Editing the Heck Out of Your Indie Novel – Part Three: 3rd Draft to Print

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This is part three in what’s shaping up to be a four-part series. If you missed part one, which mainly covers WHY you should take extra pains in editing your indie novel, you can read it here. Part two, covering initial revisions and rounding up good first readers, is here.

 

 

Step Five

Send it to your beta readers. This group should look for both story problems AND technical problems. While you wait for feedback from this group, round up yet another group of beta readers. This last group should contain your eagle-eyed grammar cop friends, because they’ll be focusing mainly on looking for technical errors. These last two groups might sound redundant, but believe me, the interim group is necessary. They’ll catch things the first readers missed as far as story problems, and also get you well under way to a clean and polished fourth draft.

Step Six

Repeat Step Four with the latest round of feedback. This time, as you read through your manuscript and make edits, you’ll want to go through the whole thing, sentence by sentence. Start by doing a blanket find & delete of words you know you tend to overuse. Read every sentence and paragraph and justify every word, every dialogue attribution, every piece of punctuation, every chapter break and paragraph break and scene break. Read it aloud to yourself — especially the dialogue — to make sure nothing is stilted or awkwardly written.

Once you’re satisfied, or you just can’t stand to look at it anymore, celebrate completing your fourth draft and send it to the last group of beta readers.

Step Seven

Protip: don’t send it to this entire group at once. Send it to the majority, but hold off on sending it to the most trusted and eagle-eyed members of the group. Once you get the initial feedback, go through the manuscript again, formatting it for publication and fixing any errors they pointed out as you go.

Now that it’s all formatted and proofed, send it to the last of your beta readers. If possible, send it to them in its final format. Send one an e-book file and send the other a paperback proof copy. Have them look for formatting errors as well as typos and grammar & spelling errors. This is important, as these things WILL come back to bite you when people start leaving reviews.

If they find errors, fix them. Order another proof and check that the errors are indeed fixed in the print edition.

Congratulations. You have completed your fifth and final draft. NOW you are ready to unleash your masterpiece on the world. Upgrade your beverage to a glass of champagne and toast yourself as you upload your novel files to your various publishing platforms, confident in the knowledge that you did everything humanly possible to make it professional and legit.

Now to recap: that’s SEVEN steps involving FIVE drafts and FOUR different groups of readers. That’s what it takes to bring your novel up to a professional, publishable, ready-for-primetime level “by yourself.” If indeed you want your readers to regard you as a professional and take you seriously, don’t take any shortcuts that don’t involve simply hiring a professional editor to do most of this for you. And if you can afford to do that? Then just do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have any questions for me about the editing process? If so, leave it in a comment. If it’s not already addressed in the next two parts of this series, I’ll do a follow-up Q&A post at the end. Also, I’d LOVE to hear any editing tips you have to offer.

Ready for the Q&A? You can read it here.

Editing the Heck Out of Your Indie Novel – Part Two: Getting to 3rd Draft

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This is part two in what’s shaping up to be a four-part series. If you missed part one, which mainly covers WHY you should take extra pains in editing your indie novel, you can read it here.

In this post, we get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Step One

Well, technically step one is to write the book. But for our purposes today we’re assuming you’ve already got a rough draft ready to go. If so, then put it away. Don’t look at it for at least a month. Spend this time recruiting first readers. Don’t worry about roping in the eagle-eyed grammar cops at this point. Look for people who have good instincts about storytelling and pacing, and people who are good at spotting plot holes and continuity glitches and things that just make no damn sense, and people who have a good ear for dialogue. Look for people who read a lot of fiction and/or watch a lot of episodic television.

Where do you find these people? This is where a good critique group can come in handy, but I usually put out a call for volunteers in my personal and social networks, stating what I’m looking for, what things I’m going to be focusing on this round, my time frame, etc.

Step Two

When you’re month is up, take out your rough draft and do the first pass. Fix the problems that you can identify all by yourself. I’m not really concerned with which method you use; just do what works for you. Chuck Wendig’s got some great advice on how to revise a manuscriptSo does Holly Lisle, and hers is 100% less profanity-laden.

