Monday, October 08, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, October 08, 2012 33 comments
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A question I get a lot is whether I  skipped hiring an editor when publishing my novel, since I'm already a professional editor. Surely I just did it myself.

My answer is an emphatic "No!"  See, I currently work on a scholarly journal of literary criticism. Our submissions come from all over the world--people who are smart enough to get into English PhD programs, or even teach in PhD programs. And you know what? Even these smart cookies have typos, misplaced modifiers, subject-verb agreement problems, comma splices, unclear antecedents and the like.

One truth is quite clear to me: we're all blind to our own faults as writers. We all need other sets of eyes on our work. All of us. Always.

Think about  it this way: If you were a surgeon, would you do your own appendectomy? Of course not. You'd want someone skilled who you trust to do it. Your manuscript is as close to you as another limb. You're intimately linked to some of your verbiage because you can't forget how it felt to toil over it. Also, your brain will trick you to see on the page what you meant to say, not what you actually typed.

But a surgeon does know enough about medicine to do quite a lot to improve his own health, short of performing surgery on himself. He doesn't just lay back and expect another surgeon to make him a healthy guy. He eats well, exercises, gets immunizations and check ups. He does what he can with resources he has ready access to. It's the same for us as writers. There's plenty we can do to  improve a novel's health before surgery a.k.a. final editing (yes, this metaphor is getting a bit weird, stay with me...).

I turned to critique groups first of all. I'm blessed to have some really great readers, including several published authors and journalists. They gave me amazing guidance on shaping the plot and characterization, speeding up the pace, fixing plot holes, completing character arcs. There's at least one in each group with an eagle eye for the simple stuff that could be really embarrassing  Like homophone errors (using phase instead of faze for example), weird tense slips, or knowing that Mother Teresa doesn't have an H in it, like nearly every other Theresa I know.  

And yet, I still hired an editor to do a final edit. I knew that in working with so many comments from so many readers (over 20 in all), I needed a strong hand to ensure the whole thing read smoothly. 

Should you try to self edit? Absolutely. You should strive to put the cleanest manuscript you can into an editor's hands, whether you publish traditionally or self-publish. I might say especially if you self-publish, because the messier your manuscript, the more hours of editing time you'll have to pay for out of pocket.

How you self-edit is a question too large for a blog post. I recommend a systematic approach and my favorite resource is Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon. It goes into considerably more depth than other editing resources I've tried that are decent supplements: Fiction First Aid by Ray Obstfeld and Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. Lyon's book is chock full of checklists, a handy thing for the organizationally challenged.

Ramble News
"Deep personal change isn’t easy, and tragedy has a way of forcing us to grapple with our dark side." I said this and much more in an interview with Michelle Davidson Argyle in her October newsletter.You can view the full piece here. She's also holding an ebook giveaway of Never Gone. You need to subscribe to be eligible to enter.

Never Gone is being featured today at Bish Denham's blog.

The winner of the ebook giveaway at PK Hrezo's blog has been selected!

Have you ever been tempted to forgo working with an editor? Does the surgery metaphor make you reconsider? What are some ways you work to improve your manuscript's health?

33 comments:

  1. Self-editing is a challenge. But the only way I get through it is by imagining I'm not. lol

    PS: I read your title as '... a home penis.' and had to double-take! I was shocked, Laurel! ;-)

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    1. If you are able to pretend someone else wrote what you're trying to edit, it does help somewhat. But only another reader can be truly objective.

      And your misread of my title proves what I said about one's brain reading what it expects to see rather than what's actually there (which says more about you than me. LOL). I suppose by some stretch the image of curlers is kinda-sorta phallic? But yeah, I do keep it thoroughly PG-rated around here. ;-)

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  2. I've always self-edited at least three times before sending it off to crit partners and beta readers. After a very long (at least 4-6 weeks) hiatus of not looking at the ms. I can catch a lot of things myself because by then, I haven't "seen" what I've meant to say.

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    1. For sure, distance can really help. But I still fail to see omitted words in my own work. The extra eyes are hugely helpful.

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  3. Having worked with a professional editor for a short story I wrote that was accepted into an anthology, I have to say it was very positive experience. It was really nice to know that I'd have a second pair of eyes reading the text. (Though I will say that one of my betas found the same problems/issues.)

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    1. Really good beta readers can help you tremendously. I didn't have a substantive edit done by a pro, only copy edits, which saved me some money. Others might find that they get better results hiring a pro to do the substantive edits, and use amateurs for the copy editing. It's a matter of what skills your circles have.

