Polished To A High Shine: Taking Your Book From First Draft to Reader-Ready

In a recent post here on the blog, a writer just starting out on her indie journey mentioned that she was interested in finding out more about finding, testing and paying an editor. (This one’s for you, Kate M. Colby.) That got me thinking, not just about editing, but about the whole process of polishing your book ready for publication. So here are my thoughts and advice about getting reader-ready …

pen and ink

Everyone Has A Different Standard

I know of authors who upload their first draft directly to Amazon, with the barest of checks beforehand – a quick pass round their friends and family (“My best friend used to teach high school English so she’s the perfect proofreader”), and off it goes. At the other end of the spectrum are authors who throw everything at their manuscripts – financially and otherwise: six drafts followed by a critique, then a structural edit, then a line-by-line edit, then beta-readers, then another ‘final’ edit, then proofreading. Which of these two examples would make the better book, do you think? (My answer might surprise you.)

The Writing Is Everything

I’d say that the better book would depend on the talent of the writer, and on the story and characters they have created. Yes, a novel with countless typos and grammatical errors would indeed be irritating to read, but equally you can’t make a boring, flat, tedious story fantastic just because it’s been edited and proofread to within an inch of its life. I have friends who are editors, and I watch them tearing out their hair with authors who are resistant to suggestions of improvement, or glued to ideas and characters that just don’t work. Why, I’m writing this blog post directly after a tutorial with my supervisor on the MA, and we had a very heated debate about whether a particular plot point in my next novel is or is not ‘convenient’. (I acceded to his viewpoint in the end, of course.)

Editing does not a great book make. Is is not substitution for great writing. So write and write and write some more, learn all you can, read widely, think about what you read and what makes it good or bad, learn some more, write some more, and then – when you are sure you have written the best book you personally can – start to think about the editing process that makes sense for you.

Options For Book-Polishing

Here are the various processes in getting a manuscript ready for publication, in no particular order:

Beta-reading. Beta-readers are lovely people who read your book (usually for free, or a reciprocal read) and give you informal feedback. The feedback may be detailed or brief, you can ask questions or leave it up to them, but the idea is to have a few beta-readers (three or more, but no more than six or seven) so you get a variety of views. Beta-readers are best for getting a feeling of the overall success of the book’s structure, and how effective the ending is, and also for likeability – or relatability – of the characters. Some beta-readers will make notes on typos etc, but it isn’t a substitute for proofreading, in my humble opinion. Find beta-readers via your blog or other social networks – just ask.

Critiquing services. A critique is a little like a beta-read, but by a professional who charges you for their time and comments. Usually this will be a published author, or someone who works in the publishing industry like an editor or agent. I once paid for a critique from the very well-known Hilary Johnson’s Critiquing Service. It was a bracing experience, let me tell you! But it certainly made me a better writer. Personally, I feel the critique should come at the point in your writing career when you are still learning your craft, and shouldn’t perhaps be part of the polishing process, but I know some authors are a little addicted to them so I thought I’d add it here. It should also be said, however, that taking a really good creative writing course will also provide you with opportunities to be critiqued and give you chance to refine your work and learn and improve. Critiquing services cost upwards of £400 for a novel, and as with all writing-related services, it’s usually best to go on a personal recommendation if possible.

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Editing. Editing can be carried out on different levels, from structural to line-by-line, and each different type of edit will offer something different to your book. Structural editing may be needed when there is something about a manuscript that simply isn’t working, even though the story is good and the characters are well-drawn. Most authors can structurally edit their own work, and so this takes the form of redrafting. Line-by-line edits are self-explanatory – the editor considers the manuscript at a very detailed level, offering advice and making suggestions to strengthen the writing at the level of the sentence, as well as giving comments on the story as a whole. You can pay anything from £400 to £1000 for a good edit, and it is probably a good idea to get a price per 1000 words rather than per hour. Most editors will be happy to give you a sample before you sign up – you send them a sample chapter, which they mark up with comments etc. Be clear about what it is exactly you are looking for in your editor, both in your own mind and in all communication with them. Get an agreement in writing – email is fine – before you start which sets out how much the edit is to cost and how and when the editor should be paid. Ask your writing friends for recommendations, or join writing communities on Facebook or Twitter to seek out recommendations.

