Hello SEers! Welcome to another Monday Blog. Today, I thought I’d write about how to harvest the crop of your writing, and to that end, I am re-using the fertile soil of an old article I wrote for an online writing mag that has now, sadly, closed its doors. I make no apologies for my … ahem … artwork 🙂
To write a book is to become intimate with change. And, if we do it right, we’ll have something to harvest at the end of the process. As with any process, while each individual step is important, timing is everything. We need to know when to interfere, and when to leave well alone. Whether the problem be over-watering, or under, the end result will be the same: The seed of imagination will never make it to a full grown, published and successful book.
So, how do we best harvest the necessary and unavoidable change? The existence of a process is self-evident and obvious. What might not be so apparent is just what those steps are. Or how to navigate them. Here is a list of the steps involved in writing and publishing, in order of importance, as I see them:
- The Seed (Initial Idea)
- Germination (The idea gains strength and numbers, and begins to mutate)
- Growth (The story grows then matures)
- Weeding (The initial editing and proofreading—often done by the author)
- Double check (A beta reader can tell you if your crop is nearly ready or not)
- Find a Tractor Driver (A professional Editor is needed before you can begin to harvest your crop)
- Walk through the field (A proofreader is needed to make sure the crop is edible and disease free)
- Harvest the crop (Publish, Promote, and Sell)
Each and every one of these eight steps is essential. Step number 6 is the most important of them all. I recently had an author approach me and ask for a beta read, and he commented that he might ask for an edit at some stage, but that any funds would go to advertising first. Well, I read the book and gave my report. I can only hope he decides to get it edited before he advertises or publishes. The question he seems to be missing is: Just what is it I’m advertising? This is the single most important question any self-published writer can ask.
A well edited and proofed book will sell itself. A poorly edited book will scream, loudly. But, it won’t be saying anything good. No matter how effective your PR, the only thing you’ll garner is poor reviews and disgruntled readers, who won’t come back. Nice promos just won’t cut the mustard after that. The thing that lets the majority of indie authors down is a lack (or complete absence) of editing.
All your hard work, from steps 1 through 5, will be for naught if you skip step 6. And step 7 won’t save it. It isn’t a proofreader’s job, or area of expertise, to edit a book. They look for obvious punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, incorrectly used words, basic grammatical errors, accuracy of quoted material and the possibility of libel, and/or copyright issues, etc. An editor—if you ask for a full edit—will look at your MS line by line, and weed out passive writing formulations, all grammatical errors, clumsy sentence structures, comma splices, split infinitives, plot holes, pacing issues, character development, etc.
Now would be a good place to highlight the difference between a copy-edit and a full line-by-line edit. The full edit will give you everything you need (please note, this doesn’t always entail a developmental edit, which is a different beast altogether). A copy-edit is much more basic, and a small step up from a proofread. With this kind of edit you will receive correction of punctuation errors, grammatical errors, and obvious spelling mistakes. Your sentence constructions won’t be altered, unless they read as jibberish. A lot of authors pay for a copy-edit, when what they really need is a full line-by-line. The reason for this is two-fold: one is budget, while the other is down to not knowing the difference. The copy-edit is the cheaper option (it’s a lot less work), but it is the full line-by-line that is really necessary for most indie authors.
If you don’t have enough money to pay for an editor, then—at the very least—buy a self-help book that will give you the basics. Unfortunately, many of these kinds of books are filled with jargon, and I am as guilty as anyone for zoning out as soon as I am faced with too many grammatical and technical terms. One published books is a ‘how-to-self-edit’ book, which is fairly unique due to the fact there is a complete absence of anything other than plain English. I wrote this because I had found a distinct lack of such books on the market. And, I cannot emphasise enough how important editing and proofreading are. These self-help/self-editing books aren’t the ideal, but they are better than nothing at all. The important thing is that you find one you feel comfortable with, and can learn from.
Advertising and promotion MUST come last on your list of priorities. Any spare money you have, that you can put into your book, would be well spent on an editor and a proofreader. To use your funds in any other way, without the above two services, would be a complete waste. No matter how much talent you have, you can’t ignore the technical side to writing. Talent and technical skill are like the left and right sides of your body: you’d be pretty unbalanced if one was missing.
