My First Mistake

Don’t make my mistake. I’m going to get ahead of myself, but I want to keep you, the reader, on the right track. I jumped from writing to publishing. There is so much more in between and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.

As a start-up, I wanted to do the economical thing, which meant do it myself. There are some things that can be done on your own, and some things I would highly recommend getting someone else to do. You can NOT edit your own work! Trust me, I tried and failed miserably. I have been an executive officer numerous times in the Air Force and I pride myself on my ability to catch typos and misplaced commas. It is totally different when it’s your own work! You read what you meant to write, not necessarily what you wrote. I had my school teacher sister proof read it, only to find out later that she felt bad picking at my work so she held back on me.

My work was published (I’ll circle back to that), but it had errors and could have been written so much better. As a matter of fact, I’m currently rewriting it because I don’t want people to read it and think that is a true representation of my best work.

So, this is what amistakes SHOULD have done. I am now a member of a writers’ group (free). We meet monthly, or try to at least, and present feedback to each other on our work. It has to be honest and complete feedback or it doesn’t do any good. My group has made me rewrite sections that don’t flow well, got me to see things from another viewpoint, and even helped me express the feelings of my characters with more detail. They have made me a much better writer. I hope I’m doing the same for them. That’s the first step. It’s about content, flow, and character enhancement.

I’m a fiction writer, but I’m sure some of these same lessons can apply for nonfiction. As a matter of fact, as an editor now myself, sometimes it works better if I don’t know the subject I’m reading about because it makes the writer explain it to me in simple terms. If I can follow the logic, the average reader should be able to.

Then someone has to truly edit it. You may be asking yourself, “doesn’t the publisher pay for the editing?” Yes, they might—if your manuscript is in good enough shape to make it through the proposal process. You have to get them to take you seriously from the beginning, and you have one chance to make a first impression. So get it edited. Prepare yourself for sticker shock, because editing is expensive! I won’t say whether or not I think editors are worth what they charge, but I will say they are necessary. And you get what you pay for.

I recommend that you always ask for cost quotes. Send out samples to a few different editors (sometimes they specify first chapter, so many words, etc) and see how quickly they respond and whether or not you like how they interact with you. If they take too long, or their comments are snippy, then that is not the right editor for you. You will be establishing a bond with your editor, so you better make sure it’s going to work for you.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say, or like it. Sometimes the truth hurts and you won’t like it. You have to step away from your labor of love and try to be objective about the comments being offered. At this stage in the game, you are still in control. You can choose to accept or reject the recommendations made. Choose wisely. Let me give you an example. In my second Jackie Austin book, I used too many military terms that were perfectly natural to me and made sense the way I wrote them. The suggestion was that I needed to explain more and use different terms. I felt that would detract from the military feel. That was one where I stepped back and looked at it from an outsider’s perspective and the editor was spot on. It took a while to rework the wording so we were both happy with it.

In my most recent Lady Tigers’ Series book, which is a youth fiction story about a girls’ fastpitch softball team, the editor said I had to add a boy character into the storyline or boys wouldn’t read it. I’m writing that sports series for young ladies; there are plenty of sports’ books for boys. I did not add a male character.

Next we’ll talk about finding an editor…