Sunday, March 11, 2012

It’s All About the Writing

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor
There's a lot of very good info/advice out there on self-publishing and promoting your book, including several excellent blog posts here on CFC. But first, make sure your book is ready for the critics: the readers and reviewers. I see too many aspiring authors whipping off a book, then rushing to send it to agents or self-publish it on Amazon, and then promoting it like crazy on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and wherever else, when what they really needed to do was spend more time and effort producing a quality story first. This race to publish prematurely can be incredibly damaging to your career and your reputation as a writer.

Want to sell more books? Write them well! Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and jeopardize — or completely ruin — your reputation as a novelist by rushing to self-pub or send off a first — or even second — draft. Develop your craft by taking courses or workshops, joining a critique group, and reading how-to books and articles on effective fiction-writing techniques. Then apply what you’ve learned to ratchet up your story. Go over your whole manuscript again, fine-tuning, smoothing out any clunky writing or overly wordy spots, finding just the right word, and amping up the characterization, tension and intrigue.

Then send it to a few trusted "beta" readers for their opinions, and incorporate any ideas that really resonate with you. Finally, use a freelance editor to find those plot flaws and inconsistencies, spots where it's lagging, and any amateurish techniques still lurking in the draft and to go over it with a fine-toothed comb, looking for grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors. (Or these two stages may be carried out by two different people, a content editor and a final copyeditor/proofreader.)

Kristen Lamb doesn’t mince words on this point in her recent blog post, “The Modern Author–A New Breed of Writer for the Digital Age of Publishing”: 

“We can’t put a shiny bow on a pile of literary dog poop and call it a rose. No amount of marketing is going to sell garbage. We have to learn to write good books. Notice I use the plural — books. We can't slave over one book forever making it perfect. I said we need to write good books, not perfect books.

"We also can’t toss junk out there and think promotion will make it a hit. Good books will always sell way more than crappy books. Not rocket science. We should always be learning as much as we can about our craft, our trade, our art. This is why I blog on craft and point you guys to the best teachers in the industry.”

“Okay,” you say, “but I can’t afford an editor.”

Is it worth it to hire a freelance editor for your novel before sending it to agents or publishing it? I asked several successfully published writer clients and friends their take on this. Here are their answers.

Andrew Kaufman, talented bestselling thriller writer and fellow founder of Crime Fiction Collective, has this to say on the subject:

“This is an extremely important point and one I can’t stress enough. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you think you are. After numerous rewrites of a manuscript (which is just as important), you are too familiar with your work and have lost all objectivity.

“An editor with a fresh and critical eye will bring things to your attention you never knew existed, both developmentally and in the line/copy editing. These are the people who will help bring a novel to the next level. I consider their work to be an invaluable part of the process.

“And for those who say they can’t afford to hire one — I say you can't afford not to. If you’re serious about selling your book, then this is a step you simply must take.”
~ Andrew E. Kaufman, Sept. 2011, author of While the Savage Sleeps and The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted. 

And Andrew had this to add recently: “Another thing that comes to mind is that, with the extraordinary success of my most recent novel, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, I’m getting more emails from authors asking what my secret is. I tell them there is no secret, that the single most important key to success is having a well-written, highly polished novel. Without that, all the promotion in the world won’t make a bit of difference. And you simply can’t get that by yourself. You need a professional. I’m not too proud to admit that, and you shouldn’t be,
either.” - Andrew E. Kaufman, March 7, 2012

I asked Allan Leverone, published thriller writer, what he thought about this topic. 

“As authors, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of our work, and it’s even easier to rush that work out before it’s ready. But in this day and age, when anyone with a computer and the time to string 80,000 words together can slap a price tag on his “book” and begin promoting, it’s even more critical to ensure your work is the highest quality it can possibly be. That means writing, rewriting, self-editing. And THEN working with a capable editor, one who is well-versed in your particular genre.

“And if you're reading this at the Crime Fiction Collective, you won't have to go far to find one. I was fortunate to work with editor Jodie Renner on my bestselling thriller, The Lonely Mile, and the result was a book far more suspenseful and page-turning than even I had thought possible. You worked hard on your book. Give it the best possible chance for success.”

~ AllanLeverone, Mar. 7, 2012, author of The Lonely Mile, StoneHouse Ink
“A taut crime drama full of twists and conspiracy”

One of my thriller-writer clients, Ian Walkley of Australia, tells me he wrote eight drafts of his novel No Remorse, before realizing he needed some objective input from professional editors. “Like many debut writers, I’d been to writing courses and read books about writing, but I was worried that a professional editor would cost me heaps and, to be honest, thought the editor might tell me my work was crap or make me rewrite the story.” 

