Prepare Before You Share Your Book
— THE GUIDE TO GETTING READY FOR AN EFFICACIOUS EDIT —
Needless to say, the better a book is when it’s sent in for editing, the better it will come out, so today we’ll be reviewing what you can do to refine your manuscript independently. Sure, an (excellent) editor will put order to the meanest of messes, but why beleaguer them with busywork? It’s like paying an interior designer to pick up dirty socks or make the bed. Get that chamber spic and span before you bring the expert in to focus on feng shui.
True enough, all writing is tough. (To rewrite can be painful and to unwrite near impossible.) Indeed, the most objective flubs are trickier to isolate than fetid laundry on the floor, but keep these points in mind, and you may find the challenge less a chore. We’re here to help you help yourself (before we help some more).
Not Too Early, Not Too Late: The Goldilocks Solution
Whether or not this is your first rodeo, you don’t want to be a clown. It’s important to determine what kind of editing is actually required—ASAP. If you need developmental support, don’t flounder through a whole book that may need to be rewritten when we could have guided you from the get-go. Similarly, don’t pay someone for mechanical tuning when your manuscript demands a sentence-level shakeup. Not sure what it is you need? Then we’ll take charge (no charge decreed).
Give It Some (Serious) Space
Every writer is familiar with the curious sensation of reading their own writing (after a nice long hiatus) and feeling like a third-party. What many fail to note is how vital this phenomenon is to the self-editing process. Oddly, you do yourself a disservice by constantly reviewing. When prose is too fresh in your mind, you’ll remember exactly what you meant to write instead of picking up on otherwise palpable botchery. In this case, absence makes the heart grow colder, and that’s a good thing, as a ruthless critic is exactly what’s needed. So, stop looking over your shoulder. That last witty line will still be there next summer.
“Time apart” has the added benefit of getting you to the end of the circuit much faster too. Just remember: it’s only lap one.
Adopt the words of Nabokov: “My pencils outlast my erasers.”
Search the Start for Snafus
Many novelists would agree that the first few pages of a book are more difficult to compose than the subsequent few hundred combined, and hyperbolic or not, it’s no wonder that the start should seem so rocky. Bounded by foreign terrain, you’ve yet to settle into a comfortable rhythm. What’s more, you’re wearing new sneakers (which take some time to break in), and there isn’t even a proper path. It’s only you and your crudely drawn map. God speed in the wilderness, friend.
Even the most meticulous writers are prone to false starts, so the first leg of a manuscript deserves particular attention whilst backtracking. To the inundated, revising (A.K.A. memory-holing one’s hard work) is unspeakably painful, but guess what: it’s gotta happen. After all, page one is where every prospective agent, publisher, and buyer will begin. Don’t let it be where they end as well. Indeed, your stuff may get much better, but how does that help if it’s stuffed in a trashcan?
Thou must wow in the now.
Spring for Creative Destruction
Expurgation time? Don’t make just one pass. And don’t settle for the same old routine either. Throw in some quirky variables to enhance those “outsider” vibes. Printing off a copy of your manuscript can be extremely helpful. Something about ink on pulp makes a world of difference. Don’t want a dead tree branch on your conscience though? Try switching fonts . . . and text sizes too. Perhaps read aloud to your pet (with passion)—even if that pet is a rock. And no need for speed. Your aim: to read as if you’ve never heard of yourself, for that’s how follies are found.
But isn’t it our job to extinguish these dumpster fires? Sure, but let us pose a question: does leaving behind refuse on one’s campus make for a better environment because it supports the groundskeepers? Of course not. If the “help” isn’t bogged down scraping gum off the sidewalk, they’ll have time to trim the hedges or build a zen garden. Here at Specter Services, we’re frighteningly thorough no matter what, but even so, your own deep cleaning is sure to improve the result.
Look (into What You Ought to Expel) Before You Leap (into Editing)
Admittedly, a good deal of waste is attributed to laziness and corner-cutting, but most of man’s inadequacies are the product of a far more forgivable crime: failure to read the instruction manual, which really boils down to low-key hubris.
Don’t let disorganization do you in. You wouldn’t compost without a shovel, and you shouldn’t edit without a suitable “blooper scooper.” Every book has different issues, but here are some things to always look out for:
- Adverbs (add verbs; subtract adverbs)
- Shifting perspectives
- Lacking descriptions
- Identical speech amongst cast
- Passive voice
- Telling (sans showing)
- Mixed metaphors
- Ten-dollar words
- Crutch words:
Notice you’ve used wonderful three times in as many pages? Mix ’em up, but don’t stop there. You’ve gotta search the whole dang doc. While finding eighty-seven more may not feel great, it’s not too late, so revel in the tedium of making your manuscript sweeter.
Thick Skin Development 101
Don’t just hand over your book and ask for feedback. Unless you really stepped in it at some point, friends and family members will probably be inclined to bounce back positive marks, so if you want constructive criticism (which you should), provide a form that invites them to address what does and doesn’t work. The more specific you are in your request(s), the more honest your reviews will be. Don’t settle for obligatory head pats now; work your way up to the meaningful embraces that follow publication.
Frankly, though, it’s better not to rely on those around you for help. Exchanging books with fellow writers is fairer—and generally fruitfuller too. The quid pro quo: “You skewer me, and then I lambaste you.”
Muscle is made by tearing muscle—not by jiggling fat around with one of those ’50s slimming belts—and ditto: awesome writing is made by ripping up the so-so.
Help Us Help You Help Yourself
Communication is key. You may not be aware of everything that your editor will be searching for, but you’ll likely have specific concerns—and those should be highlighted upfront. It’s one of those deceptively simple mantras that escape half of us for half of our lives: ask and you shall receive.
This may surprise you, but it’s also extremely helpful to provide your editor with an overview of the book. Why would they need to know what happens and who’s involved if they’re going to read the whole story anyway? Well, firstly, mechanics come into play. If Cy only has one brother, we’d say: Cy and his brother, Chaz, are chums. If Cy has two or more brothers, we’d say: Cy and his brother Chaz are chums. As you can see, a family tree is, thus, extremely useful.
Plot-wise, knowledge is also power. Your editor may write a lengthy comment about why you needn’t devote that whole paragraph to your protagonist watching people play frisbee in the park . . . but if he or she knows that the story centers upon a loner who acquires canine superpowers, no time will be wasted in “hounding” you—and, yes, you’re free to write up Dog Dude (as long as we’re given editing dibs).
Let’s say you’ve won a trip to Mars aboard a newly christened ship. You’re not a rocket scientist, technologist, or engineer. You’re not an astrophysicist or even an astrologist. You will, however, leaving Earth, be just as much an astronaut as anyone aboard the vessel. Therefore, learn a thing or ten before you kiss your kids goodbye. The knowledge that you store away may prove to save the day.
(Put plainly: never write yourself off!)