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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Editing tips – Abandoned babies

Writing a novel is a lot like having a baby – easy to conceive, hard to deliver…

I've used that analogy in talks about writing. Sometimes a mother points out that writing is nothing like childbirth, and of course she’s right. Still, the analogy holds up, after a fashion. Writers view their newly created books very much like a new baby – and worry about sending it out into that wide world (i.e. to publishers, editors et al).

Truth is, a book is never finished, it’s abandoned.

No matter how professional, dedicated and thorough you are, there will always be things to change. It’s a given.

Some authors are so aware of this pressing urge to improve the book that once it’s published they don’t read it again, ever. They don’t want to spot the mistakes or that less than perfect prose. True, in this digital age, it should be possible to correct errors. And a few publishers might oblige in that respect; it means that more than one version of the book will be out there; maybe the earlier version will become a collectors’ item, complete with errors! Purists might say, Well, get it right in the first place. There is no perfect book despite the 5-stars. Many come very close.

I’m brought to this realisation after having just read through a final edit of Spanish Eye from Crooked Cat. Granted, many of the outstanding issues relate to versions of English. The book started out in UK English, was changed to US, and now it’s being changed back to UK. Writing for both sides of the Pond, I sometimes wonder if perhaps I’ve a tendency to write mid-Atlantic English, if there is such an animal! Even so, despite the American spellings and words, I’m sure I’ll find a better way to write a particular phrase or scene – always. So I must resist that impulse at this late stage – or it will never get published. I must abandon it.
Spanish Eye - Crooked Cat - 29 November 2013

It’s a great achievement to finish a book. No mean feat. All praise to anyone who does it. Still, don’t rush.

No matter how anxious you are to send out your book, leave it alone for a few days. Allow it to gestate. Come back to it fresh, with ‘new’ eyes, and give it one final read. If the gestation period is long enough, maybe a week or so, you’ll find that you’re more critical, and not as wrapped up in the work as its creator, skimming words and scenes since you remember them so well. It’s fresh and has to be read, word for word. That’s a hard call – to wait, to re-read. But I do recommend it.

Yes, if it’s accepted, there’s the publisher’s editor available to spot errors or inappropriate words and phrases. But that doesn’t mean you should be cavalier about your contract with the next reader of your manuscript. Strive to make it the best you can. It will always fall short, in retrospect. But strive, nevertheless. Because the next reader of your book is the publisher or agent. If glaring errors jump out, then they might just be sufficient to turn off the publisher. I’ve seen careless errors on the first page of a submission – which should have been spotted after the gestation stage. If the story has a hook, then I’ll read on; not every acquisitions editor or agent will, however.

So, you must abandon your baby – but only after the gestation period and the final check.

Good luck! - -


Charliann Roberts said...

Thanks for the reminder, Nik! I have the need for those words to be pounded into my head now and then! :)

Nik said...

I think we all do, Charliann!