Category Archives: how to write

Self-editing your novel

Hi there,

Happy 2017! I’ve been busy lately with family matters and editing my third book – Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Here are some thoughts collated from the arduous task of self-editing and the further research I did before kicking off the same:

What is self-editing?

It seems self-explanatory, but let’s define our scope. You’ve written your first draft from start to finish and now you want to edit to the stage where it is good enough to present to either a) a professional editor b) your agent / prospective agent c) your self publishing platform d) your beta readers.

In the main, I suggest it is a combination of a) to d) depending on whether there is a commercial partner expecting to have approval, and have their editor work with you prior to acceptance of a manuscript for publication.

The nature of the editing will vary from simple typos, to wholesale changes to scenes and structure. In my experience, it is wise to expect a lot of rewriting and improvement until you reach the happy place of being satisfied with the words on the page, and of course the flow. Or until your publisher says ‘yes’ we’re going to publish your work.

Stages of self-editing

Leave it in a drawer edit

Yes, leave your draft to one side and read other people’s work for a while. This will help to create a sense of separation from your work and a mental benchmark of what ‘good’ looks like. Once your mind has absorbed enough outside works and experiences, you’ll be ready to properly read your own work with fresh eyes. This is vital.

Coarse edit

This is the pass where you iron most things out. Typically I expect to remove, reduce, re-phrase, augment or re-write pretty much every page. Only the really good writing remains untouched. If it reads as ‘clunky’ it needs changing / improving / removing / scorching off the face of the planet. Delete as applicable.

I check for typos, perspective inconsistencies, speech attribution, adjectives, use of language, word flow issues, punctuation, scene progression, dialogue quality, plot points, character reactions, and so on. This is a heavy edit.

Tips – set your objectives clearly and write out your own editing checklist and refer to it regularly. Use a tool to check for overused words such as: that, then, with, like, towards, felt, looked etc. Consider each character’s path through your book – write it out as a brief flowchart and check that it makes sense. If it doesn’t, the chances are you have missed out necessary actions / speech / narrative, or even entire scenes.

My aims in this pass are to ensure that every section is effective and well written. I also re-consider the key plot points to check they make sense. I amend them or remove them if they don’t.

By the end of this stage, you will have a draft manuscript where you are not ashamed of the quality of the writing, and which you have begun to understand as a reader.

Structural edit

Once I have a sense of what I have actually written – as distinct from what I imagined I had written – I take a step back and review the story I am telling. I refer to my notes about each subplot and each character’s progression through the story.

The key question I ask about each sub-plot is – what does this add to the overall story? i.e. Do I need to keep this? Or do I need to move things around? Or should I delete a minor sub-plot lock, stock and barrel?

Tips: Structure – your main character (protagonist) should appear on page 1 or at least early in chapter one. Prologues usually suck and should be burned.

The key question I ask about each scene is – what is the scene’s purpose (action, fear, joy, discovery etc.) and does it work? i.e. is it effective enough or in need of a re-write?

Tips: Scene review – imagine the scene happening in real life and check how plausible it would be for actors to portray it. If it sucks, you need to augment and improve it. If it’s unclear, you may be overwriting and using too much purple prose. Short paragraphs work, pages of narrative by and large do not.

Self honesty is really important, and usually less is more. Also, it is worth recalling the established rules of writing and plotting (web research / books on the same) and breaking less than 30% of them at a time. Unless of course you never want anyone to read or recommend your work.

Removing unnecessary scenes or sub-plots can be really hard, and I don’t do so lightly. However, if you have a sneaking suspicion that the scene about the tree guardian who appears halfway through your story and does nothing except say two lines, is a bit flabby, the chances are it needs to be cut. Unless of course your story is about tree guardians, in which case they should have made an appearance on page one and regularly from that point on.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript draft where you are happy with your story, the major plot points and the length of the book. If not, go back and do it again…

Read aloud edit

I print and I read out loud, with a pencil at hand. I never cease to be amazed at how many outright mistakes sneak through until this stage.

The psychology is this – reading is the first pass through your brain, speaking is the second pass, and hearing what you have said is the third pass. The combination means you are much more likely to notice mistakes in your work.

Also, the flow or otherwise of what is written on the page comes across most clearly when you read your work aloud. If it flows, you can imagine what your readers will experience. And where the flow is poor, you will hasten to smooth things out out of sheer embarrassment or even boredom (as a reader). Yes, the section your always hated which dragged on still sucks – so now it’s time to edit it properly…  or cut it.

Tips: Dialogue check – do people really speak like that?  And would your character say those things in that manner? A key way to show a character is through their interactions, therefore what they say and how they say it matters. Provided of course – they had a plausible reason to say what they say. i.e. Action to reaction. What they know and what they don’t know.

