Woken By Words #amediting

I was woken this morning by words. Not by my neighbour, although the sound of her workmen banging and drilling at 8am was enough to send sleep away. I was up well before then, the story I’m working on poking and prodding at my brain. ‘Come on!’ it said. ‘Let’s go! We need to sort out this first chapter structure and I think I know how to do it.’

I tried to ignore it, rolling over with the covers around my ears, eyes closed tight. But it was insistent, worming its way into my dozing dreams, flickers of silver and black. ‘Wake up! It’ll be fun.’

Sure. Fun.

I’m not a huge fan of editing. I know it’s necessary, I know it needs to be done over and over eleventy bajillion times before I can send a book baby out into the world, but I much prefer the fire and flow of writing. That feeling when the story just comes out, so many words gushing forth it’s hard to get them on the page. I love that. But, as is accepted lore among writers, the first draft is usually crap. Upon re-reading, a host of errors will make themselves apparent and then it’s time to get out the red pen, usually with a sigh.

And that’s where I am now. I actually quite like this first draft. There’s a lot of good in it, and the story holds up well. However, there are scenes in the wrong order and a few repetitive events that need to be either combined or excised altogether, so my brain has been working overtime to reassemble the scattered pieces into something that still holds the spontaneity of the first draft, but won’t make the reader go ‘huh?’ when they get to see the finished product.

Have I sorted it? Hmmm. Not sure. What seemed so clear at 6:30am isn’t quite so obvious now, although I have made progress. Still, it’s a good sign. It seems this story is quite keen to get out into the world and so is pushing me. I’ll go with it, for now.

How about you? Do your stories yell at you to finish them? Gently prod you awake in the middle of the night to write plot points? The life of a writer is strange indeed…


Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, is on sale now until the end of January! Get your copy here.

 

 

 

A List Of Things I Have Done Today While Editing My Next Book*

IMG_1640

*While I was supposed to be editing, on a day I had set aside for editing.

  1. Made two loaves of bread
  2. Done three loads of laundry
  3. Answered emails and comments
  4. Faffed around on Facebook
  5. Read other people’s blog posts
  6. Written my own blog posts (including this one)
  7. Added some scenes to my fifth Ambeth book (not the one I’m editing)
  8. Ordered groceries
  9. Watched a video tutorial on how to make mayonnaise.
  10. Made mayonnaise
  11. I also considered doing a writing prompt for someone else.

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

I might start editing now, I guess…

 

 

Counting Words

IMG_0893

When I write freelance, I usually have to work to a word count, especially for printed material. Copy is usually the last thing to be added to the page – the design and layout are already set before my words are added, so it can’t be re-worked if I decide I need to write fifty extra words.

Writing too many words has never been a problem for me – to be honest, I’m usually the opposite, writing well over what I’m supposed to and then paring it back, line by line, until it fits the required space. The key is to reduce word count while still retaining content, which can be tricky at times.

When I started writing books for myself, I realised very quickly that writing fiction is quite different than writing copy – for one thing, there’s a whole lot more showing in fiction. Emotion, dialogue and actions tend to drive the narrative, rather than information and references, and it’s something I still have to pull myself up on from time to time. The other thing I had to contend with was the idea of word count. Instead of a 500 or 1000 word article, I was free to write in the thousands, something that was a little daunting at first. But once again my propensity to over-write came to the fore, with the result that the first draft of Oak and Mist was a whopping 165,000 words (once again, apologies to those I asked to read it at that point!). I did an edit, taking it down to about 145,000 words, then blithely sent it out to a handful of agents, not realising they would most likely discard it unread after seeing the cover letter, where I stated word count in the first paragraph.

What I hadn’t realised was that there is a recognised set of word counts for different genres of literature, and I had exceeded all of them. YA fantasy, which I was writing, usually comes in at about 70,000 to 90,000 words, though some imprints, such as Bloomsbury Spark, cap that at 60,000 words. Other genres have their own average word counts and the recommendation is to stick to them as closely as possible, so as not to give a prospective agent or publisher any reason to discount your work before reading it. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, just as there are with most things, but they are few and far between. These word counts have not been arrived at arbitrarily – they are based on sales records, readers surveys and translation costs, as well as production costs – the more words you have, the more costly your book is to produce, a major consideration at a time when print books and bookstores are fighting to retain their market against e-tailers and digital books.

