My Adventure in Self-Publishing: The Necessary Humbling of Editing

Dunce CapA lot of fantasies, daydreams, and rainbows cloud the world of writing. It’s not surprising; actually completely natural since we spend so much of our time making up stories as writers, why wouldn’t we have stories about the stories?

Have you ever seen that scene in a TV show or movie in which a writer finishes a book or script? The writer may raise his hands in triumph over an old typewriter or do a little dance; then we as viewers are then jumped forward in time to their inevitable success.

We don’t see the struggle over getting the book out, finding an audience, working with an agent or publisher or, more importantly, editing. And, let’s be honest, editing is not as exciting as the victory dance of a finished book or the sparks of coming up with ideas around a first draft.

Like I said, it’s a fantasy, people. I have even been known to say to writers that much of the art around true writing happens in the editing. It is there a work is “finetuned,” perfected into a final piece. Right now, I am working with an editor on my book Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (which I plan to self-publish later this year), and I will also be working soon with an editor from Madison Street Publishing on my novel A Jane Austen Daydream (which is set for publication this April).

So why do I love editing so much? Well, because I learned about its importance the hard way. Yes, I have an editing and writing horror story, and I am about to share it. Be prepared, this is about to haunt you like a poltergeist… a writing poltergeist.

My Horror Story

I entered the first year of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, and for those that don’t know, this is a contest amazon.com has each year to promote createspace and the idea of an “author” community, since a good part of the contest is writers reviewing each other’s works.

So my book was chosen to go onto the next round, which means a sample was available to the public (and other contestants) for review and I was “lucky” to have my book selected to be reviewed by an actual critic from Publishers Weekly!

Now here comes the horror story, the Publishers Weekly reviewer treated my book as if it was final published work, not a draft of a book in a contest. Consider that!

So instead of reviewing the plot, the characters, the themes, etc., the reviewer pretty much spent all their words attacking my grammar.

It is a draft of a book in a contest, you jackass reviewer, what did you expect!?!

Okay, take a deep breath, Scott; I still have some issues there, it seems. Well, I was so embarrassed by the reviewer I had my work removed from the competition and consideration and taken off the amazon page for it, just so I could save that blasted unfair review from tainting my book for years to come.

And that is why I will always use an editor.

The Three Kinds of Editors

As I noted before, I am working with editor Becky T. Dickson (You can visit her website here to learn about her services and career, or try one of these links: “Fear I want to write but” and “Who the hell is Rebecca T. Dickson?”) on my novel Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare and the experience is going great. She is the kind of editor I appreciate, in other words she is reading the book (experiencing the book as a book) while also catching editing mistake, repetitions, and writing errors.

See, I’ve found there are three different kinds of editors out there:

  1. The Clones. We all know these editors! We give them some writing and they return it covered in red ink, every word and sentence changed. These editors are dangerous in my opinion since they are (probably without realizing it) changing the voice of the author from their own to… well, the editor’s voice. And another clone is born.
  2. Yellow Brick Road. These are the editors I like to work with, like Becky, they recognize your book as a book, catch mistakes, but don’t edit to the point of changing your voice. They leave it as your book, but better and cleaner. If you work with an editor like this, stay on the path to the end, you will arrive at the book you want.
  3. Too Nice For Their Own Good. These editors will make you feel great about yourself. They will pat you on your back, but they will miss so many overarching mistakes, just merely scanning for grammar and spelling mistakes. There is even a good chance they won’t really even read your book, too focused on just looking for common errors (its vs. it’s, for example). On a side note, when you ask for a family member or friend to edit your book, chances are you will get back a manuscript like this. Oh, it feels nice, but it will never be enough. Never ever.

Do yourself a favor before you self-publish, do the research to find the best editor for you and your book, and save the victory dance for later.

My Editing of Maximilian

Working with Becky has been a lot of fun. She has a very “bold” way of editing calling a spade a spade… No, better yet, calling a spade a f**king spade.

Want another reason why it is important to have an editor? Well, the first thing Becky noticed is I was misspelling Maximilian’s name. If you heard a loud “thump” noise coming from Michigan two weeks ago, that was the sound of my head hitting my desk.

She was right! I thought I was using the same spelling as Daphne Du Maurier did in Rebecca, but I wasn’t. (You can even see this lovely mistake of mine in my fiction sample and articles about it on this site.) And from that moment of revelation we were off!

Becky has a nice way of doing this, using bold and highlighting to draw attention to her changes and asking the occasional question. One thing I am appreciating is that she is able to point out repetitions in my writing. All of us writers do this, it is not surprising. We get stuck on a certain expression or word and we run with it, feeling as natural as the pretzels and coke nearby the computer as we type (well, that is me).

One thing Becky has been doing that I find interesting and new is pointing out each time I use “There is” at the start of a sentence. Now, the funny thing is my first reaction is to feel protective of “There is.” Heck, one of my favorite lines in Hamlet begins that way:

There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.

That’s Shakespeare people!