By the end of this stage, you have a draft manuscript you are pretty much happy with, bar the detailed proofing. If not go back and do it again… Or if you absolutely hate the book, perhaps you need to park it for a while?

Writer’s proofing

Once happy with all the key ingredients I run the document through a couple of software tools and consider all the corrections I’m offered. Even the stupid ones which seem to make no sense at all. It’s boring and unfortunately completely necessary. The number of times I have found misused words spelt perfectly, or doubled up words in plain sight, is surprising and a relief – provided you correct them early enough. One tool alone is not enough to spot them all – for reasons I’ve never fully understood. (Software rules and such like).

Tips: check out tools in trial form first and see if you like them. Word alone is not enough.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript you are willing to share with others.

Professional editor edit

In an ideal world, all books would be further edited by a professional who gets the aims of the writer and is sympathetic to the effect they are trying to achieve. This may take the form of technical editing, structural editing and further proof editing.

It’s a partnership thing. If you find a great pro-editor, cherish them and send them greetings cards. If not, find someone else if you are able to. (Me, I’m looking.)

By the end of this stage, the book is quite different to the first draft – usually for the better, though I dare say – not always.

Final, final edit

More of the same until a) it’s done or b) someone say’s it’s getting published next week. Quite often a beta reader will raise an important omission or mistake. Sometimes this reaches the writer in time… I jest, the more complex your story the more edits will be needed all the way through to published editions, and corrections to published editions.

When is it good enough?

Never. Provided a writer keeps improving as a writer, they will always want to go back and revise a lesser work until they are sick of the sight of it. Incidentally, by the fifth round of editing I am usually sick of the sight of my own work. When this happens I call a break and go and write or do something else for a while.

Golden tip?

Fresh eyes are essential, as is a sense of detachment.Take a break and read other people’s work – ideally writers who are better than you are. Edit often and in hour chunks.

If you can forget you wrote the first draft manuscript and polish what you see in front of you, you can self-edit. Once you can no longer do this – take a break and/or get help.

 

Hope my insights help. Best of luck with your writing projects. Next time, I plan to write about plotting your book, click your bookmark or subscribe and please feel free to comment.

In due course, I will publish Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Having hurried on previous books, this time I’m following all my own advice and plenty of other people’s. Please check out my website and consider the younglings in your life who are missing out by not reading Sean Yeager Adventures. They are just a few clicks away on Amazon and elsewhere, somewhere between Harry Potter, Star Wars and James Bond.

Enjoy.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

Hunters Hunted Text 2l

 

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Pros and Cons of Self Publishing

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This article is based on my experience writing and self-publishing two titles to date. My research cuts across many sources: published books, online learning, social media groups, verbal sharing of experiences and lessons learned at the coal face. It is my intention to ‘tell it  how it is’ and of course this is my perception to date.

Pros:
1)      You have complete control

You can choose what you write, how you package, how you market. Everything. And you can retain all your rights, provided you are wise to not signing them away to a vanity publisher or service company along the way. You don’t need to, so don’t. Read every letter of every agreement and if it looks ‘bad’ for your interests find a better route to market. Self publishing means that you own all of your book rights, that’s the deal. If you decide to sell some of them, make sure you take legal advice and receive payment.

2)      You can sell your own product in the market

No one can stop you selling your works directly to the public. For example, if your ‘Memoirs of a Frog Prince’ is complete, you can publish pretty much everywhere via Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. without anyone else approving your work. You can also publish for relatively little outlay in e-book and print. (But that does not mean you will necessarily sell many copies, most titles sell less than 100 ever).

3)      You can sell product to readers (almost) directly

It is possible to sell product from your own website, but you will probably reach a far greater audience via Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. These platforms will take a cut, but that cut is far less than a traditional publisher would take if you were signed-up. (However, your book would be likely to reach far more sales outlets and territories in print with a good deal at a good traditional publisher).

4)      It is possible to succeed

If your work is good enough and you work hard enough to find your audience, you could succeed all by yourself. However, not all books will be good enough and not all reader audiences can be found online. The proportion of ‘winners’ in this game is relatively small. You will need luck, a strong sequence of products and a lot of hard work to succeed commercially.

Before you write I suggest studying BookBub’s advertising rate chart for several days. See it here: http://www.bookbub.com/advertise/pricing.php

I wish I had seen it a lot earlier. Basically, this is as close as you’ll get to understanding the real potential market for your books, pro-rata. Of course the total world market is bigger than this, but the proportions are valid and representative for the UK and US markets. For example, you may wish to compete in a more widely read e-book genre than ‘Teen and Young Adult’ if you are just starting out. (I wish I had).

