How can you help your editor help you?
(Note: Much of this material was presented at one of the weekly chats at The Wild Rose Press, so some of the remarks may be directed more toward the authors contracted there.)
One of the most important things to remember is that getting your book published is a group effort. Even if you are self-pubbing, unless you are extremely savvy about all aspects of the process, you will require the services of an editor or editors, proofreader, cover artist, and formatter, and probably a few other folks as well.
A lot of times I see authors bemoan the long process of shepherding their story to publication, but it’s important to remember all of the steps that are involved (blurb, tag line, cover, excerpt, editing, editing, and more editing, preliminary galley, copy edit, final galley, production) and to do your best to be timely about your tasks.
Remember that integration with the other departments’ schedules is a delicate balancing act, so it’s better to be early than late with your deadlines, whenever possible.
Also, it should go without saying, but just in case you need a reminder, PLEASE treat your editor with respect and in a professional manner, because it is our intention to treat you that way as well.
Polish the story until it shines, let it sit for a period of time, and then check it again!
Check your story for a complete arc…a conflict, a connection, a resolution. Does each chapter start with an attention-catching event, continue to sprinkle clues without being an info dump? Are the sentences complete (with a subject, verb, and object)?
Have your beta readers/honest critique partners give feedback.
Do your own checklist (include things you are frequently receiving corrections about, words that are commonly misspelled or repeated, etc.)
Learn from previous edits
Take classes in grammar, deepening POV, character sketches, etc.
Respect our time. Try to put all concerns in a single e-mail, then give us time to research and answer.
Use Track Changes as directed.
Publicize the story
Learn from what didn’t work and continue to improve.
Ok, those are the basics. Please remember that we editors are individuals and each have our own style, so certain things that one editor emphasizes may be different from what another one prefers. Prolific author Cynthia Sax has a nice summary on types of editors and the author’s responsibility (and be warned, flatters me!) at this link.
If you are a contracted author, please make sure you have absorbed the information in the Self-Editing guidelines or style guide that you have been provided.
The guide contains the company standards, and it is important that you realize these are the rules we editors follow, so DO NOT argue with us about what you were taught in someone else’s class or told by someone else.
It is frustrating and time-consuming and pointless to expect us to make an exception for you. We are expected to comply with the company’s standards, and by extension, you are as well.
Many of the rules are based on the Chicago Manual of Style, so you may wish to get your own copy or subscribe to the online version.
Before you submit:
Your story needs to be as polished as possible. If you are still working out the kinks, figuring out your characters’ names/roles/motivations, planning the arc of the series, etc., then it is too soon to submit.
Take the time to write out a synopsis that details the main theme and conflict, any significant characters, the turning points of the story, the climax, and the resolution.
Please polish the synopsis so that it makes sense and adheres to rules of grammar and syntax. Include the resolution.
This is not a blurb to encourage the reader to read the story…we actually do want to know how things turn out, lol.
You and your honest critique partners or beta readers should have discussed the story and you should have corrected any issues that were noted BEFORE you submit.
It’s important to have people who aren’t afraid to tell you (nicely) when things aren’t working. Ideally, you should have several people you can trust review the story to make sure it flows well.
Check for clarity. Is there a goal, motivation, and conflict? Is there a logical resolution? Is the writing tight enough to keep the reader’s attention until the final page?
Are you showing or telling? Is the point of view deep? If you haven’t already consulted it, there is a great overview at: https://bystacydawn.blogspot.com/2018/10/demystifying-deeper-pov-part-one-dont.html
I’m of the opinion that most dialogue tags should be replaced with action tags that help give depth to the character or provide more information.
Do you have disembodied body parts (rolling eyes, arms sliding, hands reaching) or redundant actions (sitting down, standing up, bending down)?
Have you checked for head-hopping? Ideally the point of view should not be changed more than once or twice in a chapter (and certainly NOT every other paragraph).
Then you should do a careful review to check for grammatical and typographical issues. Are your sentences complete? Occasional exceptions are made to help increase the tension, but they should be just that…exceptions.
There are multiple sites that have checklists to aid in polishing one’s story and you should also have your own list of common errors that have been noted, including homonyms (lightening vs. lightning, mantle vs. mantel, discreet vs. discrete, etc.).
Don’t forget to convert to American English (gray not grey, endeavor not endeavour, forward not forwards, etc.)
Reading your story aloud will help you catch things that your eye skips over, it will give you an idea of how your audiobook will sound and whether names are sounding too similar or if your characters’ “voices” sound too much alike, AND it will help you catch info dumps.
If there is too much exposition and “telling” instead of showing, this will become apparent when your attention starts wandering while listening.
Once you are contracted (congrats!):
Track Changes techniques. Please familiarize yourself with Microsoft Word and Track Changes. Unless instructed otherwise, leave Track Changes on once you are in formal edits with your editor.
SAVE your work frequently and back it up to a removable drive or external storage source. Follow your editor’s instructions on how to handle his or her suggested changes.
Do NOT change the file names except to add whatever is needed to indicate this is your revised version.
e.g. If you are sent a file named “yourtitle first pass” please do NOT change it to “yourtitle second pass.” Confer with your editor, but usually change to something like “yourtitle first pass author revisions.”
Please pay attention to the requirements for the excerpt length (1000 characters—including spaces), blurb (an identification of each character, main conflict), and tagline (single attention-getting sentence that applies to the overall story).
If you are a new author, this may sound overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that you want your story to shine and catch the editor’s, and ultimately, the reader’s, attention.
We, like you, are juggling multiple roles. Please remember that we only have so many hours in a day to work on edits, so if you are sending an e-mail once an hour, and then another e-mail to see if we received the first e-mail…we may not have time to work on the edit itself if we are bogged down in answering questions.
If possible, wait several days and gather all of your questions in a single e-mail and then be patient while waiting for a response. Most of us do our best to answer e-mails within 3 business days. (yes, I have had trouble with that, therefore I say MOST of us, lol).
There are multiple online resources to assist in polishing your story that are often free.
My local library system gives me access to a myriad of online courses that are usually free provided one has a library card. Local colleges often have writing courses.
There are sites that have tips for authors if one subscribes to their blog. Keep learning. I enjoy following author Jami Gold and editor Beth Hill (although I am not sure she is posting current content).
You may be wondering, how does this help the editor help you when you have done all of the work?
When you have taken care of the little details, the edit can progress more efficiently, the editor can concentrate on the overall picture and not get bogged down by minutiae.
If you’re not sending multiple e-mails a day, the editor can focus on editing.
You are entitled to discuss items that you are concerned about, and to defend your “voice,” but please remember that we editors want you to present YOUR story to the world in the best light we can help you achieve.
It’s a collaboration, but we have guidelines we are required to follow, and that means you will have to as well.
Once you have done all of this to produce the best story possible, please don’t forget to publicize your work.
This should start well in advance of the actual release date, and most of you are off to a great start because you are networking with other authors who can share their successes and failures and help spread the word in exchange for you doing the same for them.
Finally, here are a couple of links that have tips on polishing your story.