Category Archives: Editing

The Essential Checklist for the Self-Published Author

It’s an unfortunate thing that there’s a stigma associated with self-publishing.  I don’t think most people look at a self-employed plumber and say, with a shake of their heads, “Gosh.  I guess he must not be good enough to cut it at a big plumbing company.”  Most of us, I think, are happy to support these brave, self-employed souls and others like them because a) they give you great service/products, b) they give you great value, and c) they’re living the American dream, man!!!!

Okay.  So what about self-published authors?

We’re definitely living the American dream.


Great quality products?  Not so much, sometimes.

Great value?  Well, if you’ve just shelled out $14.95 for a book riddled with typos and grammar that would make a seven-year-old schoolboy blush, that’s not value.  Not even remotely.

If you are an author and are ready to take full control of your writing career by taking the self-publishing plunge, do us all a favor — your fellow authors and readers alike — and make sure you work through the following list before you bless the world with your work.

Run spellcheck.   (No, this is not a joke.) 

I recently had the privilege of judging for a self-published writer’s contest, and I was absolutely stunned by what I saw.  Not only had some of these authors shelled out for the entry fee, but they actually have their work out there.  In the marketplace.  Circulating in the sea of commerce…or at least floating with the aid of buoys.  Please, for the love of all that is holy, run spellcheck on your book before you waste your time and money and your readers’ time and money.

Get an editor.  (This isn’t a joke either.) 

If you are well-versed in things grammatical and know your stuff, at least get a friend to beta-read for you.  It’s really invaluable.  You just can’t catch every inconsistency or flub.  A literary (or at least literate) friend with a fresh pair of eyes will help you spot them.

If you aren’t well-versed in comma usage, or the use of capital letters, or when to use an exclamation point, then please (please) hire a professional editor to help you.  I promise, it’s worth it.  If you care about what you’re putting out there with your name on it, it’s worth it to make sure your product is top notch.

Editors can help you with content as well.  Make sure you have someone who will tell you if your characters are flat, your plot redundant or boring, or your universe stale.  Take your book to a critique group and ask them to help you improve your story.  Be humble and accept criticism.  It will make you a better writer and help you produce a better product for your customers (your readers).

Writing is a craft.  It takes work.  It takes practice.  It requires study.  Anyone can type words on paper; not everyone can write.  If you want to be a writer, take some classes, belong to a writer’s group (even if it’s an online one), attend writers’ conferences, or just make a point to study your craft!  Take your work seriously and readers will take you seriously.

Double-check your formatting (interior and exterior).

Make good use of your proof copy.  Give it an honest read.  Look for stuff like funky spacing, blank pages, or floating chapter glyphs that appear mysteriously in the middle of your text.  Looking at the page — whether it’s on an e-reader or in hard copy — is part of the experience of reading.  Give your reader text that’s easy on the eyes, and they will love you for it.

Similarly, have a cover that conveys your story.  Covers sell books, so be sure you give yours the attention it deserves.

Have a marketing plan.

This would be necessary even if you scored a book contract from a publisher.  You need to know how to get your book into the hands of your readers.  Start contemplating venues for book signings early on in the process.  Start tweeting.  Get a Facebook page.  Work on building a fan base.  Think outside the box.  Be creative!

Marketing, for many authors, is like Edward Rochester’s crazy first wife, locked away and never looked at or let out if it can be helped.  Face the monster.  It’s just part of the writing process.

What’s that?

Oh, I see.

You thought writing was an easy career.  Effortless, as it were.

It’s not.  It’s a lot of work.  Beautifully rewarding work…but work.

Spellcheck and proofread your book.

Yes, I said that already.  It’s that important.

Self-publishing and the ebook revolution are changing the face of publishing as we know it.  Let’s follow the example of the savvy self-employed craftsman: put out a good quality product, make it a good value, and chase down that American dream!


Well, S.K. is on vacation so you’re stuck with another blog post from me.  (Hope you’re enjoying the beach, S.K.  Without me.  Yep…enjoying mojitos on the beach, with the waving palm trees and parrots……without me….).  (I’m only slightly jealous.  Slightly.)

Anyway.  Angsting aside, I just read a fabulous blog post by Jane Friedman called Why Take the Time to Read Your Work Out Loud?  As the title suggests, she talks about how important it is for writers to read their works aloud as part of the editing/polishing process.  Most of the comments that I read concur with her argument…as did I.

