A Handbook for Indie Authors - Part 1
This is Part 1 of a series about editing fiction, particularly romantic fiction, including mystery, suspense, paranormal, and futuristic. Although it is intended for indie authors, who very much need to improve the quality of what they’re uploading to the Net, much of it also applies to authors who would like to put their best foot forward when querying an agent or an editor. Do you want to present a manuscript which is going to cost the publisher time and effort to whip into shape, or do you want to present a professional-looking manuscript, which will cost very little time and money to be ready for publication? In today's tight economy, which manuscript will the editor choose?
A no-brainer, right?
Below is an introduction to the scary world of what it takes to make a manuscript ready for publication.
Editing vs. Copy Editing.
Many authors are not aware of the difference between editing and copy editing. I’ll try to make it clear.
Editing is done by a person who has worked his/her way up in a publishing company, someone who has struggled long and hard to have “Editor or Associate Editor” beside his/her name. These are the people to whom you or your agent sends your manuscript. These are the people who will decide whether or not your book is published.
Copy edits are usually done by young publishing hopefuls, not long out of college. Frequently, they work at home. They are paid at “piecework” rates to find the nitty-gritty mistakes in your manuscript, from spelling, punctuation, and grammar to continuity (Were Betty’s eyes blue in Ch. 1 and brown in Ch. 6?) and facts (Do you have a bastard inheriting an English title? - an absolute no-no). And, yes, copy editors make beginner mistakes. I’ve seen books where the copy editor inserted a decimal before 9mm, which would require the gun to have the smallest bullets in the history of the world!
You get the message: Editors are highly experienced; they’re paid the relatively big bucks. Copy editing is lower echelon - almost anyone with a good English background, a keen eye, and patience can do it.
Editing. Among the many things an editor must look for are:
1. Does your first page capture a reader’s attention?
2. Same for your first chapter. Does it have enough action, interesting dialogue, colorful details (whether setting, secondary characters or plot) to keep the reader turning the page?
3. Have you introduced both hero and heroine in the amount of time that is appropriate to the genre you’re writing?
4. Have you made your hero and heroine likable? (They can have faults, but can a reader see that these will be remedied? Or is it merely a minor fault that makes your character more interesting?) Are your characters sympathetic? Do they have vulnerabilities? Will your readers root for them, really care about them?
5. Is your writing voice developed enough to appeal to the mass romance market?
6. Did you carefully outline your plot in your synopsis, then leave it there, assuming that the reader now knows everything he/she needs to know? (Which is nothing, as the reader never sees anything but the short blurb on the back of the book (or on screen in an online catalog.)
7. Have you ignored one of your two main characters, vastly favoring the point of view of one over the other? And, consequently, not revealing enough of the ignored character’s thoughts, actions, and motivations?
8. Have you used so many secondary characters in the first few chapters that they completely overshadow your hero and heroine?
9. Conversely, have you created interesting, perhaps even colorful, secondary characters who truly enhance your story and are not simply being used as a “dialogue foil” to present backstory?
10. Did you bring your story to a stop in Chapter 1 by cramming in huge chunks of backstory, tempting your readers to chuck your book at the wall?
11. Or possibly you forgot to include any backstory or identification of your characters at all, making them blank-faced talking heads. After all, you know who they are, why can’t the readers add mind-reading to their skills?
12. Dialogue. Have you incorporated setting, actions, description, and/or introspection (thoughts) into your dialogue? Otherwise, we’re back to talking heads against a blank canvas. Not a pretty sight.
13. Did you write twenty words when ten would say the same thing and be more effective?
14. Do you have enough plot to hold a readers’ attention for the full length of your book? Or are you giving us “diary entries” of daily activities instead of a story that is moving forward at a fast enough pace to satisfy modern readers?
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The items listed above are just some of the things an editor must look for when reading a manuscript. And, more importantly, if the editor thinks your work worth the effort, he/she must then find ways to explain to you what must be fixed before your book is ready for publication. This requires a great deal of skill and experience and is a long, long way from simple copy edits. Yes, misspelled words and bad punctuation jump out at readers and are easy to criticize, but it’s the more serious “edits” that make or break a book. Indie authors must realize this before they simply have someone proofread their manuscript and “certify” that it’s ready for publication. Almost all manuscripts require careful “editing”and not just “copy editing.”
I have a long list of books in my Kindle archives, books by authors I will not read again because their book did not capture my attention. Or books I put aside after ten pages because they were so poorly constructed I couldn't read any farther. But I keep active on my Kindle one of each book by authors I like to remind me to look for that author’s next book.
Be the author whose book is “saved.” Whose next book is eagerly awaited.
And never forget—although good spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important, your book won’t make it without a good story and well-drawn characters.
So do it right . . . make more money.~ * ~
Coming next: Edit your own books or employ a professional?
Thanks for stopping by.
Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft
& edits as Best Foot Forward (editsbyBFF@aol.com)