Proofreading. For some reason, people seem to confuse editing and proofreading, or maybe it’s a cultural thing. But as far as I know, in the UK proofreading remains the term for the very, absolutely final process in publishing a book. All editing should be done by now, all changes made. The proofreader checks the manuscript one last time for typos and errors, as well as continuity problems (eye colour changing halfway though the novel, that kind of thing – although the editor may have picked up on this already), before the book goes to print or is uploaded in ebook format. My proofreader currently charges around £4.50 per 1000 words, and is very good on the continuity thing. Again, ask for recommendations before you approach a proofreader – there are many so-called professionals out there who call themselves proofreaders but who aren’t properly trained and who don’t really offer value for money. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders is a good place to start, and where I found my proofreader. (I then contacted one of the authors she listed as a client and asked whether she would recommend the proofreader or not.)

How Much Is Enough?

Only you can answer that question, but make sure you answer it honestly, without being swayed too much by cost. If you are really good at editing your own work and reasonably experienced, you can probably get by with beta-readers and a proofreader. If you have zero budget and are willing to take the flak for errors in your ebook, do your own proofreading – like, a hundred times. If you have the budget and are publishing for the first time, or in a new genre, you could try a critique and probably should contact an editor. Beta-readers never hurt anyone, and often are the people who will pop those all-important early reviews on Amazon, so I would always recommend a beta or two. And don’t forget, when looking for your first beta-readers your blog can be a valuable source of support. Back in 2012 when I started blogging, I posted chapters of my debut novel Can’t Live Without on my brand new blog. The bloggers who commented were my very first beta-readers, and many of them went on to be readers of all my novels – and some went on to be really good friends too.

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All The Things I Used To Do But Don’t Do Anymore

I’ve been an indie author now for two and a half years. I can’t believe it’s only been that long sometimes, because in many ways it really feels like longer. A LOT longer! The other day I was posting something to my Facebook page and I noticed that they now have the facility to schedule posts, and I remembered how I used to actually schedule Tweets, and blog posts, and how I used to check my sales figures almost daily. It got me thinking about all the things I used to do when I first started out, and the things I discovered along the way, and how I’ve now dropped many if not most of those activities!

What’s going on here? Am I becoming lazy? Bored? Jaded? All of the above? Or did I start to discover that many of these things just don’t work, they take up too much time, they get on people’s nerves or are just plain silly?

I think a combination of factors are at play. First off, I have to hold up my hands and say that I’ve been doing less and less on the promotional side of things lately. I’ve had a busy summer, with family and personal health issues, and so my devotion to all things authory has been less than it was. And yes, I’m getting a little jaded about certain aspects of promotion. Who wants to read endless Tweets about books? I don’t even like Twitter very much, and I’m not that fond of Facebook either! (We need a new social network around about now, I think.) I love my blog – you’re never getting away from me, fellow bloggers and blog readers – and I still love writing and hearing from readers. Only last week I got a lovely email from a reader in Russia who had read and loved The Family Trap – that kind of thing makes the effort 100% worthwhile.

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Happy, excited author, Feb 2013

I used to produce regular vlog posts – videos of me reading out from my books, opening boxes of books, talking about books and publishing and locations and goodness knows what. Did anybody ever watch them? I don’t know.

I used to send out books wrapped in tissue paper with little stickers holding the paper together in the middle. I found the packet of stickers in a drawer the other day. No one buys paperbacks directly from me anymore – I guess they can order them from Amazon, and that’s a lot easier for everyone. But I have a stack of books under my bed, and I have all these stickers and all …

I used to blog regularly about self-publishing, offering all sorts of useful advice and templates and news and interviews. But these days there is so much out there on this topic, and all the information is already on the blog right here if anyone wants to use that little search box at the bottom of the page. In the closed forum on the Alli Facebook page there are new members joining all the time, and they ask such basic, elemental questions – questions about KDP and ISBNs and covers and pricing – and I find myself thinking: Really? You don’t know that already? You couldn’t just do an internet search and find that information at the touch of a button? (I guess they could, but why bother when you can just ask someone else and save time.) When I started out on this journey in January 2012 there wasn’t nearly as much written about the indie route; those coming to it now are lucky to have so many resources. But do I need to keep feeding this resource? What’s in it for me?