I completely agree with what Jane Friedman and her commenters said about reading aloud.  Kind of like changing the font and the page layout, reading out loud makes you see the text of the story in a different way.  I think maybe your brain receives the information differently when it is heard rather than read.  I can read the same chapter twenty times, skimming it over in my word processor, but when I start reading it aloud, all of a sudden I hear the poetry of the text (for lack of a better word).  How it flows, how the sounds fall, how the sentences roll off the tongue…or get stuck on it like a piece of dog fur.  Like the others noted, I get a sense of where I get bored, or where the descriptions don’t work, or the dialogue sounds clunky or repetitive…or even those places where I accidentally wrote in inconsistencies (“Wait, she’s sitting down, but a paragraph ago she was standing up….”).  It’s also great for catching typos that I would otherwise unconsciously ignore.

But the post and comments got me thinking about something else.

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When Good Stories Go Bad…

Well, “bad” may be a bit harsh.  And maybe what I want to talk about today isn’t so much when a formerly good story becomes a mutant monster of epic proportions.  What I want to talk about is something I have a bit more experience with — when a good story idea starts bad.

You see, of the writing projects I’ve spent the most time on in my life, the majority found their origins sometime during my teenage years.  In the case of Down a Lost Road, I was 12 years old when I got the idea, based off a creepy dream I had.  The Grey Tide?  My earliest draft dates from when I was 10.  Oathbreaker began when I was about 14.

Now, why do I lump all these three novels into this rather unflattering category of bad-starts?  Well, the reason is obvious.

Maybe the story had good elements.  Maybe it was the characters.   Maybe the core of the plot.  Maybe the world I imagined for them.  In any case, they all had some aspect that intrigued, captivated, or mystified me.  But none of those things are enough for me, looking back on those earliest drafts, to call them “good.”  They were childish.  Immature.  Cliched.  Predictable.  They sounded like they had been written by a young person with no real experience of the world — which is precisely true.

Funny how you get a perspective on things as you get older.

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Crossing the Finish Line

You’ve typed the last sentence, added the last end punctuation. You sit back with a satisfied sigh and hit save. It’s finished…finally.

Isn’t it?

Not quite.

The editing process is probably the most arduous and time-consuming part of the craft of writing.  And indeed, as we all know, he who refuses to edit is a fool. But there’s a funny thing about editing. It’s like a singularity — a black hole. Once you get sucked in, you may never come out again…or, if you do emerge, it may be in a totally different place in writerly space/time. So how do you balance the necessity of editing with the dangers of becoming consumed by it? How do you know when you’re finished…really and truly finished?

Part of this depends on where you are publishing. If you write for a magazine or have an editor at a publishing house, then you can be assured that whatever you send will not be exactly what is printed. Editors will tweak.  They can’t help themselves. (I know — I was one.) With that understanding, your job as a writer is to send them something that meets the following basic criteria:

  1. It has NO grammatical mistakes…at all.  Zero.
  2. It fits within the parameters of the assignment.  Don’t submit a 2,000 word piece for a 500-word column.  Or a 750 page novel to an imprint that only publishes 300-400 page manuscripts.  Your editor does not love you that much.  I promise.
  3. It makes sense.  Your plot lines are logical, your characters consistent, your timeline flawless.

But what if you plan to self-publish?  How do you know when enough is enough?

In situations like these, a writers’ critique group or good friend can be invaluable. (No.  Your dog does not count.  He must be able to read for himself.)  Make sure you’ve met the three basic criteria above and then submit it to the group or give it to your friend for a read-through.  When we have lived within a story’s world for months (years?), we lack perspective.  We know our characters inside and out.  We know the plot so well that we mentally fill in any gaps…sometimes neglecting to fill them in on the page as well.  Your critique group can spot them and you can adjust before any of your readers suffers death by narrative fissure.  Once you’ve made the suggested corrections, do another read-through yourself.  If you still have any friends left after the first go-round, buy them a latte and ask them to read it again.  Make the final changes and consider yourself done.

Another option worth considering is to hire a freelance editor to go through your work with a fine-tooth comb.  This is especially worth investigating if you aren’t confident enough in your grammatical prowess to handle step #1 on your own.  Freelance editors can do anything from a simple proofreading for grammatical errors to full-blown editing (suggesting storyline adjustments, content changes, etc.) and everything in between.  The drawback?  You need cash to hire one.  (They don’t work for lattes.)  And the larger the project and more extensive your needs, the higher the price.  But it could pay big dividends if your brilliantly polished piece lands a solid contract.

There you have it.  It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.  Editing is necessary and should be undertaken with care, but it should not become all-consuming.  So take heart, writers, and do not fear the editing process!  Hold your heads high and cross that finish line with confidence!