make logical sense to the reader. I properly understood this when my second novel came back from its editor.

When I’d sent it, I made a comment something along the lines of, “It doesn’t have the sparkle of Gatekeeper, but I hope that’s just because it hasn’t had a proper edit yet.” Maybe that word “hope” should have cued me in that I had my own misgivings about the state of the world I’d created in those pages. My editor came back after a couple of days asking how deeply I wanted the edit to go – they thought there were major issues but they didn’t want to take over. That was easy – a sub-standard book isn’t leaving my house with my name on it, so I asked for all the faults to be exposed, no matter how deeply they went.

Back came a LOT of notes, but the focus was mainly on the same area – the world I’d created wasn’t internally consistent. It wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny and required too big a suspension of disbelief for the reader.

As a result I’ve been doing a lot of research into the reuse and recycling of plastic and metal and it’s utterly fascinating. I usually hate research because it eats up the time needed to write the book, but this time it’s fired up my imagination with fabulous ideas to create a stonking new draft.

I've got the stationery, now I just need some words...
I’ve got the stationery, now I just need some words…

This has been a real eye-opener. Research isn’t a tedious necesity, nor a cramp on my imagination. It can be a springboard for ideas.

Now, I just need to find the time to write the thing…

Call in the Professionals

The thing is, until someone who does know points it out to you, you often don’t know what it is you don’t know.

Using experts – and/or the perils of not doing so – is a common theme in self-publishing discussions. Most people agree that not paying for professional help in editing and cover design is a false economy and I had no hesitation in paying for professional support when I decided to self-publish – I knew I didn’t know enough to even begin to do a competent job.

That I’ve taken the right approach was confirmed this week. I love my cover (created by the incredibly talented JD Smith design – check out her Facebook page which is filled with objects of beauty), and I’ve had lots of compliments on it so other people seem to like it, too. So I entered it in The Book Designer’s monthly awards to get a professional view.

Cover image for The Last Gatekeeper

I’m delighted to say The Book Designer loved my cover and awarded it a gold star, but looking through all the entries (if you have some spare time, it really is an education to scroll through and check out the covers alongside the comments – from writers/designers and from Joel, the Book Designer) I was reminded of how little I know about cover design. I might nod, ‘that’s nice’ at a cover, or pull a face at one that looks amateur to my untrained eyes, but reading the comments gives an insight into why they are good or bad – and it’s usually not things I would have picked up on.

For example, my own cover got the comment, ‘especially nice type treatment for the title’. Hmm, yes, I like the font, too – but I know I’d never be able to pick it out from the million other fonts out there as right for my genre (YA fantasy) and right for my cover – and once the font’s chosen there’s also the arrangement of the words and the spacing: all JD Smith’s skill. That’s exactly why I hired a professional – I don’t know how to do this myself and I don’t have the desire to learn it; I’d much rather hire in expertise.

And that’s in no way a shameful admission. I’m a professional writer. That’s where my talent lies, and that’s where my energy is focussed – on becoming an ever-better writer. When I became a professional self-publisher I recognised that just as there’s more to writing than friends who casually confess their intention to write a book ‘some day’ realise, so there is also a lot more to publishing than simply writing the book.

Writing may be a solitary activity, but publishing is definitely a group effort. As writer I do my part to the best of my abilities … and then delegate everything else to people who know much more than I do. That approach works, and I intend to stick with it.

I’m curious – are there other writers out there who are glad they used a professional cover designer – or who didn’t and now wish they had?