Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad into shape. She pointed out that the endings were too short, the middle was too long, told us which characters needed motivation or fleshing out, where we’d over-described, repeated ourselves, or missed some vital information. After our rewrite, she did a massive line edit, cutting, stretching and pulling those babies until they cried uncle and turned into halfway decent novels. And did we learn a lot from her! These days we rely on our two sets of eyes, multiple drafts and hard-won experience to get the story tight and hopefully catch any glaring errors. We might then send the book to one or two amazing friends who can be trusted to say things like ‘your hero’s a bit of a creep’ instead of just ‘it’s great, honest’. BTW, if you have discerning friends like that, never let them go. They’re pearls beyond price.

 

Then copy editors, what an amazing job they do. Who knew that you’d been misquoting Shakespeare or the words of that pop song for your entire existence? Or what year Madonna adopted her black biker jacket, cropped bleach hair, ‘bad girl’ look? How could the fact that your own heroine changed from blonde to a redhead halfway through the manuscript escape you? A copy editor will check facts, correct misspellings, grammar and punctuation, notice when you switch from British to American English, or say ‘10’ instead of ‘ten’, warn you of potential lawsuits and altogether bring clarity and consistency to every element of your manuscript.

 

In fact Ellie Campbell has been saved from all kinds of awkward bloopers by copy editors, and anything they might have missed (or we’ve introduced in the flurry of a last-minute re-write), our proofreader, Wendy Janes, will spot. Traditionally proofreaders come along at the end of the process, when the edited manuscript has been printed as a proof, looking out for printing errors, spotting those awkward word and page breaks – and of course the dreaded typos.

 

Meanwhile, about those typos – isn’t it amazing how you can read and re-read the book numerous times, scan each word line by line, yet still those little devils slip past you? Apparently the reason it’s so hard to spot your own typos is because your clever busy brain skips over details like transposed or missing letters because it knows the meaning you’re trying to convey and focusses on that. In other words it sees what it expects to see. And that, more than anything, is why we need outside help. But perhaps you have a different experience. Or another professional you – and your writing career – couldn’t live without?

 

‘Just for the Holidays’ hits the shelves!

JFTH Ebook cover smallPublication day!

Yes, today Just for the Holidays will be hitting shelves, shopping trolleys and e-readers. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, not just for me but for my agent, editor, publicists, assistants, sales team, cover artist and everybody else who’s involved in the publication of a book. Huge thank yous to every single one of them.

Thanks also to all the lovely readers who buy my novels and make my life as an author possible. Every book’s special to me and it fills me with joy when you contact me on social media to tell me what you thought.

So what’s Just for the Holidays about? It’s about Leah, who’s mad on cars and chocolate but not mad on the idea of a husband and children. She gets roped into looking after her sister’s husband and children with only a Porsche and a pilot to cheer her up.

What else can you expect to find within the pages? France, teenagers, more chocolate food technology, lovely sunshine, a Goth, furry creatures, an unexpected guest and a helicopter.JFTH Blog tour small

If you’d like to follow the blog tour, here’s the schedule.

 

‘My next book’ – all three of them

Question: which of these statements is true?

Answer: they all are.

How can that be? Because what constitutes ‘my next book’ depends upon the context of the conversation.

  • Just for the Holidays – ‘is my next book to be published’. (18 May 2017 in ebook, paperback and audio, if you’re interested. And you can order it here.) This is also the next book to be promoted, which will involve me in writing blog posts, social media, radio interviews etc.
  • Give Me Till Christmas – ‘I’ve just sent my next book to my editor’. (9 October 2017 in ebook, 2 November paperback, audio tba. I was a little shocked to be told last week that you can order this, too.) This will be the next book to be edited. Structural edits first (ironing out all the plot lines that aren’t quite working etc.); next come line edits (minutiae and punctuation etc.); finally the proofreading.
  • The Summer of Finding Out – ‘I’m just about to begin researching and planning my next book.’ (Scheduled for Summer 2018) This will be the next book to be written, in between the promo of Just for the Holidays and the editing of Give Me Till Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, I am no special case. Many novelists work in this way. Personally, I love it. I choose to see it not as a pressure but as an affirmation that I’m a commercially published author. I don’t groan when I’m asked to do promo because whoever has asked me is helping me to sell my books. I don’t go into a huff when I receive my editorial notes, line edits or proofreading because we’re all working to produce the best book I can. (That sentence is grammatically incorrect on purpose – a team works to produce my book. How cool is that?)

