Zestful Blog Post #79
Fans of my four-book Lillian Byrd series of crime novels will be pleased to learn that the fifth, Left Field, is almost ready for release. (People who hate the series will not be pleased, and will perhaps spend several minutes staring at their shoes before getting on with their lives.)
Given that I'm publishing the book under my own imprint, Spruce Park Press (more on that next week), I considered releasing it after making it as good as I possibly could. Who would know better than I? After all, I'm an editor myself—I've been a newspaper editor and corporate writer, and my title at Writer's Digest is Contributing Editor. I've done developmental editing for select clients and have judged literary competitions.
To be sure, when it comes to one's own work, one sometimes does know best. I've submitted short stories to magazines and anthologies that got published with negligible editing, not to mention newspaper and magazine articles. I know some self-published novelists who don't get their stuff professionally edited, yet sell lots of copies in spite of it.
Yeah, I say 'in spite of it.' Because novels are different.
They're long and they're complicated, and by the time you've typed 'The End' you're like Jackson Pollock looking at one of his own paintings from a distance of two inches.
I suspected I was too close to my material to view it objectively, and I'd also come down with CRD, or Creeping Rot Disease, which is a disorder characterized by the conviction that your book is irredeemably horrible. It strikes all authors at least once per book, even experienced ones. Actually I knew my novel couldn't be irredeemably horrible, but I was fatigued with the project. What if I'd missed something critical? My manuscripts are very clean, but sometimes even I make a grammatical goof or misuse a word. Left Field is complex, with several subplots and lots of action. Moreover, what if a trusted editor came up with some ideas—small or big—that could make the book better?
The thing is, a good editor—emphasis on good; many are mediocre and I wouldn't trust them with my grocery list—doesn’t merely help you improve your book. A good editor helps you learn to be a better writer. You read over the edited manuscript and see from another person's perspective. You go, "Oh, yeah!" when you come across a valuable comment, correction, or suggestion. Your perspective broadens and your understanding of good writing deepens.
I'm experienced enough to be able to read an edited version of my book and pick and choose what I want to change. (No writer agrees 100% with any editor, because editing is in part subjective.) So I called up my friend Angela Brown, who in her capacity as Editor-in-Chief for Alyson Books when it was the leader in LGBT publishing, edited all four of the first Lillians. She happily agreed to be my editor again (for a fee, of course).
What I got out of it:
1) Affirmation that Left Field is a brilliant book and I'm a true professional.
2) I had made no mission-critical mistakes.
3) I had, however, made several errors in continuity and usage.
4) Suggestions for improvements and clarifications, like word choice (I used 'muttered' too many times) and grammatical constructions ('We were friends,' changed to 'We had been friends,' for clearer meaning in a particular passage, for instance.) Also requests for more detail in some places.
5) Plot-level suggestions on making things stronger, such as: 'As a reader I wanted some kind of happier ending for [X character].'
Authors who want to pinch pennies and rush their material to market shouldn’t consider hiring a professional editor. But if you really care about your readers' experience and if you care about your legacy as an author, do everybody a favor and hire some help. After all, you will be dead sooner or later. Let readers 200 years from now read your book and tell their friends, "I just discovered this! It's FABULOUS!"
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