But in changing a sentence away from it, I notice that the descriptions improve, become richer. So I am making some of these changes.

That is not to say I am making all of the changes the editor is requesting. A writer shouldn’t, they are suggestions. For example, Becky doesn’t like some of the “cliches” I use in the book, but they are intentional. See it is a period pulp work in its essence (hiding a very experimental book of literature underneath), so a book of that style would have cliches like that. It’s part of the norm.

But see that is what an editor is for, not just for catching our writing “oops” moments, but also for making us rethink our work, make it stronger, and I can see that in every finished chapter Becky e-mails to me.

Starting to Think About Cover Art

When I think of Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (first name spelled correctly), I usually like to think of a pulp thriller cover.

See a big part of the story involves Maximilian and his cohorts staying at a cursed castle. So maybe the image of a carriage riding up to a large terrifying gothic castle? Maybe even having some kind of a tagline on the top of the cover like:

What will Maximilian find at the dreaded McGregor castle…

Or it might be more fun to think about something visually interesting related to London streets and fog. I’m still debating this kind of stuff and considering looking into cover artist options for it. If you are a cover artist and would like to talk to me about the work, please feel free to comment below or e- mail at ajad.southard@gmail.com.

Of course, I also have to start thinking of what self-publishing printer I want to work with, and there are a lot to choose from. All in good time really, I don’t need to get ahead of myself.

I have more writing to correct.

Seriously, I got the name wrong???

If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!…

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16 responses

  1. You’re not the only one. I misspelled the name of one of my minor characters up to (at least) the fifth draft before I realized it (Chilon instead of Chilion). Glad you found a good editor. I’m looking forward to reading more of your books–I’ll get to them after contest season/second semester.

  2. Though I’ll agree that family typically isn’t the best place to go for good critique, my sister (an excellent writer herself) is actually one of my more useful editors. She’ll catch the objective blunders as well as plot/character/continuity issues, and doesn’t shy away from writing things like “this is f***ing stupid and makes no sense” in red under my text. As an added bonus, she’s probably the pickiest person I know, so if I can get her to like something, it’s probably O.K. (>^-‘)>

    My general rule for receiving suggestions is to consider every one of them seriously, and take about half of them. If don’t take any, you’re probably being stubborn, and if you take all of them, you probably don’t have a solid grasp on your style or story.

    And now you’ve got me curious about the issue with “there is”. I assume demonstrative ‘there’ isn’t the problem (e.g., “There’s my house!”). Nor do I see a meaningful distinction between its sentence-heading status in “There was a cup in his hand.” vs. “In his hand there was a cup.” Rather, my guess is something against fifth-person/expletive subject constructions. Some, to be sure, are easy enough to rephrase (“It was a bad idea to go inside.” to “Going inside was a bad idea.”), but others only at the cost of awkwardness (“There’s no reason to fight.” to “A reason does not exist to fight.”), and some not at all (“It is snowing outside.”). Anyway, I could go on a tirade about artificially limiting expression, but suffice it to say, our minimally-inflected language has these formations for a reason.

      • I…can’t seem to find it (on further thought, though, that’s probably for the best; I imagine I’d just end up getting annoyed). But I like the site in general. Stylistic incompatibilities aside, she looks like a fun person to work with!

      • I see. I suppose I must offer a few counterpoints, then.

        The core of your argument – to use colorful, descriptive language when possible – I certainly agree with, but to point at expletive subjects and demonstrative pronouns as scapegoats for doing otherwise is misleading. One could easily extend your logic to, let’s say, personal pronouns:

        Yawn: “He handed it to her” (Huh?)
        Good: “John handed it to her” (Hmm.)
        Better: “John handed it to Sally” (Oh.)
        Best: “John handed the book to Sally” (Got it.)

        But pronouns exist to provide levity. Consider the preceeding sentence – “John picked up Sally’s book.” In context, the first option is perfectly clear, and the least cumbersome.

        Your main issue is with expletive (“dummy”) subject constructions. They have their place, though. Let’s take a look at the very first sentence of the excerpt you posted from your own novella – “It’s lunchtime on Wednesday.” And two sentences later – “It’s insane that in a minute or so[…]” And several more examples throughout the passage. Both of these are utilizing an expletive subject (syntactically equivalent to ‘there’), but does that make them inherently confusing or boring? Not in my opinion, at least.

        Again, I completely support the sentiment behind what you’re trying to convey, but bypassing the root issues in favor of absolute declarations like “Never use _____” is something I simply find to be a destructive habit.

      • Interesting discussion. And I admit its the first time I heard the “there” argument. Some of the changes definitely helped, but I have kept a few. In my writing I’m all about the pace and rhythm, and sometimes having a word more descriptive can throw off the meter if that makes sense. Of course I could be crazy.

      • No, I’m with you – the rhythm and flow of a sentence or passage can be an important consideration, which is one of the reasons I’m not too keen on the idea of artificially limiting one’s available phrasing options. (>^-‘)>

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