At a writer’s conference, Ian met a professional editor whom he engaged to undertake a structural edit — advising on the structure of the book. “It was a good experience, and not as costly as I’d anticipated. The plot and scene structure were certainly improved to add suspense and pace. As a result of that, I hunted around for a copy editor.”

“I found several editors, including Jodie Renner, on Facebook, and I had them demonstrate their editing style with ten pages or so of my book. I contracted Jodie because she was thorough and I felt comfortable with her changes. I absolutely enjoyed the experience working with Jodie, who suggested numerous plot and character changes that improved the book. I certainly have a much better published novel because I used an editor.”  

~ Ian Walkley, March 2012, author of action-thriller,

Even editors need editing!

A few years ago, I edited a novel for a professional editor, Eve Paludan, and here’s what she said back then:

“I am a professional editor of scholarly work at a university but I hired Jodie Renner to edit my romantic suspense novel manuscript of 108,000 words. Just like a surgeon wouldn’t perform surgery on himself (or on his family), even a professional editor needs a second pair of sharp eyes to discern, deconstruct, suggest changes and help polish the language.

 “Your mother shouldn’t edit your work and neither should your best friend. Nor will spellchecking save your manuscript. So who should you hire to edit your work? I suggest choosing someone who doesn’t already love you, has stellar qualifications, and possesses a sharp eye and a true affection for your genre.

“Books about writing are helpful, and so are classes, but neither reveals what is wrong with your story, page by page, even line by line. A live professional editor like Jodie Renner has just the right one-on-one editorial style. […]
“It’s thrilling to experience the evolution of my novel manuscript and see both its strengths recognized and its weaknesses revealed, through Jodie’s eyes. Writing is a solitary endeavor but editing, for the eventual goal of professional publication, is a team effort between author and editor. This novel is the most important thing I’ve ever written. I trusted Jodie Renner with my huge manuscript and am happy to report, she’s worth every cent.”
– Eve Paludan, February 2010, author of The Man Who Fell from the Sky, (Angel Detectives, Case #1) 

Related article: "Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot" - on taking care with your query letter.

And then of course we need to search out good formatters and cover designers, to give the book that final polish. See LJ Sellers' excellent post, Invest in Your Own E-Book, here at CFC. Also, see Publishing Yourself, by Helen Ginger, on Blood-Red Pencil blogspot.

Readers and writers - what's your experience with all this? Expensive? Worth it? Is cutting corners before publishing worth the risk? And how do you feel when you buy an e-book and find errors on the first page? We'd love to hear your opinion on these issues.

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback.
For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Excellent advice, Jodie! And I'd like to add that it's important to hire a professional editor who works in the genre. I've paid for editing that missed so many things, I had to start over and pay another editor. And if you can afford it, hire a proofreader to go over the book after you and your editor have made all the content changes. Polishing a manuscript is a process!

  2. I have an ego. I'm competitive. I hate that I'm not perfect. Combine those three things and there's no doubt in my mind that I made the best decision to hire professionals to edit my manuscript, format it for both electronic and print publishing, and design a cover.

    I love this from Kristen Lamb: "I said we need to write good books, not perfect books."

    As a reader, I'll only put up with one or two errors in a book. Why waste both my time and money if the author hasn't used either well?

  3. You make an excellent point, LJ, about hiring an editor who reads and edits your genre. I have a list of genres on my website that I don't read myself so don't accept for editing. I don't enjoy those genres so wouldn't be as enthusiastic about editing them, and also I'm not familiar with the conventions and reader expectations for genres I don't read, so it wouldn't be fair to the author.

  4. Peg, you have very high standards for typos and other errors in books. I find at least 6-7 errors in every bestseller I read (occupational hazard), so my rejection point would be closer to 20 - 25 errors for a whole book, I think, as long as the story is compelling. If the story and characters don't grab me, I'll put the book down no matter how flawless the English skills are.

  5. LJ, back to your point about having to pay for a whole editing, then start all over with someone else - that's one of the reasons why I edit in sections and the sections go back and forth between us, with editing and revisions, comments and questions, before going on to the next section, with payments in instalments as we go along. If either party is not happy, we can part ways, hopefully amicably, and neither party is out anything. I refund money for any editing not completed, but not for any editing I've completed, of course.

  6. Peg, if I see 4-5 errors on the first few pages, I'll definitely put the book down - for good! Even formatting errors can be distracting and irritating.

  7. Jodie, I'm greatful that you take the time to be so thorough while editing my short stories. I have friends who will pose as an 'extra set of eyes' for my stories before I submit them to magazines and contestes, but the thorough editing is invaluable. It's what saves my bacon. :)
    D.F. Barrett

  8. Thanks, D.F. I love reading your short stories as I edit them - they're all so different it's hard to believe they're all conceived from one mind!

  9. p.s.
    As you can see by my post...I REALLY do need an editor. And Jodie, you're so polite that you didn't even lecture me re:the typos in my last comment. Ha ha.

