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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Author Edit Thyself!

Please welcome guest blogger Lex Valentine

I'm anal. No one I know would describe me any differently. I write a book and then take a couple of days off. I come back to it with rested eyes and I begin a self edit. I look for all the telling that I know I do. I insert all the dropped words I know are missing. I look for pet words and phrases. I look for weak spots in the storyline or plot. I look for places where I rushed and could have explained better. When I've done all that, I turn it over to another set of eyes.

When I write a gay romance, the next set of eyes usually belong to a gay or bi man. Most other stuff I turn over to one of three people whose opinions I value as a critiquer. None of the three pull any punches with me. They are hard on me. "You info dumped here, delete it." "Too much scenery here, not enough emotion. Shift the focus." "I really think you have overused the word PINK. You need to search on it and remove it." Sometimes when I worry about how something will be perceived, I get a new set of eyes, a true reader. For Ride the Lightning with it's attempted suicide scene, I wanted someone other than my normal critters and betas to tell me the book was fine with that scene in it. So I handed the manuscript to a fan of the Tales series who is an as yet to be published writer. I needed to know that the readers wouldn’t be squicked out by the scene.

My point here is that when you finish a manuscript... you are far from finished. In point of fact, the real work has just begun. Trying to polish something that is your baby can be very difficult. You've been looking at it so long, you don't see the dropped words and missing commas and hyphens. Having another set of eyes is IMPERATIVE. If you are doing it all on your own and subbing it to publishers you are probably going to get a rejection or at least a revise and resubmit.

And if you get a dozen rejections or R&R’s on a manuscript, don’t keep hawking it to publishers as is. Twelve editors are not wrong. Maybe one or two, but not a dozen of them. Something isn’t good enough in that manuscript and that means you should be looking at it with fresh eyes and seeking someone else, someone new, to look at it and you should take to heart the words of the editors who have rejected you. Did they say your voice is too passive? You have too many grammatical errors? That your plot is too implausible even for a paranormal?

If twelve editors are rejecting you for the same thing, don’t be so fired up to be published that you send off that same manuscript to another half dozen houses who are all on the suspect list at EREC and Preditors and Editors. Because you know, less scrupulous houses may take a manuscript that isn’t good enough for the houses that pride themselves on their products and authors. And do you want to be associated with a house with a bad rep? Or do you want a career that shows you care about your craft and want to be well-known one day? Take that manuscript with all the rejections and fix the things that got it rejected. Hone your craft and don’t assume those twelve editors are wrong because twelve readers in your crit group loved your story. The critters won’t give you a contract. The editors will, so you need to pay attention to their words, especially if they are from one of the houses that are well-respected.

How do I know this? I read submissions for Freya's Bower and Wild Child Publishing for a year. I've seen a lot of authors turn in manuscripts that could have been better if only they had critters, beta readers, and had learned to self edit. Missing periods and scrambled words just don't belong in a professional submission. You should not send your story to a publisher without someone else vetting it first. Even the best of us can miss a dropped word. In fact, most authors miss them because they've just been too close to the manuscript. The other set of eyes is pretty much mandatory for catching those boo boos.

Now, go ahead and crit my blog post. It's a blog post, not a manuscript for a publisher. At the same time, it's nearly 9 pm and I've worked OT today and I haven't been sleeping well. That means SOMETHING is bound to be wrong with this post! Will I see it? Maybe not. Will you? Well, you're more likely to than I am! And that right there is the thrust of my post.

As writers and authors, you should be self editing. But you should also have those manuscripts critiqued by someone who is knowledgeable and willing to tell it like it is. Sycophants need not apply for this job! (Don't know that word? Dictionary.com! GO. Go, now!)

If you are not self editing and you are not using critiquers who know what they are talking about... you are not ready to be published. You deserve all the stinging red marks an editor is going to fill your manuscript with. And if you receive a rejection, well, you may just deserve that too because I am here, telling you what to do to help avoid those things. If you choose to ignore my advice, you're courting the big R or the grumpy editor with the red tracking marks. If you don't believe me, ask the people who have to read submissions.

Avail yourself of the groups out there that can help you. Ask published authors or former editors to read your work. If you are a writer who has never been published, don't hand your manuscript off to a handful of other aspiring writers who are in the same boat as you. Give it to someone more experienced. If you are an author already, give the manuscript to another author or former editor. Perhaps someone who has been doing this longer than you or who has had more success. Don't sit on your laurels and turn in crappy, messy manuscripts to your editors thinking they will take it cause they took the last three... You may find yourself shocked right out of your complacence with a big, fat rejection email.

Go on out there and edit yourself. Then get someone else to crit it. Give yourself a fighting chance to win at the publishing game.

Have a great day!

Lex Valentine

Lex has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil and started her career as an author in the 3rd grade, winning a poetry contest at school. Born and raised in Salinas, California, Lex moved to Southern California in 1992. She lives in Orange County with her daughter Nikki and Rott, her long haired tattooed DH. She loves loud music, builds her own computers, and has a propensity for having very weird vivid dreams about Nikki Sixx.

Lex works full-time at a cemetery as the network administrator. Her list of publishers includes: Ellora's Cave, Pink Petal Books, MLR Press, Liquid Silver Books, Noble Romance, Freya’s Bower, Wild Child Publishing, MSF, and Cobblestone Press.