After you’ve made your first developmental pass, do your first copy-edit pass. At this point you can go ahead and take the lazy route and use an automated grammar editor like Grammerly. Your purpose at this point isn’t to make it perfect — it’s simply to clean it up as much as possible to minimize errors that might distract your first readers.

Step Three

Now congratulate yourself on completing your second draft. Have a beer or your beverage of choice and fire it off to your first readers. Explain to them that it’s too early in the process for them to bother pointing out typos or grammar snafus, because there’s still a good chance that whatever scene contains such errors will get extensively rewritten or cut altogether.

These first readers should focus on developmental feedback. Does the dialogue ring true? Is characterization consistent? Are there any plot holes, or anything that confuses them or pulls them out of the story? Ask them to refrain from telling you what to fix or how to fix it — that’s your job to figure out. They just need to point out any such problems, and to be honest, even brutally so if necessary.

While you wait to hear back from them, start recruiting your next group of beta readers.

Step Four

Read the feedback as it comes in. Don’t do anything with it yet. Let your subconscious digest it (and give any hurt feelings or irritation a chance to subside). Once you’ve heard back from everyone (and given your emotions time to settle), open up your manuscript and go through it again, looking at the problematic parts and making story repairs according to the feedback.

This, for me, is the hardest part. It’s not really a good idea to just automatically change anything that’s been pointed out as problematic. You need to analyze it, and analyze the feedback and who’s giving it. Are they savvy about the genre? If not, is their confusion simply because they’re unfamiliar with the genre shorthand you used? If that’s the case, should you maybe not resort to genre shorthand, or should you trust your audience to know what you’re doing there without dumbing it down for them? This can be a hard balance to strike. Basically, I look for agreement, and lack thereof. If only one of my first readers doesn’t get my Doctor Who reference, for instance, I’m going to leave it in there for the other four who did. But I’m also going to take a second look at that reference to make sure it actually ads to the story. Whether you make a change based on feedback or not, be sure you justify every decision.

Finish your changes, run it through spellcheck and Grammerly again, and have another beverage. You just finished the third draft.

Do you have any questions for me about the editing process? If so, leave it in a comment. If it’s not already addressed in the next two parts of this series, I’ll do a follow-up Q&A post at the end. Also, I’d LOVE to hear any editing tips you have to offer.

Ready for Part Three? Read it here.

Editing the Heck out of Your Indie Novel – Part One: The Extra Mile

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If there is one professional service that indie authors should be spending their money on prior to publishing their books, it’s editing. Unfortunately, many (too many) self-published authors don’t do this. Some think they don’t need to. But many of them, especially in the beginning, simply can’t afford to.

If you fall into the latter camp, does that mean you shouldn’t publish your book? No. But it does mean that you shouldn’t publish your book until you’ve gone the extra mile (or five) in the editing process. It means you shouldn’t be in a such rush to share your story with the world that you neglect these steps, and it means you should NEVER shrug off manuscript problems thinking that if the story is good enough nobody will care. Because let me tell you something about mistakes in indie books:

PEOPLE CARE.

Sure, I have yet to read a book from a major publishing house that didn’t have its fair share of typos or other errors. I also have yet to read a review of any of these books that mentions said errors. But for some reason, reviewers tend to hold self-published books to a higher standard, and no matter how much they love your story, they will mention errors in their reviews. Some will even deduct points, or those coveted stars, because of them. A bad edit, or no edit at all, can hurt sales and harm your reputation as a writer.

Worse yet, it contributes to the perception that indies are basically one big slush pile unleashed on the masses and that only books that have been vetted by a major New York publishing house are truly worthy. So please: do us all a favor and GET YOUR BOOK EDITED.

So back to what to do if you can’t afford a professional edit. I’ve been there with both of my novels, so I’ve got some experience in this — and overall it’s been a good experience. Not to say that either of my books were perfect the first time I put them on the market, but what errors were pointed out in reviews were few enough and minor enough that I’m pretty confident my self-editing method is about as effective as it gets (oh, and as soon as I notice a reviewer point out an error, I immediately FIX it, then republished the book — that’s not something traditionally published authors get to do). Hopefully, by sharing my method here we’ll have fewer barely-edited and rushed-to-publication books winding up on the market.

