The edit’s the thing…

March 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

So you’ve written that novel and you’re ready to publish it. You’ve shown it off to your family and friends, and at least some of them have agreed that it doesn’t suck. Good. But if you’re going to self-publish your novel, you’re going to need to hire a professional editor. You do. And those of you who think you don’t need one probably need one most of all.

Why? Well, a professional editor is, or should be, utterly unbiased. They get paid no matter what they think of your work, and so if it’s garbage, they’ll let you know, and if they praise it, you can believe them. No matter how objective your circle of friends tries to be, if they have an interest in your happiness, chances are they’ll go easy on you. A professional editor doesn’t have to live with you sulking because they suggested you could stand to lose chapters 7, 18, 119 and 237-298; or that your main character has the depth and complexity of a damp Kleenex on a rainy sidewalk and your plot twists may as well come with two week’s written notice.

Secondly, a professional editor probably knows more about what sells books than you, your family or your friends, unless you happen to come from a publishing dynasty or regularly lunch with the heads of the Seven Sisters of publishing. And if that’s the case, it’s pretty unlikely you’d be self-publishing in the first place. For example: my novel, Scar, contains a number of different fonts, representing the viewpoints of different characters. While my editor understood the impulse behind this, he cautioned against it, especially if I was to try to publish the book via the conventional route. Agents and publishers, he pointed out, are very wary of writing with more than one font; it reeks of amateurism, like wearing jeans to a job interview. No matter the quality of the work, most agents and publishers will stop reading once they see the font change. And there I was thinking I was all edgy and cool like Mark Z. Danielewski.

Editors – good editors – know books. It takes real skill to look at a finished manuscript written by a complete stranger and figure out how to make it better. After five years of writing Scar, I had reached a hopeless impasse. Too familiar with the story and too invested in the outcome to be able to so much as approach the clean-eyed objectivity of a new reader, I knew I needed a professional’s opinion. It was nice to hear that my girlfriend thought it was good, but I needed a more in-depth analysis.

So how do you find an editor? The same way I find everything else – the internet. If you’re self-publishing with one of the big companies, like Createspace or Lulu – more on them later – they can edit your manuscript for you, for a fee. Createspace, for instance, charges $0.0175 per word for a basic copyedit on a book longer than 10,000 words. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that Scar would cost $1750, just for a review of spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. A more comprehensive edit, in which they offered me the services of “a professional editor who will focus on improving sentence structure while providing suggestions to help you strengthen your book’s content” would have cost me around $3200; far more than I’m able to spend.

If you have money and time’s an issue, this might not be so bad. I can’t speak to the quality of Createspace’s editors. One thing that did put me off, though, was the fact that I had no way of knowing, at least before buying the service, who my editor was. If I’m laying out that kind of money, I want to be sure it’s being edited by someone with experience, who knows what they’re talking about.

So I decided to use the internet to do some shopping around, and eventually settled on One of the many things I liked about them was that they were willing to do a sample edit of a couple of pages for free so I could see what to expect. I got samples from a few different companies, but the edit from was hands-down the sharpest, most insightful and most helpful of the bunch. Also, their turn-around times are impressive. And best of all, the edit for the entire manuscript came in at around $1500! (Though in fairness, I should point out that this was an edit of content, style, plot and things like that, and did not include the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. As it happens, I’m a fairly decent proofreader myself, and in order to keep costs down, I decided not to pay for that service. It’s easy to find people who can spell to help you out; not so easy to find help with the structure of a story, plot and character development, imagery, etc. That’s where I found I needed professional help.)

Editing your manuscript is one of the most important steps to making a great book, so price isn’t everything. Getting it done right is going to cost you money, no matter which route you go down. I went through a bunch of different editors, and was quoted anywhere from $800 to $5000. This isn’t the time to cheap out, but your own circumstances will dictate what you can afford. The quote for $5000 I got was from a big name in the publishing industry, a man with decades of experience behind him who has edited some of the biggest bestsellers around. It would have been great to have someone like that in my corner, but I simply don’t have that kind of money. I’m guessing lots of people don’t.

In the end, I was very happy with the service I got from The editor really seemed to understand what I was trying to do with Scar, and the suggestions he made helped it to be a far better book than it would otherwise be. Scar is not the easiest novel to edit by any means, and $1500 was, to me, a small price to pay to make sure it was all it could be before I set it loose on an unsuspecting public…


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In the Beginning….

March 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

It’s not that I’m a complete dilettante. I’ve published before; a few short stories, here and there. I’ve won a couple of prizes for them. I even got paid for writing them, which is a big deal when you’re 22 and have been dreaming of being a writer as long as you can remember.

You’re 22 and piss-poor, but you’re happy, smiling away in your tiny basement apartment and drinking your shitty warehouse wages, because the future is yours. Everything you ever wanted is just around the next corner. All you have to do is grab it.

A few beers, a few jobs, a few stories later, and you’re 27.  Not old, for a writer; but not a kid anymore, either. Especially considering how early you started; you wrote your first novel at the age of 18. OK, so it wasn’t a good novel, but it was a novel all the same.

So it’s time to get serious. If there’s one thing your 27 years of life have taught you, it’s that nothing is ever handed to you. Nothing comes easy. Dreams are pointless unless you chase them, but they’ll never happen unless you make them.

You have another novel now, a better one. You’ve been moulding this in the dark for five years. It’s outlasted any job or relationship you’ve had. You’ve infused it with your own red life, filled its dark heart to the brim with cruelty and beauty, and now it sits brooding on your desk. At night you can almost hear it breathing, snarling.

Time to find a publisher. But before you can do that, you should probably get an agent. So you look around. You send out emails and manuscripts, first to the big guys, then to the smaller guys, then, finally, to anyone you think might take a chance on an unknown.

Mostly, you get ignored. Often, you get a formulaic response: thanks, but no thanks. Now and again, a spark of interest sends you swaggering for a while; but then the verdict comes. It’s good, it’s really good, but we just don’t see how we can sell it, especially in the current climate.

They couldn’t sell Kafka either. No one wanted to publish Lolita. Confederacy of Dunces was published too late for its unfortunate author. Most great books were rejected at least once; all great authors were rejected many times. You’re in good company.

But you have something the old masters never had. You live in a world far smaller than any they imagined, a world bounded in copper wire where you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without leaving your apartment. You live in a world where technology has robbed the old gatekeepers of their power, where anyone can be heard by everyone. You live in a world where a book you wrote in Vancouver can be ordered by someone in Australia, and printed right there. No shipping, no bulk quantities. Print on Demand. Another front in the ongoing democratisation of culture.

After rejections into the teens, I started to wonder what exactly I need a publisher for. How much did I expect them to invest in advertising a first-time novel with unconventional formatting and difficult-to-classify subject matter? What kind of changes would they ask me to make? What compromises would I be forced to suffer in order to put before the public a book I might no longer recognise as my own? And if I sold my novel’s soul to the corporations, what could I expect to get in return?

So I decided to do it for myself. All of it. This blog will follow my adventure in self-publishing, from choosing a printing service to marketing to sales and beyond. The (hopefully many) highs and the (hopefully few) lows. You’ll see me fail or succeed as it happens. Either way, it’ll be my own failures, and my own success.

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