Lest you think I’m polishing my halo, there are things I don’t react well to – spurious interruptions, people wasting my time unnecessarily, unreasonable people etc. etc. Here’s a recent example:

Phone rings. I answer. It’s the bank, asking to speak to another member of my household, one who is out of the house during the working day. This is the fifth time in two days that they’ve called with the same request. The first four times, I pointed out politely that the person is not here because he doesn’t work here but I do. Please, could the bank stop these calls? They’re interrupting me. On the fifth occasion, I’m half way through a difficult scene and my temper snaps along with the thread of what I’m trying to write. I find myself rising vertically from my chair. ‘Look! I keep telling you that he doesn’t work here! I DO! Look in your records for his daytime number and RING HIM THERE! It’s DAYTIME! I’ve told you and told you and told you this and you persist in interrupting me! I’m self-employed and I’m TRYING TO DO MY JOB! Why don’t you GO AWAY AND DO YOURS? And if you’re stupid enough to ring here again with the same request I’m going to take all my money out of your bank and put it somewhere else. Plus, I’m going to speak to your supervisor and tell him or her that you’re stupid! Right?’

And, you know what, she didn’t ring back and I was able to get on with my next book.

The editing cave

I’ve been in my editing cave for the past three weeks. It’s sort of like a bear being in their hibernation cave… except bears tend to lose weight during hibernation. There is a shared reputation for being cranky when disturbed though…

Writing The End on the last page of a manuscript is NOT the end. It’s far from it. Every writer’s process is different. There’s no right way or wrong way, there’s just the way that works for the writer. So I thought I’d give you a bit of a look at my editing process… which explains my absence from Twitter and Facebook and the kitchen. It doesn’t explain why my office is messy though – my office is always messy.

Editing needs both old and new technology ... and many cups of tea.

Editing needs both old and new technology … and many cups of tea.

I tend to do a lot of editing as I go, so my first draft of the book is usually in fairly good shape structurally. But by the time I get to the end, there’s a lot I know about my characters and themes that I didn’t know when I started.

The first edit is just me and the computer. I read the book through from page one to The End, making changes as I go. This is to make sure the story works. This is the point at which I might change a plot point or move a scene. I look carefully at my characters during edit 1. I may change their speech or behaviour at the beginning of the book to match the people I now know them to be. I may add imagery. I sometimes find that I am adding an action or some dialogue because I need this to background something that I put in later in the book.

Edit two – I print out the whole book. I sometimes think this is a bit of displacement activity because it takes me the best part of the day to print it out, punch holes in the pages and put it into a ring binder.

Then I give myself a day or two off (if I can). I read something else just to clear my head of my own book. They I read my book as a reader – not as a writer. However, I do something I never do to another book – I scribble all over it. Coloured pencils are important here and post it notes. The coloured pencils are to the words or sentences I don’t like – those I have to rework. The post it notes are for plot or character points that still don’t work.

Then it’s back to the computer to fix those.

The old padded bags on top opf my bookcase hold the much scribbled on editing printouts of my books. I'm not sure why I am keeping them... I just can't throw them away.

The packages on top opf my bookcase hold the much scribbled on editing printouts of my books. I’m not sure why I am keeping them… I just can’t throw them away.

After I’ve done that, the book goes to my beta reader. For those who don’t know, a beta reader is a sort of test driver for books. The beta reader is someone you trust who will give an honest opinion about what works and what doesn’t in the book. I have one. Some people have two or three. My beta reader isn’t afraid to tell me it’s not perfect – or to write Cliché Hell in the margins of the manuscript. That’s the job.

So then it’s back to the computer for another round of edits which will this time include some spelling and punctuation.

Then I combine all my documents (I write each chapter in a separate document) into one big document. Run a final spell check across the whole thing. I also use the Find tool to check on my crutch words – the words I know I overuse. I will then delete many occurrences of the words ‘just’ and ‘really’.

At this point – it’s ready to go. Hitting send is a traumatic moment… but has to be done and leads to the next round of edits… the publishers edits.

The publisher assigns and editor who send the dreaded revision letter which always starts… ‘This is a wonderful book and your readers will love it…. BUT …’

The first round of publishers edits usually involved changes to character, plot and even structure. The second round will look at the writing – words and phrases that could be improved. Then we have copy edits – which is all about spelling, punctuation and those dratted semi-colons. Does this sound familiar?

Then the publisher does what publishers do – and the next thing I see are page proofs. So one again I read the whole book very very carefully, looking for any sneaky little errors that have slipped through the net or, eeek, errors made when the final printing file is prepared.

And some time after that (sometimes a long time) – a box arrives on my doorstep with books in it.

Many years ago, when I first started this writing journey, I heard an established writer say they had never read one of their books after it was published. I was horrified. After all that work, how could she not read her own book? Now I know. I have never read one of my books after it has been published.