I know I’m being repetitive, but this seems to be a message that is hard to get through. I have read some real gems; books that would be up there with the greats but for some proofreading and editing. I’ve seen some great marketing and advertising campaigns that have led me to a book’s sales page, and then I read the sample. That is where your money needs to go: into getting your book right, because that is what I will see when I check the sample. The times I have read the first few pages and felt that there is no way I will pay money to read that book. Shame, as the book trailer movie, the cover, and the blurb were all great. Great, but useless. The hard truth is that not everyone possesses the technical know-how, and it is the recognising of this fact that is key to a good harvest. It is knowing when to seek help, that will stop your crop from failing. A Do-It-Yourself approach is not the best method, but it is a starting point. It is a vast improvement on not knowing you need to do something in the first place. It is a vast improvement on not giving your book any editing or proofreading attention. If you aren’t great at spelling, get a dictionary—and USE IT! It’s no good to you whatsoever just sitting on your bookshelf looking intellectual. Or, if you have a friend who is good at that stuff, then ask them for their help. This is not going to get you the same kind of proofread a professional proofreader will offer you, but again: it’s better than nothing.
You have to be able to deliver what’s on the tin, or your readers will never trust your name again. Yours will be the stall at the farmer’s market that everyone avoids. Your produce will be left to rot, and no matter how brilliant your next harvest is, you’ll have to work a hundred times harder to sell it. You’ll probably have to give a good chunk of it away for free, before customers will even deign to look your way.
Some editors and proofreaders will allow you to pay by instalments if you can’t afford to pay the whole lump sum up front. It’s always worth checking with them to see if this option is available. Keep an eye on your word count as you write, too. Because most services charge by the word or by the page, and most MS end up being cut down in the editing process. Obviously, it will save you a lot of money if you can keep your word count down in the first place. It is often better to pad it out later if it needs it, than to have to cut reams and reams of pages. It is worth checking with a potential editor just what kind of edit you are getting for your money. Is it a copy-edit or a full edit or a developmental edit? Does it include a final proofread, or is that extra on top?
In the traditional publishing arena, there are generally accepted word count limits for each genre of book. And these increase for those authors who are well known. If you are a new author, or not that famous, chances are that any publisher will want to see a smaller word count from you—this is because it costs them a lot more to print a big book than a slim volume. Until you’ve proved your worth, they won’t want to take the risk. There are lots of websites that give you information on what word count you should aim for in your particular genre. Google is the best tool I’ve found since I started writing! Even if you are planning on going the indie route, it is worth trying to remain in the ballpark of the recommended word counts.
A large part of the process of change we encounter as writers is that of growth and continual evolvement. We have to take notice of what our reviewers are telling us, and step up our game where we need to. We can learn a lot from feedback and constructive criticism. It shouldn’t be something we are afraid of, as it is one of our best friends. We absolutely must not engage in vitriol with a reviewer who has left us a less than stellar review. This is unprofessional in the extreme, and only reflects badly on you. Not only have you put a (possibly) poor book out there, but now you are behaving badly too. Don’t go there. Don’t pollute the fertile ground you’ll need to plant, grow and harvest your next crop.
In my experience, it is steps 1 through 3 which are the easiest and the most enjoyable. Step 4 can often feel tedious, and step 5 nerve wracking. However, that is nothing compared to giving your ‘baby’ to an editor (step 6)! And then, of course, by the time you finally make it to the publishing stage, you have all the marketing and self-promotion to navigate your way through. It is at these more difficult times, I find it helpful to remember why I write. (I just love it! Don’t you?) I can’t imagine giving up writing altogether, and take great care not to let my reviewing, editing, and beta reading commitments swallow up all of my time.
Whatever day job you have, however hard it might feel at times, especially as you progress through the stages of writing and publishing, it is important to allow yourself the time to do what you love: write. Even if it’s just the literary equivalent of doodles! The saying: “A good writer reads!” is well known and true. I would add: “A good writer writes!” It is by continually putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, that we grow as an author. It is taking on board, and utilising, feedback that we grow as an author. It is in working with an editor and learning from them that we grow as an author (because, yes, we will learn a lot of skills and knowledge from this process, which we can utilise ourselves in the future).
It is in this harvesting of change that we grow as an author.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the post isn’t too long for you! 🙂