Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Editing, and being Editor-less

Hey everyone, hope you're all well. :-)

Yep, I've received the second round of edits for the novel, and I thought that I'd do another post focusing on the very important and often overlooked (at least in terms of self-publishing) aspect of writing: having an editor.

'BETRAYAL'S SHADOW' was a part of my life long before I submitted the manuscript to my publishers - various scenes lived and died over the course of around a decade, which included a massive amount of self-editing. Writers out there will know that self-editing can be your biggest enemy! Sometimes I spent weeks on one page before moving onto the next... Which absolutely killed the the stories I was trying to write. Only when I participated in Random House Struik's Writing Course did I truly come to understand that en editor, and even beta-readers, are incredibly necessary.

I've lost count of how many times my editor has made me really think about what I've written - not only in terms of the complete novel and how what I've written influences what I've got planned for the following two books, but specific chapters and passages. Remember, the editor that has chosen to accept your submitted manuscript read the entire manuscript before send the first batch of edits - the editor may not know what the complete story-line entails (for your trilogy, etc) but they do have a very good idea of the story you're telling in the first book. In fact, even if your novel is a stand-alone story, they know.

Which means that their edits are focused on making sure that what you've written enhances the story you want to tell - they'll highlight something which doesn't really make sense to them, for example, which forces you to think about what you've written. You know how it goes, especially when you're writing Fantasy and you're creating and populating your story-world - you think of something cool and add it, but you might forget about it as the writing continues. I created a culture-name for a style of carpet and when my editor asked me about that culture I had no idea why it was there, so I removed it. Another example are the rules we create in our worlds - by and large we stick to them, but editors will pick up on when we're deviating from the rules, or when we're doing something that goes against the rules; one of my characters knows what he looks like without having had anything like mirrors to base this knowledge on - so how does he know? (Just one of the many things I need to fix in this second edit).

I shouldn't even have to mention the grammar-fixes that editors do for us - not one of us is the perfect writer, and we shouldn't think that we are. Words are malleable and changeable because they spring from ideas and thoughts - your main character wasn't the exact same person when you began writing the tale, and neither did your plot conform exactly to what you had planned to do. (If this isn't the case, well, you might run the risk of your tale lacking the life most great tales have). Back when I began writing the fractured tales that would one day coalesce into the novel that you'll be reading in April, I was a different person; I wasn't as widely read' I had a different level of life-experience; I was filled with the fire of I will do this but not tempered by the slow-buring-coals of I need to learn how to do this.

And that's another aspect of writing, and storytelling, that should be incredibly important in your writing-life - the aspect of evolution. There are writers telling tales in the various fields of Genre today that are doing incredible stuff - imagine how much better they will be in a decade, and a decade from then, and so on?

If you think you can grow as a writer without an editor, or even honest, un-afraid beta-readers, you're stabbing yourself in the back. Editors help us to understand what we've written more than to fix what we've written. I mean, you're not going to keep something in your tale if it's been made apparent to you how useless or stupid it is, are you? Let me tell you, it's much easier to be stubborn if you're the only person who will ever read your work.

And here's the catch, folks, because if you're writing to make money or writing to make a name for yourself then you're in the wrong business. Our readers are clever, people, and they pick up on the times when we're beings idiots. You've all read the comment, 'This book could have done with a good edit' - readers don't say that when they come across something that they don't like, they say this when they've read something that doesn't make sense in the context of the larger story. Remember, even when the reader finishes the last sentence of the last page of the first of your books they've read, they're not only reading that one book, they're reading every book you will ever write. And if you don't make sense (in terms of the story-world you're building) they probably won't read anything else you've written or will write.

The best editors are readers, too - and I can hear some of you thinking, "Well, sure, of course they're readers, that's what they do, isn't it?". Yes, readers are editors - along with everything else they are. Editors also have to explain their decisions to their bosses (when they have bosses, as editors do at most publishing houses), and that means editors have to know what they're expected to look for.

So, we've got a person who's job it is to read manuscripts for a publisher; these people are usually exceedingly well read in the genre(s) they focus on; these people know what a) good writing is (grammar-wise) and b) good story-telling is; these people take their work seriously because not only does it a) pay their bill, but b) they are fans. 

You, as the writer, are hopefully many things:

you're a reader, too (which should mean that you know what is expected of you as a writer - here I'm talking about character and motivation above all else);

you know that you want to write even if you don't make a living from it, because you love telling stories;

you realize that you are not the only writer writing a tale in the genre your tale is 'set' in, and so you also know that your tale has to be something special to stand out;

and lastly, you know for a certainty that you will never stop learning your craft, which is another way of saying that you will never be the same writer / storyteller after every story you've completed.

Sure, we can write without editors being involved in the process, and sure, there are some horror stories about editors and how they've been more of a bad influence than a good influence on your work, but as a writer / storyteller who didn't have an editor in the early part of my career, I can assure you with all honesty that having an editor is the most important partner a writer can have in the publishing industry.

An editor may not get you that big book deal - but that's not what you should be aiming for, anyway.

An editor may not get you nominated for a Hugo or Nebula or Goodreads Choice Award - but that's not what you should be aiming for, anyway.

An editor my not 'get' what you're doing with your story, but here's the thing, folks - their word isn't law. Their word is damned well-informed, though, so think about their comments as how what they're saying will affect your tale.

An editor is a fan, like you. And if you're not a fan of the genre you're writing in, you should question why you're writing in that genre.

An editor is on your side - they believe in what you've written, they see the promise in your tale, and they want to help you make it as good as it can possibly be.

So, you're a writer who doesn't have an editor and you're looking to get an editor to read your work and offer and opinion:

1) Research your field! Who are the most-active editors in the field, be it with Indies houses or the big guys, who are their clients, and what have those clients published?

2) Never stop submitting your work, and be open to criticism! No-one in history is the absolute perfect writer / storyteller - you aren't either, and can never be, because our work (like it or not) is subject to opinion. But with every tale you write, you can be better than the tale before that.

3) When you've got an editor, listen to their advice, and be honest with yourself. Remember, we write the tale - editors help us to write the tale.

I suppose the final thing I can say is this: those writers out there who have an editor working with them are in a better place, creatively and financially, than writers without editors. Yes, you are the writer, you are the teller of the tale - but when you submit your work to someone else it is no longer yours.

It belongs to the people who will read it and offer their opinions on it. And you need to remember that your work becomes personal to your readers, your work has the ability and the chance to change the lives of your readers.

One thing is absolutely guaranteed: an editor will work with you and help you to hone your craft and tell your tale because, on some important level, it changed their lives.

Respect the craft, respect the great responsibility of storytelling, respect your editor, and respect your reader. Do all of this, as fully as you are able, and your stories will resonate long after your death - not because that's what you wanted to achieve, that kind of immortality, but because storytellers are the soul of civilization.

Instead of being epic,
Be TRUE and be Humble.