If I thought writing my first book was the main challenge, I was wrong.
As I sat on the deck at home, looking at the printed manuscript, one thought went through my mind: What the hell do I do with this thing?
The answer was obvious. I had to edit it. Like all components of being an indie fiction author, this was new to me. Now, I’m sure that in ten years in academia and fifteen years in consulting and industry, I’ve edited more than a million words. But editing for academic and business purposes are different. Yes, there was always a “story” I was trying to tell. But entertainment was absolutely not a priority. The intent wasn’t to write something people would want to buy (at least not directly).
So I researched fiction editing.
Probably the first thing I learned was that if I wanted a professional product, I’d need to work with a real editor. Maybe more than one. The second thing I learned was that it would be a waste of their time and my money to send them a manuscript that hadn’t been significantly cleaned up.
So off I went, trying to edit my book.
From a productivity point of view, the next four months looked a lot like the first eight months of 2018. I had long stretches where I didn’t get much done, interspersed with periods where I put in a lot of effort. Looking back on this period, I’m sure I wasted a lot of time. I really didn’t have a structured approach. I still don’t.
I equated being busy “editing” with doing productive editing. In the back end of 2018 I probably took four passes through the manuscript. The first pass was truly a waste. I simply corrected spelling and typos. It felt meaningful to do this bit of clean up, probably because I get distracted by that kind of stuff when I read. But I should have ignored it and focused on what was important.
What was important were the bigger picture questions. Did the plot sequence make sense? Did I have a coherent timeline? Did I avoid sequences of events that weren’t logical or possible? These are the kinds of questions I tackled on my second pass.
On my third pass I tried to focus on less tangible elements. Was my protagonist well developed? Did she act in a manner that was consistent with her character? Was the antagonist hateful enough? Do the supporting characters have meaningful roles? I didn’t know how well I did in addressing these issues, but I gave it a try.
Along the way, I continued to research the topic of editing. I found lots of blog posts and similar types of guidance. I also found some books that provided useful insight. These included Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Story Grid. I know I took some nuggets of wisdom from these resources, but definitely have a long way to go to better incorporate what I learned into some kind of self-editing process.
But I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I was making some progress, but I needed to commit to getting a professional editor on board.
There are several trusted sources for talent. After reviewing a few I selected Reedsy. The main reason was the large number of options available, with the ability to easily filter by type of service and genre of novel. I also liked the ease of reviewing options. It made selection relatively easy.
So in January of 2019 I took the plunge and selected a professional editor to do a developmental edit of my novel. This was a major milestone for a couple of reasons. First, I had not shared my novel with anyone. I had been the only reader. It is a big step to let go of your imperfection and allow it to be judged by another. Now I know the editor’s job isn’t to judge a novel. It’s to review it with the aim of enabling me to improve it. But like it or not, there has to be some judgement. It’s human nature.
But I made the commitment. By March 15, I had to provide my novel for review.
That meant I had to really make sure I sent as clean a manuscript as I could.
While I think I have an intuitive grasp of correct grammar, I do not have a strong technical grasp. I have long since forgotten many of the specific rules and terminology that apply to the English language. I couldn’t let someone else read my novel without having a go at improving grammar and better managing word use.
Fortunately, there are tools designed to do just that. I settled on Pro Writing Aid, an app which reads my Scrivener files and can do a variety of checks on spelling, grammar, sentence structure, verb tense, etc. I did a final pass of my manuscript and got it to my editor four days ahead of schedule.
If you’ve been keeping track of time, we’re now in March of 2019. You may have noticed I didn’t mention NaNoWriMo 2018. Did I do it again? You may also be wondering if I was doing anything else on my indie author journey while I was finishing and editing my first novel. As important as writing is, there are a few other things one needs to do.
The answer to all of the above is yes.
Next time: NaNoWriMo 2018