Editing tricks that don’t cost a dime

Editing.  It’s such a dirty word for authors because it means returning to  place you’ve already been, going back over something you’ve already done, and performing the tedious task of proofreading, grammar checking, rephrasing, rewriting etc.  In short, it’s a chore, one most writers despise.

I’ve read some articles and heard a lot of people say not to worry about editing until your manuscript is finished, and then to hire someone to do it.  I think this is a mistake.  While it’s likely true that you won’t be able to catch all of your mistakes or plot holes and you need a separate set of eyes, there are a lot of free avenues you can take to weed out as many inconsistencies as possible so when it comes time to pay a professional, you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

1) Write your manuscript in Courier or Courier New font.  This is old school typewriter font.  A few people have told me that it’s hard on their eyes or looks weird.  If this is you, then choose a different font, just choose one that is significantly different than Times New Roman, which most final drafts are submitted in.

2) Briefly edit as you go.  I’ve heard so many people say “don’t worry about mistakes, just write write write.”  I’m not a fan of this.  While it’s important to not get hung up on wanting it to be perfect (don’t do that!!  Read my article about that here), it’s also important for my own peace of mind to proofread sections during breaks in muse to correct spelling errors, replace redundant words, and rephrase things to fix flow if it’s a fast read through.  I don’t recommend spending more than 5 minutes editing a paragraph at this stage, do a quick once over to correct obvious mistakes, and then keep writing.

3) Reread your finished scene.  Again, so many people have told me to just keep going with my first draft until it’s complete and then go back over the whole thing.  But I must be honest, if I did 0 editing until the book is done, I would be rewriting my book over and over (which actually I have done 4 times because I followed the advice to go go go).  By rereading scenes as I go, I’m giving myself opportunity to figure out that I want a different cliffhanger, that I’ve already stated something in a previous scene, or that I want some other character to show up and do or say “the thing,” which will change the whole story.  Catching things like this after each scene can prevent the overwhelming book rewrites that are inevitable if you wait until you’re completely done with your novel.

Now, sleep on these changes and move on to step 4.

4)  For Scrivener users (if you aren’t one, I recommend becoming one!!), compile your finished scene into a standard double spaced word document using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  This will allow you to utilize Microsoft’s spellcheck/grammar check feature for the first time, and can help you find the contractions and mistakes that you missed.  Microsoft’s concise feature is also helpful in eliminating common wordy phrases that bog down your narrative.

If you’re not a scrivener user, then just change your font to 12 pt. Times New Roman and double space your doc.

Why? Doing this allows you to see a new visual view/line/word placement of your work, and can really help you see at a glance sentences, phrases, and words that hinder flow, sound redundant, or need to be reworked.

Now sleep on it and proceed to step 5 tomorrow.

5)  Compile your scene into a novel-formatted (usually 5×9 page size), Times New Roman, 10 point font .pdf file.  Again, this is providing you a new unique look at your scene, and one that is extremely close to how it will appear in print, the ultimate goal.  Being able to see it in it’s “published” form will help you weed out anything else you’ve missed up to this point.

Follow the same editing process from step 4, and proceed to step 6 tomorrow.

6)  Print the corrected version out.  Same as above, it’s a different visual of your story, and something about paper vs. computer screen really helps to further highlight things missed.  Make any necessary changes to your computer file.

7)  Find another pair of eyes to look at your scene.  At this point, you have looked at your scene from 4 different angles and made edits.  But it’s well known that writers still miss so much when it comes to their own work.  We’re too attached.  We know every line, and our brains sometimes fill in gaps or skip over things regardless of how different we make it look with page and font sizes.

Many suggest finding a family member or close friend to read over it, which is usually your quickest and easiest option.  Keep in mind though that family and friends may not be forthcoming about their true opinions of your scene, so I always recommend finding a non-biased person to review your work too.  A family member or friend also might not be very inciteful about writing style, genre tropes, or spelling or grammar because they may not be avid readers or writers themselves.  If they are, wonderful!

Critique groups are one of the best options for a non-bias perspective.  You get multiple pairs of eyes on your scene from avid writers (and readers) and they can help you with flow, plot holes, even weird cultural nuances and character vernacular that you may have not even thought about.  It also gives you a chance to share your writing knowledge with others and exchange tips and tricks (let’s face it, most family members aren’t interested in hearing about your writing process, but other writers might be!).  Best of all, critique groups are free!  Just find a group in your area and start attending.

