Sunday, September 9, 2012

Become a better writer. Learn how to edit.

Presently I’m editing two books at a time. This involves my new mystery, ‘The Art of Murder,’ which is the second in a series, and ‘Horse Catcher,’ a science fiction novel originally written in the spring of 2008.

It’s good to be able to go back and forth between two different projects. I just finished the mystery, and I can only look at it so many times before the page starts to swim in front of my eyes. After leaving it for two or three weeks, I opened it up and started work, and within the first thirty pages I made numerous minor changes to the text. Because I didn’t know it off by heart any more, I was forced to read it with fresh eyes rather than just skim through with my attention wandering.

When I published my first two e-books in 2010, I spent ten months editing them side by side. I started writing sometime before September 1983, when I went back to school at about age 25. For most of those years I just puttered around, but I submitted my first few books about a hundred and twenty-five times. A couple of vanity publishers were interested, and a couple of the books got some interest from a respectable Canadian publisher. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it.

I had plenty of insecurity about the work. By this time, I had surrounded myself with all kinds of writers on Facebook, some of them pretty famous, and I suppose some diffidence is understandable.

The fact is, the books needed a lot of work. Now I can edit a book in about a month, but at some point the attention begins to wander, and so I go off and do other things. In terms of man-hours, at least a hundred or a hundred and fifty hours of editing go into one of my books. It doesn’t all have to be in the same month.

There are times when I read an opinion, and the person is talking about all the ‘unedited’ independently-published works out there, and while most of the time I can take it in proper spirit, there are times when it really does bug me.

If you want a well-edited book, you either pay someone else to do it, or you do it yourself. If you can’t afford to pay, or if you simply don’t have the skill or the aptitude, then you really are up a creek. Your only choice then is to either learn how or live with the results. Incidentally, paying money for professional editing is no guarantee of big sales. You can write badly, pay a ton of cash for editing, do the work, and someone will read your books and tell you that you’re ‘a great writer.’ Maybe that’s true. It’s also true that you might succeed. It might go ballistic.

In my case, I wanted to learn anyway. I don’t hang up a shingle as an editor, because I really don’t have a long list of qualifications or publishing credits to establish my credentials. There are plenty of editors out there. It’s very competitive, and I would still have to charge $35.00 an hour. $70.00 an hour would be better, and the fact is I don’t want to do it anyway. Think of what I would be letting myself in for. I would edit someone’s book, and then maybe they get a few bad reviews, and I’m not interested in all the angst that might go along with all of that.

We learn by listening. We learn by reading, and we learn by doing. We learn by any number of means. However, I am far better off to be able to edit my own work, even though I really don’t claim to be an editor.

What happens, is that I am becoming a better writer—a much better writer. That’s all I really want out of the editing skills.

It is a way to become a better writer.

And if you want to learn how to write, then by all means, write. If you want to learn how to edit, you either go to school, get a job as a junior editor, or edit your own stuff. If you want to learn how to write well, set very high standards for yourself.

If you want to learn how to edit, grab a manuscript, any manuscript, and start editing. The first thing that you will find is that you don’t automatically know the answer to every question that an observant person can come up with. And so you look it up, ask a question, Google a few key words and phrases. Then you go back and look at that danged book again.

You submit a few short stories around, enter a few contests, and take every bit of criticism and rejection as a positive thing. It can really hurt sometimes. It is the path to learning.

Anything can be criticized. And anything can be improved. While some may quibble that I could have done a little more of this, and taken out some of that, I am pleased with the results in terms of subsequent writings. My ninth novel was better-written than my first two, right out of the box, and this was before I ever started ‘editing.’

Will everybody love ‘The Art of Murder?’ Probably not, and I can still think of one or two valid criticisms myself. It’s fairly short at around 62,000 words, and any book could be made longer and more complex. By the standards of the genre, it holds up well enough when compared to famous and long-dead writers of genre fiction.

There will be valid criticisms of ‘Horse Catcher.’ It goes with the territory.

When I write a book, it is a unique artistic achievement. No one else could have written that book.

There are no acknowledgements in the front of my books.

Here is an example of 'Dense Prose.'

Here is a before and after edit of one scene from 'Horse Catcher.' < (Note: Louis re-read this later and added the final apostrophe. -ed.)

Comments are always welcome. I don't have a donate button on this site. The best thing anyone could do to help an independent author is to buy one of their books.

Incidentally, if you need help with editing, or have a question, the best people to ask are the ones making all the blanket statements and disparaging reviews on Amazon and other sites. They know what they're talking about, assuming you can penetrate their identity or locate them or whatever. I'm sure they'd be glad to help.

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