We’re getting toward the end of our series of questions on self-editing, which our guest expert Renni Browne is answering. As many of you know, Renni wrote the book on self-editing and runs a leading editing service.
I’ll start by responding to a couple of comments from today:
I just jumped in and read all the posts on this topic and the question about hiring a professional editor still niggles me: Can a first-time author really recoup the cost?
It depends a LOT where you are in the process. If you are a beginning writer (what I call a Freshman), then you should be frugal. Buy some books on writing, go to a local one-day writing conference, invest in an inexpensive course such as Fiction 101, etc. I don’t advise spending a lot of money, because you don’t know for sure yet that you really have the writing bug and the persistence required to become a published author.
By the time you’re a Junior or a Senior, you KNOW you have the writing bug and you have quit asking unanswerable questions such as “Do I have talent?” (Talent is good, but it is over-rated. Persistence, a good work ethic, and raw emotive force are more important.) By your Junior year, you are probably going to a good (and expensive) conference every year. Somewhere between your Junior and Senior year, it may well be cost-effective to start working with a good freelance editor.
Be clear on this: a freelance editor can’t make something out of nothing. You need to develop your skills a bit first. Once you’ve done that and you’re getting close to publishable, then’s the time to take your writing to that pesky next level. I didn’t hire my first free-lance editor until my third novel. I probably should have started sooner, but my first two novels got published and won awards without an editor.
This is just a fact of life: Writing fiction is an expensive hobby that often doesn’t pay very well. We all know the exceptions, the Tom Clancys and Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowlings of the world who make big bucks. But these are the EXCEPTIONS. Most novelists have a day job. That’s just a sad fact that is due to the fact that the universe is unfair. Deal with that and resolve to take actions now to beat the odds.
I’m kind of thinking though, that you totally missed my question. It was the first one that got asked on self-editing and I think you probably missed it.
It’s no big deal and I certainly don’t want any favoritism, but it’s a question that’s been really burning in my mind and I have no idea who else to ask it to.
Randy sez: Oops! It’s entirely possible that I missed it. A lot of questions came in. Go ahead and post it again here as a comment. My apologies!
There are changes I want to make to some of the conversations and events in what’s written so far before I CAN continue writing the rest of the story (the changes will affect what I’m currently writing and I’m afraid I’ll forget or it won’t make sense to me later at re-write stage). But I AM CERTAIN that if I go back into those chapters, I’ll get sucked into editing stuff that I should leave alone for now. I have inserted some track changes comments, but it’s better if I stay out of the ms entirely. So I took the time to make a new brief outline of the chapters so far showing the additions and changes and I hope to follow THIS instead of getting sucked back into the ms. We’ll see if it works. Any advice would be appreciated.
Renni answered: I don’t see how an outline is going to keep you from having an idea (and then executing a change) that isn’t in the outline, but hey, whatever works. Otherwise? It sounds to me as if you’re too close to the story. I think your assessment of your situation is astute; I also think your smart option is professional feedback. You want to make your novel as good as it can possibly be. You can’t do that without going back into it, and you know yourself well enough to realize that this will set off a whole new round of additions and deletions and second-guessing yourself. An experienced, objective take on what you’ve got and what it could be might not only be just what the novel needs, it might make you actually enjoy being back in the manuscript.
Randy adds: Camillie, if I’m not mistaken, you’re still working on your first novel, right? Given that, I’d say, forge ahead and finish the beast! Use that outline of yours, keep moving forward, and prove to yourself that you can finish a book you started. That’ll give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment and confidence that you can edit the thing. Then go back and look at the high-level issues. If you have a critique buddy, get her advice.
A lot of writing conferences offer paid critiques by published authors for $25 or so. That can be a good investment if it shows you some consistent problems in your writing. When I was close to selling my first novel, I asked a friend of mine who happened to be a NY Times best-selling novelist to read a couple of chapters. She graciously did it for free (this was at a writing conference, and she was a friend, not somebody I approached out of the blue). I still have her hand-written comments of those chapters. Even those few pages exposed 2 or 3 consistent errors I was making in my writing. I identified the problems and then fixed the other 300+ pages of the manuscript. Not long after that, I sold that book.
I won’t tell you the name of this friend, because I don’t want to see her deluged with requests for free critiques. You should only ask friends for free critiques, and you should NOT make friends with people solely to get them to critique your work. Make friends with people whom you intend to be a friend to. If you can help them or they can help you, that’s frosting on the friendship cake.