One drawback (and advantage – it’s a double edged sword) to critique groups is that members aren’t shy about voicing their true opinion.  In the moment, this can be hurtful, especially if several members are commenting on the same thing, or they flat out tell you they don’t like it.  Members of critique groups don’t have a personal connection with you like your family and friends do, so be prepared to receive some criticism, but be confident that the feedback you receive is given by fellow writers and readers who are genuinely trying to help you improve your story and style.

Of course, also remember that you can take or leave anything they say.  You’re not under contractual obligations to make the changes they suggest.  Make notes, thank them for their feedback, and then decide what to do with the information.  If they have identified confusing segments though, consider carefully how you can correct these in your story.  Odds are, other readers (agents and editors too) will encounter the same issues.

If you’re unsure how to find a critique group, a good place to look is google, the meetup app, your library, or local college, or even Inkitt.  And if none of these options produce fruit, start one yourself!  I started the Augusta Writers Critique Group last October via the meetup app and it now includes 150 members.  There are always attendees at meetings and the feedback has been phenomenal!

After all of this, your scene has been edited and revised many times over and is in great shape.  Once every scene goes through this gauntlet and you’ve come to the end of your novel, reread your entire manuscript and tie up any loose ends you may have missed.

8)  Find a beta reader to read your book from start to finish.  If you can find someone to read your entire finished draft for free and give you their thoughts, fantastic!  Again, family members are prime suspects, or even a member of your critique group may volunteer.  There are also several online websites such as fiverr where you can find beta readers for free or for a small fee who will read your entire manuscript.  This step is important for evaluating the overall story plot and execution, which can be hard to do in a critique group where only one scene at a time is shown to a varied audience over a long period of time.

But now, if it’s in your budget, is the time I recommend hiring a professional editor to go through it and make suggestions.  Professional editors can be pricey:  4 cents/word is a common price I’ve seen, which is $3,200 for 80,000 words.  Ouch.  According to freelancewriting.com, basic copyediting on average charges anywhere from $25-40/hr and tackles 5-10 pages/hr.  More strenuous editing could cost even more for fewer pages.  Once your book reaches this stage, you want it to be as polished as possible to get the most bang for your buck.

The bottom line:  You don’t have to rely on expensive professional editors to produce a polished manuscript.  Further, skipping free ways to improve your book means that the intricate details a paid professional could find may not be found because of surface errors that you could have corrected yourself.  Also, a professional editor is still just one set of eyes, and one point of view, and no amount of money you spend on them will change that limitation.  The more opinions you have, the more fleshed out your manuscript will be.

This process has personally improved my writing by leaps and bounds, and has given me confidence to continue moving forward with my story.  I do not plan to completely scrap and start my novel over again from the beginning, and these steps are helping to ensure that the story I’m telling is readable, interesting, engaging, and free of mistakes, inconsistencies, and plot holes as much as possible.

Happy writing!

 

Review: Long Grows the Dark, by Catherine Labadie

A couple of years ago I reviewed Vixen by Sarah Catherine Muth.  This author has recently published a new novel under the name Catherine Labadie, and I was stoked to receive her request to review it!  I purchased the 427 page hard back edition of Long Grows the Dark and finished it in 3 days.  Suffice to say I was hooked from the start.

The back cover reads:

Glenna marveled at the increasing chills creeping up and down her arms. She tried to close the book, first casually, then attempting to force the covers together with both hands. Neither of them budged or gave the remotest indication that they would close, and the words seemed to be etched onto her mind’s long after she’d stopped focusing on them. To her horror, the book flipped to the opening page of its own free will and began repeating the message, over and over and over again in increasingly bright ink.

Red is the color of Fate, and Scarlet the color of the Blood, Glenna thought, the words not entirely her own. Crimson be the tide that will sweep over the land should hope fade to dark.

The room grew warm, then hot, as if bonfires were burning in the vicinity. Yet her chills remained, wracking her body with shivers she could not explain. When the book flipped to the last page with t-t-t-t noise as the parchment fluttered against itself, she felt the cold settle into her bones.

Prepare Yourself.

