[REALITY CHECK] Self Editing or “Never Submit Your First Draft”

You have just finished writing your manuscript and you are determined to see it published.

 

You immediately start submitting it to publishers, editors, and literary agents only to get rejection after rejection after rejection.

 

You decide that these “literary gatekeepers” are complete idiots, all of their taste is in their mouths, and the only way to get your work out to the public is to self publish.

 

You spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars using one of the many “self” publishing platforms available to choose from that offer dubious editorial support—if any.

 

Your book is released. You get some sales. Your book is trashed.

 

Not just trashed, but well and truly rubbished. Authors don’t just write books, we give birth to babies that happen to be books, and if your book really was a baby in this scenario, the world would have witnessed a crime against humanity.

 

But before you blame everyone and their ancestors all the way back to the Primordial Soup, take a look in the mirror. Chances are, you sabotaged yourself way before your book got published.

 

How?

 

Because you were in such a hurry to get published, you didn’t consider whether or not your manuscript was ready to publish.

 

Before anyone accuses me of taking a dig at people who self publish, I haven’t made my point yet, and the point is this: never submit your first draft.

 

Too many people who want to be published make the mistake of submitting their first draft, or worse, a work-in-progress (aka a WIP), and after receiving many rejections decide to “go it alone.” Not only are they certain that they have written the greatest story ever, but it has to be released immediately because the world cannot exist another minute without this literary masterpiece in mass circulation.

 

But what many of them fail to realize is that they could have gotten that publishing contract or better sales and reviews if they self published if they had taken the time to present their best effort. To achieve this, the work has to be edited and polished so that it shines and is no longer a diamond in the rough.

 

And the first step of the editing process is self editing.

 

“Writing is rewriting” is the motto of many published authors, and if you want to join them, you should add this to your writing mantra if your aim is to be a published author—and not just a poseur or a wannabe. You have got to respect the craft that is writing.

Don’t submit your first draft. Submit your final draft, and that draft may be the last of a long line of drafts or even a second or third draft if the writing is polished.

 

If you feel that your self-editing skills are weak, strengthen them by educating yourself or taking formal writing and editing classes. If that idea is too intimidating or if you believe you’ve done all that you can, enlist (read: hire) a professional editor to help you polish your work before you start shopping it around. And if you really can’t be bothered with editing at all, do the world a favor and hire a talented ghostwriter who cares for humanity too much for it to be assaulted by crap writing.

 

If you don’t have the money to hire a professional editor, you need to find someone whose opinion you trust when it comes to the field/genre in which you write and has a solid understanding of the type of writing you are doing. Writing fiction is different from nonfiction writing, academic writing, and business writing. If your editor doesn’t understand this, find another editor. Finding your favorite English teacher from your days at school and getting them to edit may not be the best choice. 

 

You will notice how I said you should get the help of an editor before you submit your work seeking publication.  I believe I have said before that the people making the decisions are more likely to accept your work if they feel that very little is left for them to do before getting it on the market. This saves the publisher money, the book gets on sale faster, you start earning a royalty sooner, and everyone is happy. If your book is picked up by an agent, the agent finds a publisher for it faster, you get a publishing contract, you and your agent start earning and splitting your royalty sooner, and everyone is happy. Or, if you self publish, people will buy your book, enjoy it, recommend it, and you make all the money and you will be happy.

 

Do you see where I’m going with this?

 

If you’re serious about your craft, I suggest reading Revision and Self Editing by James Scott Bell to get you in the frame of mind of putting your best work forward.

 

Believe me. Your (future) readers will appreciate you for it.

 

 

©2012. Zetta Brown. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or her other blogs: Random Thoughts, Full-Bodied (Book) Blog.