Of course, when you self-publish, the world is your oyster. You can write as much as you want. But once again I believe you need to look at what your market will support – more pages does not always mean better value for money, especially if the story rambles on for twice as long as it needs to. And, while there is no cost difference to produce e-books of different lengths (other than editing), if you choose to have a print version, more pages means your production cost will go up, potentially affecting your royalty payments.

I’ve just spent the past few weeks working through a structural edit on No Quarter, the second book in my Ambeth series. It was a bit of a struggle at times, but I think I managed to sort everything out, covering all the plot holes and making sure everyone ends up where I want them to be at the end of the book. But when I finished, I realised the story was a little longer than I wanted it to be. I couldn’t (didn’t want) to cut any scenes, but I needed to reduce the word count somehow. So I went back to my old freelance method and, though it took me the best part of a day, I went through the book line by line, seeing if I could cut 12 words per page. I didn’t think about plot or structure or pace or character development – I simply looked at each sentence to see if I could say it in fewer words. At the end of the process, I’d cut almost 2000 words from the story without sacrificing any scenes, plus I’d tightened up the prose in quite a few areas.

So if you are going through an edit and need to reduce word count, consider looking at the words, rather than the story. You might be surprised!

 

It’s Wednesday, right?

IMG_1753

I’ve written before about unearthing stories.

About how exciting it is, seeing them emerge from the ground, the twists and turns revealed as you dig deeper.

But this latest story, the one I thought complete and clear, just needing a final polish? Well, it’s not so complete, after all. Instead, it’s as though I’ve broken it and am now re-assembling the pieces, leaving out some that have turned out to be unnecessary and adding new pieces found hiding in the fertile soil. It’s a lengthy and complicated process, but I have to stick with it until the job is done.

In other words, this structural edit is driving me crazy! 🙂

Onwards…

 

Helping Hands

IMG_0950

It’s been a busy week. I’m finalising my structural edit on No Quarter before it goes to my editor, plus there’s the usual client work and house work, which hasn’t left me a lot of time to post. So today is a very quick post about the wonderful blog community I’m pleased to be part of. I think we are enormously fortunate as writers to have such a wide community of support available online. There are many blogs offering free information, reviews and feature spots invaluable to the starting out writer, plus plenty of friendly conversation. The other thing about being part of a community is that we can stand together against book piracy, trolling and the other negative aspects of being online. Kristen Lamb wrote an excellent recent post about bullies here. Since starting to blog I’ve made some wonderful connections and am looking forward to actually meeting some of my fellow bloggers at the First Annual Bloggers Bash, hosted by the intrepid Sacha Black.

Here are some blogs I’ve found incredibly helpful as I’ve navigated the self publishing process – big thank yous to each of them!

Nicholas Rossis

Nicholas is an award winning author who posts thoughtful articles on every aspect of publishing, from statistics to advertising to social media. He’s also a really nice guy who takes the time to respond to comments and offer generous encouragement 🙂

The Writer’s Path

Ryan offers a huge range of services for writers on his blog including The Writer’s Toolbox, his critique posts called Under the Microscope and also a growing list of bloggers who will review books, separated into genres – something I’ve found incredibly useful.

Chris The Story Reading Ape

What can I say about Chris? He regularly features independently published authors (including yours truly) as well as collating links from across the blogosphere to useful articles on every aspect of publishing. He’s also a published author, yet still finds the time to respond to comments – I don’t know how he does it.

Connie Flanagan

Connie is a self-professed bibliophile and passionate supporter of independent authors. Her site offers reviews, links and lots of helpful tips.

Chris McMullen

Chris’s blog is a goldmine of information covering just about every aspect of publishing. Well worth a visit.

Of course, these are just a few of the many wonderful people I’ve connected with in blogland – I hope to feature some more links soon.