****

An interesting preview that gives the reader an idea that there is magic and mystery between the covers.  The words “Glenna thought” while she’s actually reading the text though bothered me a bit, but alas, it didn’t keep me from delving in.

This book has something for everyone, medieval fantasy, urban fantasy, supernatural beings, magic, romance, intrigue, creativity, good dialogue, battle, and more!

Long Grows the Dark follows Glenna, an enchantress from many centuries ago who is in love with her best friend’s fiance; and Gwendoline, a college student living present day who is actually (slight spoiler) Glenna reincarnated.  Both time threads center around Glenna/Gwendoline’s relationship with her best friends, and we soon learn that Glenna and crew failed to vanquish an evil in the past, and now it’s back in the present, and Glenna must figure out how to not fail this time and save her friends.  Each chapter switches between Glenna and Gwendoline’s POV and lays out the dilemma of yesteryear and today with a nice flow and at a great pace.  About 1/4 of the way through the book, the magic of a fated spell book unites the two timelines in the present, giving us just enough to connect with the past and to understand the peril without taking anything away from the present conflict.

I will try not to give away any spoilers, but I will say a few things that I really really liked about the book.

  1. The very first chapter with Gwendoline told me a lot about her, not by info dumping, but through clever dialogue, attitude, and action.  Her interaction with her best friend was so natural that I was smiling because it reminded me of myself with my best friend – it was great
  2. The whole script was so naturally written that I didn’t have a hard time imagining the scenes unfold, and they weren’t forced on me either.  The author has a writing style that describes it enough to picture, but not enough to squash my own imagination.  I really appreciated that and give kudos, that is talented writing
  3. Magic is part of this world as much as people wearing clothes.  The author does not delve into detail about how magic works or why, she just uses it, everywhere, and trusts the reader to understand and accept it, and it works.  I was not disappointed, annoyed, or confused.  There are familiars, supernatural powers, enchanted objects, spells and curses and the author does not info dump at all and with her writing style she doesn’t have to, it was like magic
  4. The enchanted object named Niles in the present, and the knight named Niles in the past added a layer of mystery that kept me wanting to find out how they were connected, it was a little obvious that they were one and the same, which made finding out how that came to be intriguing and fun, especially since Niles is a very witty and charming character
  5. Describing separate timelines in the same world can be challenging to make distinctive and paint a clear evolution between the two that is believable to the reader, but Labadie executes this nicely.  I’ve read many novels where literally the only thing that separates centuries of time is clothes and cars, and that is super annoying to read, but Long Grows the Dark paints a believable transition even where the use of magic is concerned – a small difference with a huge impact
  6. There is a passage where Glenna is struggling with her enchanted book Niles and it’s giving her attitude.  The way she tells this struggle was humorous, not overly descriptive, and enjoyable.  It added a natural lightness to the flow and story that I really liked – so much so that I made a note of it
  7. The author knows how to write a tasteful sexual encounter.  There are two sex scenes and the author did an excellent job in not making them icky, cliche, awkward, or filled with grimace-worthy descriptors for private parts (thank you!).  Not an easy task.  They were also well placed and added to the story, which is a must for sex scenes in my opinion.  They weren’t thrown in as an extra because the book has a romance arc
  8. The realistic portrayal of friendship and its challenges.  I appreciated the way the author has developed her characters’ friendship in the past and present, and includes the ugly reality that no one really wants to admit exists.  Without any spoilers, there are some things that happen with the friendship in both timelines with far-reaching consequences.  A lot of books focus on friends ultimately vanquishing evil and becoming united, which this book does too, but after the dust settles the author focuses a lot of attention on the toll of the battle, the decisions leading up, and the scars that remain after victory.  This isn’t a book about defeating the foe and going back to the same grind or happily ever after, this is a war that has a lasting impact on the characters and their friends.  As I read it, I honestly did not know what was going to happen, the unpredictability was refreshing
  9. The final battle.  The climactic finale to the entire book was a really enjoyable read, there is significantly enough time devoted to it, it is action packed, the lead up was great and thrilling and page turning, and the moving parts all went very well together.  There is a ton of magical elements woven in that both add to the story and feel natural to the setting and not forced, and there’s even an encounter with a supernatural that is interesting and ties up some loose threads, and of course an action packed battle scene with good choreography and tension