 

Well, I could paper my office wall with notes on all the things I used to do that I don’t do any more, but one thing is clear: I need to do something. I need to identify what I enjoy doing – the ways in which I enjoy connecting with readers and getting my news out there – and I need to make sure I’m doing that at least. I think I’m transitioning from thinking like an indie author to just thinking like an author. And that can’t be a bad thing.

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Read The Family Trap For Only 99p – And More Fun Facts About This Book!

As part of my rolling promotional programme, this week The Family Trap can be yours for only 99p! This romantic comedy is the stand-alone sequel to the Amazon bestseller, Can’t Live Without, and has tons of fantastic reviews on Amazon and Goodreads – download your copy by clicking here. And then read on for some fun facts about The Family Trap …

TFT cover

  • Out of all my books, The Family Trap has my favourite cover. After Can’t Live Without – the cover ‘with the legs’, as it was often described – I needed to get a cover that continued the theme, but moved on from the typical Chick Lit look. I loved this image as soon as I saw it, and designer Chris Howard worked his magic turning the cover into something really special.
  • The first draft of The Family Trap saw Stella hiding her pregnancy from Paul – but right under his nose! There was one brilliant scene where they go for dinner, with Stella wearing a great big orange Demis Ruossos dress, and Paul proposes. He doesn’t mind that Stella is putting on bit of weight (think deluded Niles and Daphne in Frasier), but Stella is mortified and knows she can’t keep it from him any longer. In the end, I realised that storyline wasn’t going to work out, but there were a few funny moments along the way.
  • The Family Trap was downloaded an astonishing 68,000 times during its free promotion earlier this year. Recently downloads for all my books topped 200,000, thanks in no small part to the success of this lovely title.
  • I’m thinking of bringing Stella back in a third book in the series! (Yes, you heard it here first.) Stella and Lipsy, both with young children, plus Paul and Robert all living in the same house. I think Stella is due another major crisis, bless her heart, but I’m sure she’ll come out of it okay. She usually does :)

 

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Falling Behind In NaNo Land

How are you guys doing with your NaNoWriMo targets? I’ve been working as hard as I can but I’ve fallen behind a little. By the end of today I should have reached the 40,000 mark, but I’m currently only on 34,000, which is quite a shortfall. I think I can make it up – I hope I can make it up – but I’m not too worried if I don’t. The whole point of this for me was to kick-start my MA novel, and to that end it’s already been amazingly helpful. I’ve just had a tutorial with my brilliant supervisor, Nicholas Royal, and I’m really in love with my new novel, even though there is still a lot of work to do, of course!

So, as we head into the final week of NaNo – the final stretch – here are some words of advice (mainly for myself!) on how to up your word count:

  • Try not to be perfect. Editing is a job that will still be there waiting for you at the end – there is nothing you can do to avoid it. So don’t worry so much about making these words perfect right now. Just get them down.
  • Have an idea where you are going. Try not to finish one chapter and then start the next thinking: Okay, what now? Carry your notebook with you, and when you get chance jot a few notes for the next chapter, the next scene, or just where your story is headed.
  • Sit your bum down and just do it! Don’t watch TV in the day, don’t write blog posts (oops), don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Don’t answer the phone, or look at texts. Or read emails. Just write.
  • Conversely, have the odd break from writing. Go for a walk. Look, it’s sunny, why not go for a walk right now?

Okay, I’m off (for a walk) :) Let me know how you are doing in the comments below, and I’ll be back next Monday to report on my NaNo achievements – whatever they are.

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