Monday, December 10, 2012

When your self-editor's giving you grief

I can't afford a developmental editor. I think that's common to most self-publishers; while we acknowledge the necessity of paying for copyediting before our books go to press, a great editor to work alongside us as we shape and craft our novels is a far-off luxury costing $thousands, a fantasy item to be acquired one day when our books are bringing in $thousands per month rather than $hundreds.

Critique groups and/or partners are a great but partial solution to the problem, because you can only realistically expect other busy writers to read and critique a small part of your novel unless they have agreed to be a beta reader, and even then you can only really ask them to read your novel ONCE. The Big Picture editing that should come at the beginning of the project...doesn't.

So up to a certain point, a self-publisher's only editor is herself, and we all know how deceptive our inner selves are. Either your inner monologue's telling you you're the GREATEST WRITER EVER and you need to ignore all those little niggles that are telling you something's wrong, or she's sitting on your back pronouncing you the WORST WRITER EVER and softly whispering that you should give up and go get a real job.

Somewhere in between those destructive entities (and I would argue that the inner self who tells you you're wonderful is just as dangerous as the Yousuck Monster) is the voice of your real inner editor, the one who's read all those great books by other people and KNOWS how a good story should look. The one who reads your own book reviews and has a clear-headed view of what works with readers and what doesn't. The one who's paying attention when you're writing your reviews of other people's work.*

Now when you're writing a first draft, your Inner Editor should be shut in a box, otherwise you'll never get anything written. But at some point, dearie, you're going to have to let that witch out and let her take a look at what you've written. And the longer you ignore her, the worse it's going to be in the long run. So one day you're just going to have to agree to The Meeting. The self-publisher's equivalent of the editorial letter. The one that may make you cry. It's incredibly painful because you have to split yourself into two; the writer who really just wants to be done with the manuscript and move on to the Holy Grail of Publication, and the editor who's telling you your MS is just not good enough--yet.

Yep. That's just where I am. I'm gearing up for The Meeting. Editing of Eternal Deception, the sequel to The House of Closed Doors, was going fine up to a point. But I was uneasy. I noted I was finding lots of excuses NOT to work on the book, which has been easy to do in a year filled with incident and family stresses, not to mention the peculiar stress of publishing which is a roller-coaster ride in itself.

And then at some point a few weeks ago, I sent a memo to myself. Do you remember memos? Mine looked something like this:

MEMORANDUM
To: Author-Self
From: Editor-Self
Date: A Few Weeks Ago
Subject: Eternal Deception

Look, Author-Self, you've got to get your head out of the sand. We're just not happy with this book, are we? I mean, it's got its good points, but is it entirely what our readers deserve? The ones who are waiting for the sequel? We both know that there are some major weaknesses that need to be addressed, and that means going back to the beginning and doing some re-writing.

Now stop crying. Yes, I KNOW you had almost finished the second editing pass and were looking forward to sending the MS to your beta readers and working on book 3. I KNOW you wanted to get this book published ideally before the end of 2012 and certainly no later than about February 2013.

But my job is to help you produce the best book you can, and I've just got to be hard on you. It's tough love because I love you, really I do. No, stop screaming. I DO NOT HATE YOU. Suck it up and sit back at that desk.

So it's time to schedule The Meeting. Please let me have a few possible dates.

Best,

Your Inner Editor

It's a horrible, paralyzing feeling to know that you've got to go through with The Meeting. And so easy to put off when your adversary is you and we're both feeling tired. (This is beginning to sound a bit schizophrenic, isn't it? I'm just trusting that many of you are writers and you'll understand.) To make things worse, I'm near the end of the second editing pass but I KNOW it's useless to work forwards until I've gone back and made the necessary changes, which means I have to work on a hybrid animal a bit like a zebralope or elehamster.

So there you go: the most long-winded way of saying The Book's Not Ready Yet that I could dream up. On the positive side, I have secured a designer for the print version of The House of Closed Doors; there is a short delay while he copes with that best of all problems, too much work, but once he's out from under it all we'll be cracking on with making a beautiful book that I can actually SIGN. *floats on dreamy pink cloud of author-fantasy involving crowds of adoring fans*

So bear with me if you're a reader, and think of me face to face with my inner self. One of us is crying.


*Which, incidentally, is one of the main reasons why I think self-publishers should not only be even more enthusiastic readers than other writers, they should also be critics. As Sir Francis Bacon said, "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." I would lump writing reviews under conference, because in a sense you're opening a conversation with both the writer of the book you're critiquing and other readers. Defining what, to you, does and does not work in someone else's book is a great lens through which to look at your own work.

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