Now on to a few things that I felt detracted a bit from the story:

  1. Throughout the novel there are several places where it could have used a beta read and spellchecking to identify a few inconsistencies.  For example, at the end of chapter 6 Everleigh is looking at Niles with a fiendish expression, but then the beginning of chapter 7 states that she hadn’t noticed him yet, so that seemed a little inconsistent to me.  It was minor, but it made me squint
  2. The use of “exact replica” to describe the resemblance between Glenna and Gwendoline.  The word replica to me doesn’t seem like a fitting word to compare two people, and it felt a bit lazy.  Bringing this detail out in dialogue or even just a thought in Niles’ head would have sufficed, once.  The description that the bad guy has pointy teeth is a little overstated as well
  3. In one scene, Gwendoline casts a protection spell in her yard in order to practice fireballs, but when the fireball goes into the neighbor’s yard and destroys the trash can I was a little confused what good the protection spell was for.  I still enjoyed the scene, but this made me pause
  4. One of the heroes dies in a dual, (kind of spoiler???) and during the fight there’s excellent action, I’m on the edge of my seat and then….. he gets distracted for several moments and gets killed.  I didn’t find this realistic at all for a trained warrior to be in a life or death situation with one opponent and then just squirrel out and die – I was very upset.  This was a good character, and it seemed like such an uncharacteristic rookie mistake for him to make
  5. At one point the author describes Glenna’s reaction to finding out she is a reincarnated sorceress as “The story founded fantastic, unbelievable to the extreme even for a magic based world”.  This sounds like commentary more than character POV, and using “Magic based world” as how Glenna perceives her own world (the only one she knows, or at least, the only one that we know she knows) seemed odd, what other world would there be?  It just seemed like the author was trying to justify her magic to the reader when she didn’t have to
  6. There is a place also where it mentions the bad guy biting the neck of the princess in some kind of bonding ritual, but then the bond obviously didn’t stick and it was not fully explained what exactly biting someone would do nor why that was necessary since he isn’t really a vampire.  The other magical elements needed no explanation but this one could have used a bit more.  It’s only mentioned once or twice in no great detail so it seems weird to be there.  Perhaps it will be explained more in book 2
  7. The final battle.  I’ve already stated that I enjoyed the final battle scene and the lead up.  The part I had an issue with was the Deus Ex Machina – at the last second Gwendoline understands how to use her superpower without any guidance or training or….anything….and through this knowledge is able to defeat the bad guy.  I may have been able to let it slide except that this final blow to the enemy is a pretty complicated maneuver to just happen to figure out on the fly, and her much more sophisticated and magic savvy past self didn’t come close to figuring it out.  The move itself definitely worked, tied up some loose ends, and was badass, but I really wish that Gwendoline had maybe come across a passage in an ancient script or some mythology article she’d read online, a TV commercial (kidding…?), some hint that alluded to this superpower that she could recall later, or that at least would help her piece together the final move in a way that wasn’t just horribly convenient.  As cliche as that would have been, it seemed unlikely to just “know”.  Despite the adequate attention and lead up given to this final confrontation, this one thing made it feel a bit unfinished.

The things I mentioned are certainly not deal breakers.  This book was a fun and thrilling read, and I’ve already recommended it to a few friends.  Despite raising a 1 year old, working full-time, and going to school, I found time to read this book cover to cover in 3 days.  Long Grows the Dark was creative, interesting, easy to follow and smooth to imagine without forcing an image into my head.  The dialogue was funny, descriptive, relevant, and natural.  I really enjoyed having my imagination fully engaged and I could very clearly see how much original thought and talent went into this book.  It was hard to put it down, and I scarcely did.

I will continue to watch this author to see what she writes next.  She is two for two, as her first novel Vixen was also a great read.  If you wish to purchase this book and read it for yourself, you can click this link – Long Grows the Dark – Catherine Labadie.  You will not be sorry!

Inkitt: Is it worth a try?

A couple of months ago I stumbled across Inkitt.com, a reader directed publishing platform that has seen popularity in the UK.  After researching a few publishing houses and having already tried my hand at self-publishing, I was open to new ideas.