When wildling Corey Green discovers his mate is Seth Dylan, a tough as nails, dour werewolf from the McCallan clan, he thinks his life is set. However, Seth’s not out and doesn’t know if he wants to be. A pivotal sexual encounter between the men has Seth running scared and leaves Corey broken hearted. The men meet again nearly two years later and this time Seth’s out but Corey’s dark depression is about to send him behind the Veil of the Jewel Box to the fae world. Seth’s determined to make up for running out on Corey, but the wildling’s sunny disposition has gone so dark it may be too late for them to build a life together. With love on his side, Seth sets out return the sunshine to Corey’s soul.

Warning: Contains two hot gay men who love sunshine, sex that makes the plants and trees grow, and a big bad wolf who will do anything to win the man he loves.


Sarah J. McNeal said...

Very informative blog about self-editing, Lex. Wishing you all the best.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. It's soooo true. I can't thank my crit partners enough for the hours they've spent reading my stuff.

They read it when it was junk and helped make it shiny. Yeah, sometimes thing sting when I read them...but it's only because I'm so close to the project. 99% of the time they are right in what they've pointed out.

So I edit. And the story is stronger.

Great post.

KarennaC said...

Great post, Lex.

I was just talking with one of my editors about this yesterday. I don't have a crit partner or beta reader, because I'm not completely sure how to go about finding them. I've been able to find a beta reader for a single story, but not someone I can ask to check everything I write.

Or maybe I'm just too shy to ask...

So what advice would you give about how to find a beta reader or crit partner?

JoAnne Kenrick said...

Oh how I wished I had seen this post earlier in the game. I learned the lesson of needing a critique partner/partners late in the game. When I think of the hassle I could have saved *sigh*

Self-editing is hard -- but with extra eyes, so much easier! Not only are your weak points highlighted, but so are bad plot points and, in my case, British slang or reference that's lost on an American audience. Oh, how I love my critique partner :)

And good point about revising after a rejection.


Juli D. Revezzo said...

Thank you for your timely words of advice! I am at that stage in something I'm working on, right now. I'm grateful for all my crit readers and all the work they've done to help me. Polishing a book is definitely harder than writing it. ;)

Lex Valentine said...

Sarah - Thanks! You're such a doll about always giving me the comment love! *HUGS*

Lynn - I lucked out and got the harshest critters in the world when I first started. Dee Carney is Ms. Tough Love. Mary Winter questions everything. Jennifer Leeland flatly pointed out what editors won't hold with. Carol my fan-reader was uber conscientious about me being true to the nature of the characters and the series. The all hold me accountable and I can never thank them enough. For my M/M stuff Patric Michael, Ethan Day, and Jason Edding keep my men sounding like men. I love them all and seeing marks on a manuscript from them means my work is only going to get better!

Karenna - I'm not sure how to find them. They found me mostly. But if I had to find one now, I would look around at the authors whose work seems to be selling well to houses with very good reps. The authors who write posts like this. Check the blog posts at RWA groups and the ones with good advice, check out those authors and ask them if they ever crit or if they know good critters who would take on someone else. It's all about networking really.

Jo-Anne - I feel very lucky that right off the bat in this industry I had Jen Leeland at my side and then found Dee Carney and Mary Winter. I couldn't ask for better mentors and I don't think I've put many steps wrong because of their help. When I see someone say that they finally got a contract for a manuscript that's been rejected more than a dozen times, I instantly wonder just what that person has learned and if the publisher that took their book isn't well thought of...then my respect for that writer dips too. Even if you come late to the realization that you need to constantly hone your craft...at least you made it there! That's more than can be said for the people who just keep turning out mediocre books with less than stellar publishers.

Julianne - I'm so glad my words resonated with you. I hope they do for others as well. I prefer to see people succeed at something they love to do.

KarennaC said...

Thanks, Lex. :)

Jan Irving said...

Very true. I try to avail myself of a diverse cast of readers. Usually there is at least one published author and sometimes even an editor who might take a look. It all makes the story better.

Lex Valentine said...

Jan - Making it better is the best frame of mind to have when you write. Sitting on your laurels doesn't work!

Mary Winter said...

EXCELLENT post! When I send work off to someone to crit for me, my exact words are "Tell me if this sucks. Hit me with the red ink." It is so easy to overlook things in your own writing. When you've read it for the second, or the fifth time, you're reading the story like it unfolded in your head, not how the fingers put it in the computer. LOL!!!!

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Love the post, Lex, and it's so true. :)

Unknown said...

Hi Lex,

This is the best advice you can give. We who have been in the game long enough know that there is nothing like fresh eyes to read our WIP. Both for critting, then for betas reading the finished product.
I'm always surprised at the logic loops they find, and many other boo-boos that would be embarrassing to send to a publisher. I can't do without mine.
Thanks for the great post.

Evie Balos said...

Excellent advice Lex. And I'd like to emphasize to new authors or unpublished writers, that stepping away from your story for at least ten days makes a huge difference.

I'd say about 60% of my edits take place after I've taken that break.

And beta readers are a must. The more weaknesses they point out the better!