And finally, I sent Oak and Mist to a reviewer, the lovely Meredith at Mezzalilys Teen Book Reviews. I would like to make it very clear that I sent her the book with the expectation only that a review would be written – the content and evaluation were entirely at Meredith’s discretion, as I believe in honest feedback. So, fingers crossed and a little nervous I posted her the book. A little while later she wrote her review – if you’re interested, please check it out here

Right, back to editing! 🙂

Working With An Editor

IMG_0112
I searched far and wide…

Further to yesterday’s blog post and also in response to a comment, I thought I’d write a little more about the editing process and how I came to choose my editor.

As someone planning to self-publish for the first time, I’ve been doing a lot of research. And nearly every self-published author I’ve seen interviewed has stressed the importance of working with a professional editor, stating that it’s an investment in your work. This made a lot of sense to me – there’s only so much editing I can do myself, so to have a professional viewpoint seemed to me a necessary next step in presenting a polished final product. So I started looking for an editor…

When it came to selecting an editor, there were two things that were important to me:

  1. That the editor had experience editing books in my genre (YA fantasy)
  2. That I was able to see reviews from previous clients

I mean after all, this was a step into the unknown for me. I was sending my manuscript to someone who was essentially a stranger, with no real idea of what I would get in return and paying for the privilege, so it was important that I did my research and, hopefully, find the right person for my book.

I started with a Google search, which led me to several different editing sites. The one that appealed to me was The Society For Editors and Proofreaders.

http://www.sfep.org.uk

Formed in 1988, the Society is a professional organisation based in the UK for editors and proofreaders, and their website gave me a wealth of information about the process and costs of editing, as well as a directory of freelance editors. After searching the list I decided to approach Lucy York, who had a great deal of experience working on fantasy and YA novels for both publishers and self-published clients. Her reviews were great and she seemed to be the perfect fit for my book.

So I emailed her with an initial enquiry and received a quick response, asking for the first three chapters of my work and what type of edit I was looking for. After I sent through the information she’d asked for, Lucy was able to give me a start date and quote. I sent through my manuscript and, after a few weeks, was delighted to receive it back with a comprehensive edit so thorough it even picked up extra spaces and incorrect quotation marks.

While this was invaluable when it came to presenting a professional looking book, I was also very interested to hear what Lucy thought about the story structure overall. I was worried she might come back and say ‘this doesn’t make sense,’ or ask me to get rid of a much loved character. However, I was lucky. Lucy wrote and said how much she had enjoyed her trip to Ambeth, and that there was a lot to like about the book. However, she did have a few suggestions about areas of the plot she felt were a little flat. (This is where the ‘But…’ post came from yesterday). On reflection, however, I found that not only did I agree with her, but that the missing scenes came to me almost immediately, as though they had just been waiting for someone to alert me to their presence so we could finish the story properly.

So now I’m on the second part of the edit. I’ve made all the grammar and punctuation changes and now I’m going to be adding in those extra and changed scenes. Lucy will be looking over the manuscript again once I’ve made the changes and then, fingers crossed, I will finally be ready to publish.

Watch this space…

PS Lucy, being a freelance editor, charges at an hourly rate. For an idea on what these rates would be, check the Sfep website.

But…

I’m currently working with an editor on the first book in my Ambeth series, Oak and Mist, getting it ready for publication. It’s the first book I’m going to publish so I want it to be as strong as possible, which is why I’ve chosen to invest in a professional edit. And I’m so pleased with the result – her suggestions are spot on and she’s also picking up on the extra spaces and commas and quotation marks throughout my work.

But…

No. There is no but. This edit is just what I needed. The editor has also given me a page of editorial notes about the structure of the story and, well, I’ve had to suck it up and agree. Because she’s absolutely right about the points she makes, and has actually cleared up a few niggling issues I hadn’t been able to resolve.

But….

It’s just how you feel, as a writer, when someone critiques your work. Your automatic response to someone not agreeing with everything you’ve written is ‘But….’ Said in sort of a whiny tone. (I think the great Stephen King touches on this in his book, On Writing). Because your book is so personal, so precious, it’s hard to take at first when it feels like someone just doesn’t get it.

But…

I’ve thought about it and the changes she’s suggesting will make for an even better story, an even stronger book. She does get it. And that’s why you work with an editor – to get a fresh, professional viewpoint of your work, from someone who does it for a living.

And you can’t ask for more than that.