My very first book - maybe one day I will read it again.

My very first book – maybe one day I willread it again.

Why?

By the time it’s published, I have read it so many times, that I just don’t want to read it again. I know how it ends.

I recently thought about going back and reading my very first book. But I didn’t do it. Like everything else, I think we become better writers as we go along, and I am afraid that all I will see in that first book are the flaws, and I’ll want to edit it just one more time.

And right now, I need to get out of my editing cave and back into the sunshine, because any day now, I’m going to decide it’s time to start the next book. If the meantime – for a more emotional view of my editing cave, pop on over to my website and blog – but be prepared to go awww! There is much cuteness there.

Whose story is this anyway?

I think I put so many POV character in my first novel because I didn't know it was a bad idea.

I think I put so many POV character in my first novel because I didn’t know it was a bad idea.

The people in my books are pretty pushy. Each one likes to make sure they get their story told the way they want it. That’s why I write books with multiple points of view.

If you’re not familiar with the term, point of view (POV) refers to the person through whose eyes the reader is looking into the story. The reader is in that person’s head, seeing what they see; feeling what they feel; and doing what they do.

One review of my first novel, The Farmer Needs A Wife said something like.. “there are about 6 POV characters, but it’s well handled and I didn’t find it confusing”. That was nice to know – but there were actually eight POV characters in that book.

Umm –no. There were nine. I forgot about the opening scene.

Nine POV characters! In my first book. What was I thinking?

A few fellow writers have asked how I managed them all. The answer is via a brilliant little graph. Please note – I take no credit at all for this method. It was passed on to me by the fabulous Annie Burgh – who writes complex, fascinating novels with lots of characters and plots and sub-plots. She is also a fabulous teacher. This is what she taught me to do…

Coloured pencils are vital!

Coloured pencils are vital!

When I start a new book, I take a page of graph paper and coloured pencils. The pencils are very important. I need a different colour for each character, whether they have a POV or not. I will sometimes put the colours in groups – for example a husband and wife might be dark and light green. Each has their own colour, but they are both green because they are connected.

As I finish each chapter, I draw a bar on the graph, just like back at school. The colour/s of the bar represent the POV character or characters and the height of the bar represents the number of words in each POV and each chapter… because sometimes there will be more than one POV per chapter.

The secondary characters (those who don’t get a POV) are little bits of colour above each chapter they appear in.

Thus I can make sure each of my main characters gets enough room in the book to tell their story well. I can also keep track of the secondary characters, so I don’t lose them.

If I suddenly realise that there has been too much of one colour, or not enough of another, I know I am letting one character get far too pushy – and I can slap them down a bit and put them back in their place.

If the colour representing my heroine (in the drawing below it is pink for Linda) is the most common colour, that’s a good sign.

If one of the chapters shows three or four changes of POV – that’s not so good. I do like to keep each POV section to somewhere around 1,000 words. I certainly would worry if I had a POV section less that 500 words. But that doesn’t happen often. As I said my characters are very pushy.

Here's the opening few chapters of a new Coorah Creek novel - characters old and new.

Here’s the opening few chapters of a new Coorah Creek novel – characters old and new.

I know I could do this more efficiently in a spreadsheet on my computer, but I think it’s important to reward yourself as you write. Those few minutes playing with coloured pencils are my reward for finishing a chapter.

I write the chapter number under the bar every 5 chapters , so when I am editing and referring back to something I’ve written, I know where to go. I will also sometimes write a word or two to remind myself what is in the chapter, but just for the key turning points in the novel.

Since that first novel, I have tried to get the number of POV characters down. My second book only had five. My third only three. But as two of them had two POV sections – one as a teenager and one as an adult – that sort of puts it back to five.

I really wasn’t terribly successful at cutting back the POV characters. I am currently working on a book that has… let me count them… 10? Maybe 11 by the time I have finished.

But this is a complex story! Honestly.

The important thing about handling multiple POVs in a book is that the reader must always know whose eyes they are looking through and whose thoughts they are hearing. There must be very clear handovers between POV characters. And of course, a character cannot know anything about something that happened when they were not present (unless you have someone like Trish Warren in your book – she is my Coorah creek gossip and makes sure all my characters know what they need to know.)

I truly admire writers who have only one POV character. Even more do I admire writers who first from the first person POV – that is to say, they write as ‘I’ … ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’.

I can’t do it, but perhaps that’s because for me, it’s the complexity of human nature, and the diversity of the people I meet that makes me want to write.

But I promise I won’t put more than 10 POV characters in a book. Ever…. Well, at least not until next time.