The script is raw and rough but the story line is good and the characters are well known. So what should a writer do next? Get on an edit of course, but where to start? Ask yourself. Why are you writing? Are you writing for yourself, or writing as a professional who wants to earn some money from their activity, or writing to be acclaimed in the literary world. I will explain why you need to decide.
All books need two types of editing. One is a developmental editor and the other is a copy editor. In the modern publishing world agents and publishers expect their authors to have paid for most of the editing themselves and for the scripts to be already at a high level of editorial polish before they land on their desks. Gone are the days when this was done for you. Your script will go straight in the rejection pile if it is badly spelt, lacks polish, and the ideas can’t escape the poor narrative structure. If you are going to self publish, it is even more important that you achieve a professional finish.
Copy Editor: The copy editor is the person who checks grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, continuity of characters names. They make sure the story has consistency and if the plot can be followed. It is very difficult for most people to see their own errors. Any old friend will not do. Many writers now employ an editor for £300 to £700 to check their books over before they look for an agent. I leave it for 3-6 months so I can see it fresh and edit again and then get a student at £300 approx to check it. A nice MA student with pernickety ways is a good bet. Ask around locally.
Developmental Editor: While a copy editor might tell you that your story is weak at particular points they will not tell you how to improve a weak script. Which characters work and which fail. Where the story drags and is boring, or where it is unrelentingly depressing and there is no one for the reader to identify with. Which chapter must go. The developmental editor is more difficult to find. The writer must be able to take criticism not as rejection but as a creative process. A good old fashioned agent used to do this. Not any more.
Gone are the days when Iris Murdoch would send in a near unreadable script, like The sea The sea, pulsating with brilliant themes and five or so junior editors would re write and pull the script round to fit a narrative arc, with decent characterisation which allowed her brilliance to shine through. Pace, Iris Murdoch, I hope this was only Oxford gossip but it cheered me up no end.
So where does that leave YOU and ME. Doing a lot of the work ourselves or paying a lot of money for others to do it for us. So what type of writer are you? Once you have decided it helps you choose the type of editing that you need to do.
- Are you writing as a cathartic exercise in existential self awareness. IE for yourself and your own drives, no matter what the audience may like. This means either you will be a genius, or unreadable or both (think Ulysses). A developmental editor would crush your creativity, so don’t use one. Your novel will never be published, unless via self indulgent self publishing, so don’t waste any money. My blogs on self publishing are all you need.
- Are you writing as you have ideas popping out of your brain that you want to explore with the reader. No matter how creative you are, how well you write prose, your ideas will only exist if they have an audience outside of yourself. Your script must be able to communicate these ideas otherwise you might as well write purely for yourself. Tolstoy is of course brilliant at exploring life’s dilemmas, both spiritual and corporeal. Jane Austen equally brilliant at the minutiae of life. William Boyd’s Any Human Heart is one of the best modern novels I have read recently, or Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Rich meaty feasts of books full of human scale dilemmas. Are you this good? You must be readable for people to see how good you are. You need a professional agent/developmental editor to guide you in how to communicate with your audience, (or the publishers won’t think they can sell your book). I would look for a traditional agent/editor and work together. A bodge DIY approach could ruin your prose.
- And of course the final type of book, is the book that wishes to please. It is well crafted and entertains. It might be sneered at by literary aesthetes but these books have given more cheer to more readers than the complex self indulgence of some modern highbrow writers. The very best authors often cover both number two and number three in their writing abilities. PD James being one of the best examples, but Jeffrey Archer crafts his thrillers and thrills his readers. He gives them what they want.
For those who want to write stories for others to read, but don’t worry about high brow ideas with beautiful prose, then the crafting is all the more important. In this third category it is the reader who is most important, not you. So being honest with yourself and your need for a developmental editor of is vital. You can rely on a few friends, who won’t have the expertise to criticise you, or the other extreme you can pay literary editors, they advertise on line at about £500 to £1000 or more, depending on how good or bad your craft is. So what is the best approach for the money that you can afford? How DIY can you go before you fail to produce a book readers want to read? Writers, editing is almost more important than creating your story.
I explained a few blogs ago the different research I was going to put in to my own editing approaches. For the record, I see myself as trying to learn a craft, which hopefully, will make up for any shortfall in beautiful prose. I just want to write good murder mysteries to entertain others.
It’s the HOW that I will explore further in the new year, as well the self publishing versus traditional routes, websites to market your book by, and all other aspects of the modern publishing world as it effects writers. Watch out for my tags in the blog and find the ones you are interested in.