  10. D.F., your stories are so compelling and your characters so engaging that they all shine through any minor typos! To me, story trumps spelling and grammar every time! But of course I do work to polish up the spelling, grammar and punctuation so the story or novel will be publish-ready.

  11. Thanks for this, Jodie. Such a valuable article. In this age of POD, I see so many writer's conferences and seminars dedicated to "writing ONE draft and get the book out!" I remember one very aggressive writer/coach insisting that writer's should publish one book every 12 weeks. He does that... and the thing is, I've never heard of him. Plus, two dangling modifiers in his first book turned me off and I'll never read him again.

    Seems high quality work also means work an author can be proud of.... and then go market with pride. If I wrote a book in 12 weeks, I'd want it to hide somewhere on Amazon where nobody could see it. :)

  12. Thanks, Anonymous (I wish you'd left your name!) I can't see anyone producing a high-quality novella in 12 weeks, much less a full-length novel! And keeping up that schedule... Wouldn't happen. Not to produce high-quality books that sell and get good reviews.

  13. Jodie,

    You said you can't see anyone producing a high quality novella in 12 weeks. I have to disagree with that. I think people write at different speeds and some people spend much more time writing during a given day than others.

    I wrote THE END OF MARKING TIME (first draft) in about 6 weeks. Yes, I spent 12 more weeks revising that book and it went to editors, etc, but I am talking to writers whose work I admire and they are producing 4 books per year. That's fast writing.

    I agree that books need to be edited and polished, but I wouldn't say that any book produced in 3 months isn't worth reading. In Fact, I think THE END OF MARKING TIME is my best work and it was written in half the time of my other books.

    Sometimes I think we are so taken with a powerful idea that the words just flow.

  14. I do content editing, and I've worked with many clients who have already run their manuscripts past a critique group and gone as far as those groups can take them. Every one of those manuscripts still needed substantial revisions to plot, character development, etc., and usually had some stylistic issues as well. There is a difference between beta readers, even those who are aspiring authors, and a professional editor. Fortunately, many people do recognize this and are happy to pay for feedback that will make their work better! I've never heard anyone complain about not getting their money's worth after professional critique. A serious writer doesn't just want pats on the head. He or she wants to make their book great.

  15. CJ - So many different factors to consider there, like is the writer also working full time or has a lot of family responsibilities; the length of the final product (60K is a lot different than 100K!); whether that time frame included just the first draft, or also the revision and self-editing, plus the professional editing process and subsequent revisions. If the author didn't get it edited, there may well be other issues, like: Is the story compelling and intriguing enough? Are the characters complex and developed enough? Is there enough suspense and conflict to hold the reader’s interest? Does everything make sense, or are there inconsistencies and plot flaws the author didn't catch, but the readers will? Is the writing clunky or smooth-flowing, with good pacing? How was it received by readers and critics? How are the reviews? Sales? Could they have been better?

  16. Chris Eboch - thanks for stopping by and leaving your opinion on this. Nice to hear from another editor, and I agree with you 100%!

  17. CJ, I forgot to say congratulations on your muse working so well for the first draft of The End of Marking Time! It must have felt great when the ideas just flowed onto the pages like that! I'll have to look for that book.

  18. Honestly, most people probably won't give a second thought to these etiquette blunders, because they are so ubiquitous in today's work environments.
    But if you exercise a little extra sensitivity in these things, you show how much you personally value those around
    you and will earn their respect in kind. For example, critics of these studies say that subjects may
    have recall bias. Subjects in the study diagnosed with brain
    tumors may have better recall of how often they
    used their cell phones and on which side of their heads they usually placed
    their phones than the control groups that do not suffer from these
    ailments. Pick which screen you want to use.
    Thanks to a couple of accidental dials, I now use the screen immediately to the left of
    my home screen, but if your fingers are less clumsy than mine, you may
    want to add a few high-frequency contacts to your home
    screen. You don't have to keep all your one-click contacts on one screen, but since this is all about saving time and mental energy, it may be best to do just that. Press and hold on the screen you've selected, then click"Shortcuts," then "Direct dial" or "Direct message." Step 2 - Select
    "Direct dial" or "Direct message" Page through your contacts and select whichever BFF is getting
    the one-click treatment. Contacts with multiple lines might need multiple shortcuts,
    depending on which numbers you're likeliest to call or message. Organize your icons in a way that makes sense to you. It may take a day or two for you to quickly remember where everyone is on the screen, but once it's intuitive, you'll be a one-click wonder! Desoto County Mississippi Public Records
    Look into my web page : reverse phone lookup

  19. Hi! Quick question that's entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4. I'm trying to
    find a template or plugin that might be able to correct
    this issue. If you have any recommendations, please share.

    My web-site


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.