5)      You can achieve commercial success without the gatekeepers

The definition of ‘success’ is probably a case by case matter by writer and genre. Certainly, there are (some) professional self-published writers who make a decent living from writing books. They tend to be writers of multiple books for adult genres. They tend to be very hard working and strong minded, as well as good, solid writers.

For many writers, self-published (or indeed traditionally published) books are likely to be an additional source of income rather than a primary source, at least for the early part of their careers. And this is not unusual historically. Many famous writers held substantial jobs while writing their major works. J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis being two notable examples.

Cons:

1)      It is all down to you

The flip-side of control is that you have to do it all yourself. Or you need to find people you can pay who can assist you. Editors, cover artists, e-book designers and print book designers being essential services you will need. Most of your competitors will be using professional help as well, so be aware. You are all competing for repeat readers!

You also need to learn as much about online book marketing and promotion as you do about how to write a quality book. Omit this step at your peril. If you hope to sell in volume, you need to know how to oil the gears of your own selling machine. And that learning continues for years…

2)      Big companies will block you

It is a fact of the world we live in that big businesses will block out smaller businesses until the start-ups somehow ‘breakthrough’. At which point, they will consider buying them out, if they can. Sorry to kill off the romance, but you are basically selling a product which the world does not  want to know about until it sells a lot of units. Yes, it is a catch-22. So to slay some more dreams in the bud while I’m on a roll:

  • Chain stores will resist all attempts by you to stock your books in preference for their deals with established publishers and authors. (Independents are still an option.)
  • Libraries will resist attempts by you to stock more than a handful of ‘local books’ in their county.
  • Online libraries will refer you to their partner – probably Overdrive – who will refuse to deal with you directly and will refer you to an ‘aggregator’ such as Smashwords.
  • Bookbub will refuse to take your advertising unless you meet their criteria or are very fortunate. (They won’t elaborate on why) This is because they have plenty of other paying customers for their advertising space and can afford to pick and choose their customers (lucky them).
  • Agents will send you standard rejection letters (or emails) unless you are incredibly diligent and lucky. Because they have plenty of other books to sell. By the way ‘Not suitable for our list’ means ‘we don’t think we can (or want to) sell your book’ . It’s a sugar coated ‘no way’. (And many of them also rejected J.K. Rowling – so what do they know?)
  • Publishing companies will likewise reject your work, unless you are incredibly diligent and lucky. Because they also have plenty of other books to sell. And they listen mostly to Agents.
  • Publications will blank your attempts to request reviews in print or online. Because they have plenty of other published books to review and are (probably) paid in kind for such reviews. (It’s easily done in this world).
  • If you have personal contacts in any of the above use them!!!!!!!  (And then share them with me please)

3)      You will have to give away and heavily discount your product

Because everyone else does. Therefore you will end up giving away hundreds or thousands of units in the hope of picking up ‘visibility’ on Amazon and climbing sales charts. The precise details of ‘why’ vary with the manner in which Amazon compile their sales charts. However, the premise is simple – your work is unknown and will remain so until it appears on some ‘best selling’ lists. If it is seen and reviewed well, people will buy it. To achieve that push you will need to give away some copies and discount some copies. (Ouch!)

You will also have to provide an incentive for people to subscribe to your newsletters. A discounted or free book being an appropriate ‘gift’.  Likewise to gain those illusive online reviews, readers and bloggers will expect free books in exchange for their time and (hopefully) their kind words.

4)      It is also possible to fail commercially

You may succeed in writing a great book, your best ever book etc. However, commercial failure is entirely possible. Even if you learn and work hard at marketing and promotion, it is not a certainty that enough people will buy your books to make you more than 100 sales. Life is not fair, there are no guarantees and it does hurt. Sorry, but that is the truth.

It is also possible that you may not be cut out to be a writer in a commercial sense. That is not to say that you have ‘failed’ as such. No. Simply, that you will need to have other income available to live on while you write for your own pleasure or for other goals. At some point, a competition win or a big name review could change your fortunes as an author, but until that time….

Consider this: A writer produces a quality book that is well presented and does not fit easily into an established genre. They try all the regular routes to self-publish and promote. However, what they may not realise (ever) is that their work might be an acquired taste or a niche work. That is not to say that their writing lacks merit. It simply means that – like the vast majority of books – it will sell in trickles rather than floods, because that book’s market is relatively difficult to find or is quite small.

Or this: A writer markets their work to the hilt and writes for a genre that sells well. They produce a few books, promote them well etc. What they may not realise (ever) is that their work basically ‘sucks’. It falls short of the standards their potential readers require to pass on a recommendation. This may be incredibly tough to accept, but it happens. And no one will tell you for fear of causing offence. (You may not believe them anyway). On the plus side you can always improve! And in time, you will recognise on reading back your own work how good it really is. Meantime, keep up the day job!

