OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Last month I sent my first novel ‘Pentecost' to a freelance editor for an Editorial Review. I truly believe it's important to pay for an objective viewpoint, if you don't already have an editor with a publishing house. In this video, I explain why you need an editor and the process for finding one.
I engaged Steve Parolini, The Novel Doctor after a process of interviewing several editors by email. He'll be coming on the blog soon to talk about the editing process. Meanwhile, this is my viewpoint (from the scary end!) The draft I sent him was the 3rd whole draft, meaning I had done significant rewrites from the first draft and also tidied up based on reading the book aloud.
How it feels
A few weeks after sending my draft, I received an email from Steve with my editorial review as an attachment. I didn't open that email for 10 days. I was that scared of what it would say.
A first novel is a difficult thing. You're still learning the craft but you also want to get it out there. Getting it out there means criticism. Criticism hurts. I didn't want to read the review as I didn't want to get hurt. That's the bottom line, folks!
After being an idiot for a while, I decided that if I wasn't going to open that email, then I was going to let myself and you guys down. I have been writing ‘Pentecost' pretty much in public since November NaNoWriMo last year. I share the truth and lessons learned with you along the way. This is just another lesson. It didn't stop the nerves, but I managed to print the document and put it on my desk. After a bit more time looking at it I finally read it, and actually it wasn't that bad after all.
Fear of criticism is worse than the actual criticism. Like most fears, it pales in comparison to what we have built up in our heads. If I really want to be a pro novelist (and I do) then I have to take a hell of a lot more criticism than this!
What did the Editorial Review say?
Steve (bless him!) understands the pain of the new writer. He starts, like every good reviewer, with some positive feedback to draw you down the page. I particularly liked “The story in general feels a little like a hybrid of an Indiana Jones movie and a Dan Brown novel. Not a bad place to be.”
Of course, I paid for a critical review that would help me improve the novel, so there wasn't much of that before we hit what could be improved. I still don't want to give away too much about the plot. (Sample chapters will be up before Christmas.)
The review covered the following: big picture issues, plot, dialogue, redundancy, setting, and characters. Each of these was pulled apart and Steve gave suggestions on what could be improved or changed to make the book more publishable. The plot tips were excellent in terms of holes that needed filling. When you write a novel, you think you have included key information needed to understand certain aspects but sometimes it's missing on the page and only exists in your brain.
I changed the opening scene to make the whole premise more powerful. This was pretty hard because it was one of the most certain things in my mind. But hey, I am paying for improvements so I knuckled down and changed the scene! I wrote new scenes to make a couple of characters stronger and changed the direction of the antagonist. This was quite difficult to do as well because of how set aspects were in my head.
Overall, I found these rewrites to be a lot of hard work. More first draft type of effort than rewriting/editing. But the book is definitely improved by it, so thank you Steve!
Is it worth paying for a freelance editor?
I think it's critical, especially for beginning writers or if you are self-publishing. I am really over the criticism that the books of independent authors are of a lower quality than traditionally published. There is no excuse for it really. We all need reviews of our work and critique groups only go so far. Please do budget for an editor but make sure you get a good one! (Interview them first)
How did I do the rewrite afterwards?
After reflecting on Steve's comments, I decided which advice I wanted to use. I went through the Editorial Review with a pen and highlighted everything important and where I could make changes.
I then went through the novel again and wrote each scene into a 1-liner with the main plot points. I put the existing scene on one side of a page and then left the other side blank for me to add in rewrite points. See above left for what this looks like.
I then went through the novel again rewriting as per the new ideas. The first few scenes are quite heavily rewritten and I did change aspects of the antagonist and the shadowy organization behind the scenes. I then had to go through the rest of the book to ensure consistency. I added two entirely new scenes which helped improve several of the characters. I have addressed about 80% of the comments and am happy with the result.
I have another re-read and tidy up to do for myself and then I will be giving the novel to beta readers. These are a few handpicked thriller lovers who will give me some feedback to make any final changes. Then the book goes to my copy-editor while I write the blurb and also a pitch which is required for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA) I will be posting the first few chapters here before Christmas. I am aiming for Feb 1st book launch which you will hear more about!
A few people have asked about my publishing intentions given I am a huge supporter of self-publishing. Well, I am actually a huge fan of all kinds of publishing hence the tag line of the blog is about adventures in writing, publishing and book marketing. I love indie publishing but I still want a traditional print publishing deal, and next year I will be going to ThrillerFest to meet agents and learn more about the industry. (Ticket is booked!)
But I am not sitting around waiting for rejections. I am going to indie publish anyway in February and get an ebook and POD book out there. I will promote it here and on twitter and elsewhere, and also enter ABNA. I am aiming at drawing attention to myself so that agents/publishers/editors will be more interested in what I am doing when I do pitch. I have a platform, I hope to have the readers by then, and of course I will be into the next book. So that's the plan!
Need an editor? Check out the tutorial below.