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  4. I've never used a professional editor, but not doubt it's something I could use. I self-edit as much as I can before setting anything off to crit partners and beta readers.

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    1. That's good to hear. I know some beginning writers have this idea that it's an editor's job to do absolutely everything to clean up the manuscript. That's lazy thinking, right?

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  5. I get help from my family . . .some of whom have eagle eyes for typos, repetitive words, and awkward sentences.

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    1. Your best bet would to be work with an editor on the development stage--fixing big picture things that the average reader doesn't necessarily notice except when there's a problem.

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  6. I agree! I'm just too close to my own work to trust myself to see all the problems. I'm always amazed by what my CP's find that seem so obvious once pointed out, but which eluded me through several readings on my own.

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    1. I used to be surprised by mistakes I missed, now I just accept it as normal that I can't possibly catch everything. :-)

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  7. As writers, we're too close to our work. We need that second, third, fourth pair of eyes to take a look. It's like getting a second or third opinion for a medical issue. Always a good idea!

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    1. Even when I've put a manuscript away for a long time, I still have an emotional attachment to some aspect of the work, whether it's the characters as I imagined them, or a theme I care about, or particular scenes or phrases I toiled over. Those other sets of eyes are so crucial to creating a work that readers connect with, not only me.

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  8. Had to laugh at the comparison to home perms. Do they ever turn out well? lol

    You make a great point. I don't care how sharp we are, another perspective catches things we miss. Good post, thanks!

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    1. I suffered through a few terrible ones in late elementary school. My mom was obsessed with curly hair.

      I agree that getting additional eyes on our work is essential.

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  9. No way I could edit my own writing. That's why I have two test readers, three critique partners, and my publisher's editor!

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    1. I'm sure you do self-edit to a degree or you wouldn't have a publisher. I'm arguing against both extremes: an overly do-it-yourself approach and an "I'm so helpless" approach. Working with layers of help is a good way to go.

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  10. I'm pretty good at self editing; but I always miss simple stuff cuz I see how it "should" read not how it "does" read. I've had great crit partners too, and still had an editor point out stuff we all missed.

    Excellent advice Laurel.

    .....dhole

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    1. I know just what you mean. All my education and training still don't erase the mind's trick of seeing what it expects to be there. An objective set of eyes helps tremendously.

      I also think proofreading skill improves with practice. Those of us who edit professionally are hyper sensitive to punctuation and grammar because we hunt for it day in, day out.

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  11. I used to cringe when I saw those red-marks on my papers in college. But they were valuable remarks that taught me well! I agree that we should try to do our very best with our own editing before having another take a look for our errors.

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    1. Our ability to self-edit does improve with practice--it's good you saw lessons in your teacher's corrections rather than harshness.

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  12. I agree that it is very difficult to see your own mistakes. I guess the brain simply skips over them... Someone else can always see more clearly than you - and even then mistakes can still creep in.... Great post!

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    1. Have you seen that meme that keeps circulating around facebook that's chock full of errors, even missing many vowels, and yet 90% if readers can still make sense of it?

      It is a weird phenomenon. Our brains are pattern making, sense making machines--we do tend to see what *ought* to be there. Only by making something unfamiliar can we really catch problems. I tend to read my work aloud, out of sequence when proofreading.

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  13. I think this is very excellent advice. I was thinking it would probably be worth the investment to get a professional editor even before querying and putting a book on submission.

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    1. I suspect that many who dream of pubbing traditionally blow their chances by not investing in a professional edit. When there's so much competition, a really clean manuscript will win over an equally interesting story that's in need of massive editing.

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  14. I always have my critique partners go over my work before hitting the send button. There's always something I miss along the way.

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    1. It's great to have many sets of eye on our work for sure.

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  15. The surgeon example is a great way of looking at it. Having spent so long with our stories, I'm sure we only see what we want to see on the page!

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    1. Thanks, Deniz. The phenomenon of how our brain sees what it expects has made me very keen to get other eyes on my work as much as possible.

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  16. I self-edit and edit and edit and when it comes time it will go to an editor. I just hope to have it clean enough when it goes to a pro that they grit their teeth when reading it! LOL

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  17. Really great tips! I self-edit my stuff until I can't see straight anymore, then hand it over to my editor. :)

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  18. You make a great point. Just finished reading an e-book that looks like it went through a publisher but not an outside editor. It was so riddled with typos that it affected my opinion of the story and the writing. While I'll do all I can on my own, professional help will be sought when the time is right!

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