Luck, hard work and persistence remain key factors for any ‘overnight success’ and writing is no different. (I’m very much at this stage right now).

As an informed guess, you will need at least three titles to make a serious impact and probably four. The first will likely fail, but you will learn from it. The next two will be better quality and you will be better placed to promote them. By the third you have enough product to ‘sacrifice’ to giveaways and heavy discounts. And you will gain in cross-sales with your other titles. Plus, you will have built a name within your reader population. Blog followers, subscriber lists, twitter followers etc. all add up and provide better chances for you to directly promote your books to interested readers.

5)      You will still need to negotiate with ‘gatekeepers’

It would be great to think that ‘gatekeepers’ with approved ‘lists’ will go away when you self-publish. (Agents, Publishers and PR people run a ‘list’ of work they represent or are trying to sell for). Unfortunately the ‘gatekeepers’ won’t go away, instead they morph and change.

To succeed as a self-published author you will still need endorsements and acceptance for your work from a number of people. Not all of who will be as open minded to the merit of your work as you are. These include:

  • Book bloggers – generally they want genre and quality consistent with their values and interests. (Vampire bloggers are not ‘into’ sci-fi for example)
  • Book advertisers – ditto with their audience goals and their income models.
  • Amazon – can (in theory) reject/take down works which have reader complaints against them. It may be rare, but it can happen.
  • Customer book reviewers – need an angle to want to like your work. It is not a level playing field (sorry) An ‘okay read’ will not usually result in a review. A high profile book will attract far more sales and therefore far more reviews. Not all of them good I hasten to add.
  • Your first readers – will obviously judge your work against their own likes and dislikes
  • Your social media contacts – will generally want to associate more with ‘rising stars’ than ‘unknowns’
  • Your potential ‘fans’ – by definition will like the work that ticks their boxes. If they are ‘your’  fans you will want to look after them. Nurture them. Hug them even.

In conclusion, while there is no one recipe for success in an ever-changing world of book publishing (thank goodness), there are some truisms:

  • The winners take almost all of the cake – see the published book sales figures for any given year
  • The harder you work, the luckier you will become
  • Success breeds success – fiction books (like pop music) is a very polarised market with a very ‘long tail’ of low volume selling titles.
  • Successful titles come from the most popular genres – which is de facto a statistical certainty and relates also to demographics.

Good luck and happy writing

David Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted. Available now at Amazon, Kobo etc
Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted. Available now at Amazon, Kobo etc

Ingredients for a hit novel

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Recently I’ve been considering ‘what makes a hit novel’? And here are my thoughts:

1) Characters we care about

A hit novel contains a handful of great characters that you grow to love and want to follow. And there are many examples we can all call to mind: Darcy, Harry Potter, James Bond, Hannibal etc. If we care about the characters, we’ll want to know what happens next to them.  And if we don’t, we may well put the book back down.

2) Plenty of incident & twists

To keep us awake and stop us from skipping ahead or worse switching off. A hit novel contains plenty of action, regardless of the genre. Things happen, challenges are faced and our hero has to overcome stuff. Otherwise it can become ‘interesting’, but basically dull and uneventful. Spicing things up with events we can’t predict also helps a lot.

3) A quirk or three

People become bored with formula pretty quickly. Most hit novels contain at least a few grains of ‘uniqueness’. Whether it be: dark threats and scandal in Scandinavia; allegorical animals in a boat; an orphaned wunderkind wizard; dystopian gladiators on TV; or rich man, innocent girl and a heap of sexual experiments (or smut).

4) Ease of reading

You notice I did not highlight ‘elegant writing’. That may win prizes and be a worthy aim in itself, but readers want to be able to read easily. They want to be able to enjoy the story without reaching for a dictionary.

5) A place you want to visit in your head

In my view novels are escapism. Along the way we learn things about the world of our characters and ultimately ourselves. A hit book asks questions of the reader in a subtle way, such as ‘what would you do in this situation?’ It also takes the reader to a place they want to learn about and experience from the safety of their reading location.

6) Visibility

Of course none of the above would matter unless readers were talking about a book and recommending it to their friends. As with the Fifty Shades series, that recommendation may be more a viral ‘you need to read it to believe it’ kind of thing or a ‘but is it actually any good?’  In my view that particular series is written in an okay manner and is highly effective as titillation and for provoking interest. And clearly it is a massive hit.

That’s all for now

Happy reading

D.M. Jarrett

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Hunters Hunted Text 2l