There is a lot of great advice out there already about how to edit your manuscript. The thing is, most of it is by established authors, most of whom either are or have been traditionally published. They are primarily concerned with getting your manuscript to a point that an agent or editor will want to read it, presuming that if it gets accepted by one or both of those then it’s going to go through another round of editing (or several) with the publisher.

But as an indie author, you ARE the publisher. That means that you’ve got to go through the whole process as a writer–and then go through it all AGAIN as a publisher.

This means a lot of drafts. It takes a lot of time and there’s going to come a point where your eyes feel like they’re going to melt and leak out of their sockets if you have to look at that blasted manuscript one more time. But stick with it, because I promise, it will be worth the extra effort.

This is turning into a monster of a post, so I’m going to stop here and split it into three parts. Next week, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty as I start going step by step through my editing process.

Do you have any questions for me about the editing process? If so, leave it in a comment. If it’s not already addressed in the next two parts of this series, I’ll do a follow-up Q&A post at the end. Also, I’d LOVE to hear any editing tips you have to offer.

Ready to start editing? Proceed to Part Two.

How to Publish an E-book

I was recently asked how to make an e-book available on Amazon. The short answer, I said, was to go to Kindle Direct Publishing and go from there… and then I promised to write a post explaining the long answer. So here’s that post.

The first step… well, the first step is to write your book. But we’ll assume that part’s already done. So the first step toward publishing it as an e-book is proper formatting. For this, I follow the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s free, and although it’s specifically written for getting your document ready to run through their file conversion software, their guidelines also work nicely for prepping your work for conversion to the Kindle’s proprietary Mobi file format. One caveat is that it has to be a Word doc. But although this guide put’s a lot of emphasis on formatting your manuscript in Word, I used Open Office Write to format Restless Spirits and saved it as a Word doc, and that worked just fine.

Once your book is formatted, it’s ready to upload to Smashwords. This part is simple—just fill out the publication info, upload your Word doc and submit. Smashwords’ “meatgrinder” program will then do its magic and convert it into every e-book file type that there is, and automatically make it available in their store. I recommend doing this step because a) it’s free, b) it’s really simple, c) it helps your work reach a wider audience than just Amazon (Smashwords will also distribute your book to BN.com and the iTunes store), and d) you can then take advantage of Smashwords’ coupon generator to give away free promotional copies, run promotional discounts, participate in site-wide sales, etc. Really, there’s no good reason not to upload your work to Smashwords.

But to get your book on Amazon takes a few extra steps, which you can find outlined in detail in the Kindle Publishing Guide. When I published Restless Spirits last summer, I had to save my document as an HTML file and then use a free program called Mobipocket Creator to convert it to a .mobi file, and then it was ready to upload to my KDP account. But it looks like things might have changed a bit since then, so follow the guide to be sure. The first step to Kindle publishing, though, is to create your own account at Kindle Direct Publishing, click “Add New Title,” and go from there.

There’s one more marketplace you can upload your book for free, and that’s through Barnes & Noble’s PubIt web site. Of course, you can just wait and let Smashwords submit your book to BN.com, but doing it yourself through PubIt is faster, and it makes it easier to track your BN.com sales. It’s also super-easy—just fill out the information on your book and upload your Word doc, and you’re done.

A couple of things to remember before you go forth and publish: first, each marketplace has different speeds at which your book actually becomes available in their store. Smashwords tends to be fastest, taking only minutes, whereas Amazon’s vetting process typically takes two or three days before they approve your book for sale on their site.

The other thing is a word on ISBNs. Each site will assign its own ISBN (or in Amazon’s case, an ASIN) to your book at no charge. You only really need to consider purchasing your own ISBN if you want to publish the book under your own publishing imprint or, in the case of paperbacks (which are a whole ‘nother post), you want to be able to distribute it to brick and mortar book stores and libraries. For new authors especially, my advice is to take the free ISBNs; that way, unless you spend money on professional services like cover design or editing, you end up making pure profit. And you can always go back later and reprint the book under your own ISBN if the need arises.

So that’s how you publish an e-book. Any questions?