 

Views: 854

Tags: Bell, Brown, Check, Editing, James, Reality, Revision, Scott, Self, Zetta, More…and, editing, self

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Comment by Jeane Daly on September 16, 2012 at 5:11pm

I couldn't agree more. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our story we forget about our audience. We know the cast of characters, where the story is headed, but have we made that clear to the reader? Did we leave out explanations, times, places, events? It takes at least 3 rewrites for me to clear up all the details. In order to do this I have to have someone with a critical eye, rip the story apart, stab me in the heart, and hopefully tell me it's ready to go.  Jeane Daly

Comment by Kimberly Llewellyn on August 15, 2012 at 6:06am

I agree, Soniah! When I start tweaking tiny things then tweaking them back to their original way, or when I create errors in my story from overtweaking, then it's time to, "back away from the manuscript..." :)

Comment by Soniah Kamal on August 15, 2012 at 4:10am

I think the hardest part of editing/revising is knowing when you are finally done and that this is your final draft. Perhaps when you begin to agonize over itty-bitty diction rather than the bigger issues of structure and character consistency? Because I always find there's something else I can do, then end up re-adding the very something I just took out:)

Comment by Geri Givens Taylor on August 5, 2012 at 8:03am

After a day's writing, I use StyleWriter 4 to edit my work.  I have it set up for FICTION and PUBLIC but it still tends to edit my work like a business report.  I have managed to work my way around that and ignore many of their suggestions However, it does encourage me to look over my work sentence by sentence. Also, SW4 is far better than Word's Spell/Grammar Check at catching many misused words.  I am not adverstising SW4, I am just saying I find it a great tool to have in my tool box.  There are plenty of other editing software programs out there.

Comment by Tiffany Jackson on August 5, 2012 at 5:05am

Ha, "You decide that these “literary gatekeepers” are complete idiots," that's exactly how I felt. Thanks for this!!!

Comment by Tonya Rice on August 3, 2012 at 8:20pm

Zetta, thank you for this post. I'm still in the middle of my rewrite; after this point, I KNOW I've got at least one more purge through it before I submit it to an editor. Even as I work on it, finding an editor is in the forefront of my mind. As a former copyeditor, I believe it's the most necessary part of the process. It's got to be done before I even think of sending it to an agent OR even uploading to a self-publishing vehicle. Additional sets of eyes prior to publishing are paramount!

Comment by Liz Gelb-O'Connor on August 3, 2012 at 4:04pm

Similar to several of you that have commented, I am still re-working my first novel while I pen my second one.  Every new set of eyes digs up another valuable suggestion or a newbie mistake.  I think back to my first 4 beta readers that received the first draft, and I'm embarrassed!  I'm on my fourth draft, and I've had several professionals and my critique group look at various sections. However, I'd like to get one final professional edit from someone who lives, breathes, and eats the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal genre.  Any suggestions out there on someone or how to find someone who can help me make it publication ready?  Or at least help me get ready for a November Pitch conference I am attending?

Comment by Marti Rulli on August 3, 2012 at 3:34pm

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My first book became a bestseller in true crime for 3-8 months, and also became the #1 search at Amazon three various times for the publicity it generated on a high profile case, and I had tried for years to get my manuscript published before finally adhering to a seven-month, virtual non-stop editing stint to re-write and edit. After the grueling work, my manuscript had been accepted by the first publisher to read the manuscript and a decent advance was offered. I worked with another author a year later who claimed, "Writing is NOT editing." She believed in NO editing and needless to say, we soon parted ways. One NaNo work of hers is published sans editing and the reader definitely suffers.  I am now working on a manuscript and I've rewritten every chapter at least  three times already. Editing is the most important part of the process of writing, the MUST-DO of writing. Editing IS writing. No matter how you try to fool yourself that you've got what it takes to avoid editing, well you might be fooling only yourself because astute readers will never tolerate your work. Spare the literary world. There are no short cuts when it comes to writing. Looking back on my successful book, I wish I had edited ten times as much!

Comment by Debra Baker on August 3, 2012 at 5:50am

I just had a block lifted and I am writing my novel again and it feels good and I want to show it to someone and have rave reviews and an advance but that isn't going to happen until I'm *known* which means I need to finish my first draft and self-edit and share ideas with others and exactly how do you know when it is ready for another set of eyes?

Comment by Betty Wilson on August 2, 2012 at 8:31pm

I couldn't agree with you more. Writing is definitely re-writing and re-writing again until it hurts and your MS feels finished. Then of course you edit it several more times before you send it to a professional editor who will correct all those pesky little things you can't see. 

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