Inkitt’s premise is that writers can publish on their site for free.  The books that generate the most interest are offered a publishing contract with them.  The founder created this site after learning that J.K. Rowling was turned away by big publishing houses more than 10 times, and was only considered by one when the editor’s daughter took an interest in the book and began sharing it with her friends.  Appalled by this, the founder of Inkitt decided to create a publishing solution that would allow books like Harry Potter to be discovered immediately and published.  In effect, weeding out publishing house error.  What a fantastic idea!

The terms and conditions to use their site is short and simple.  The author retains all rights to the work, can remove their content from Inkitt at any time, and other such author coveted ownership guarantees.  Another great aspect, is that you can publish your book as In Progress, so you can receive feedback from readers while you are writing it, which is awesome!  The Publication contract, should your novel be popular enough to be offered one, is also available to view.

The best part is that all genres are welcome, including fan fiction, and it’s free to read any novels!  It’s like having a Kindle Unlimited without having to pay for it, or a Library at your fingertips.

The user interface is also pretty easy to navigate.  There is an easy fill option for everything so you don’t have to worry about moving things around or arranging text boxes “just so”, it’s all done for you and is standardized so that the novel content is what is truly being evaluated, not how much it appears like a “legitimate” novel in comparison to the others on the site.

You have to have a cover image (and they do have a cover creator you can utilize if you do not have your own image), a teaser, and a hook.  These are excellent to supply on this publishing platform because those are what grabs the reader’s attention, so having reader feedback is invaluable to helping you get it right before you publish. It’s literally having beta readers galore!

I know what you’re thinking though.  “My work is just hanging out there for anyone to steal and claim as their own.”  I thought the same thing once upon a time.  The truth is, once your work is on the internet, it’s copyrighted, timestamped, and yours without dispute.  Having your work out there on Inkitt.com protects your work even more so simply because it’s a legitimate platform lauded by the BBC, The Guardian, and several other big names, and it’s blatant that you, and no one else, are the author of the work.  No one is going to steal your story, even if you aren’t technically “officially” published yet.

I also want to mention the Analytics page which allows you to track how many people have read your novel, and how many times each chapter has been read so that you can see trends and improve your story where you need to.  So, if you have 20 reads for chapter 5, and 4 reads on chapter 6, it’s a sure indicator that you need to make some adjustments somewhere between 5 and 6 so more readers won’t abandon you.

Additionally, Inkitt offers several other valuable tools for writers and authors.  A novel writing bootcamp hosted by the editor of the Song of Fire and Ice series, a writer’s blog full of helpful articles, and a list of promotional websites and tools for you to get your book more publicity and visibility.  I actually discovered and read a fantastic book –Bridge of Sighs and Dreams–  through one of those very links, and I will be posting a review on it soon, so stay tuned for that!

And it’s all free!  Just sign up with your email address and voila!!!!

I decided to give it a shot and test the experience.  My sister painted the cover for my novel a few years ago and it looks stunning and was simple and easy to upload!  Inkitt even throws in an ominous background (a distorted portion of your cover image) that makes the book resemble a promotional poster.  I am pleased with the way it looks on the website.  The featured image in this blog is a screen capture of my novel from Inkitt.

My novel “Isle of Elandia: Bloodline” is on the site as a work “In Progress”.  Currently, only the Prologue and first 2 chapters are uploaded, and since its debut on November 15, I’ve had a total of 19 readers.  None, however, since November 19th.  So that tells me that once a book has been out there for longer than a few days it probably gets buried beneath a heap of new publications.

Also of note: 19 readers is not enough to report chapter data.  I’m not exactly sure if this means that those 19 readers didn’t go beyond the prologue and therefore the chapter data is 0, or if there is a reader threshold higher than 19 that must be met to initiate, or  if there is a certain number of chapters that must be published in order to trigger a report for this more specific analytic.  I don’t know!  Time and experimentation will reveal, but I am definitely going to continue to experiment with it!

In a few days I will upload chapter 3.  My hope is that the new chapter addition will unbury my novel and put it back at the top of the list.  If I start seeing the reader number go up then I can assume that adding a chapter refreshes the book’s location.  If it stays at 19, well…. I will need to explore other methods to try and boost it’s visibility to readers.

I will continue to update my blog as I learn more through my publishing experience with Inkitt.  To learn along with me, please subscribe!  And definitely check out Inkitt.com for yourself, if not to publish, then at least to enjoy a free read on a fresh novel!

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