Editing for Incremental Improvement

Incremental improvement means taking small steps consistently. This can lead to massive growth and change.” I share this to explain what I am doing, as a writer, to improve my book each day until it gets published. My recent editing has been taking time to make small changes to improve each paragraph, page and chapter. But, and it’s a big but, I have to do this consistently in order to see the results. I just hope my readers do too :-).

Ruminate

When writing, the plot and characters are uppermost in my mind. It’s a subconscious thing and I find myself thinking about events in my novel while drifting off to sleep, only to have them punctuated by fresh thoughts. These make me force myself awake and make the necessary changes while they are fresh – “I’ll forget them in the morning,” I tell myself. There a catch though. In the morning, have to check that the new thought fits the storyline and doesn’t detract from it or overwhelm it; it has to enhance it to be effective. Ah the joys of ruminating – just going over and over my novel, like cows chewing grass:

 

The Pitch

The Pitch is a snazzy one liner that sums up a novel’s theme. My pitch changed while editing and my professional editor (ex Penguin Publishing) helped shape it into:

Can Artificial Intelligence topple the global economy or restore financial equality? Depends whose side you’re on…

Perhaps our global issue is not Big Brother organisations, but the machines they are building? Food for literary thought.

The Perfect Edit

It’s poetic how some things work out. After months of editing and revising my manuscript, look how many words it ended up…

Yes, some will say it’s too long for a heist-thriller and others will disagree and say they need detail and back story to really get into a novel. For me, it was just where it ended up and, for that reason, it feels right. My first thriller was finished at around 85,000 words but my new one – with the extra words – does seem to have more depth and purpose. I hope readers agree. Hint: do you want to learn about the role of AI in the greatest bank robbery of all time?

A Professional Editor?

What value do I place on a professional editor? HEAPS!

I value any feedback from readers, but place high value on corrects and suggestions from a professional editor—one who is connected with publishing and knows what to look for in a ‘good read.’ I have used the same editor for my partial reviews, synopsis and query letter and her ideas on my plot and characters has given me insights that I missed. The edits have also allowed me to correct weaknesses quickly and the end result is a far more polished manuscript. I don’t always agree with the suggested corrections, but use them to improve the areas noted. Above all, having a professional (paid) editor gives me encouragement as a writer and, I must confess that without her, I would have given up long ago. Here are a couple of feedback examples:

Excellence vs Perfection in Writing

Hello again. I was discussing some of the presentations at a recent writers conference with a good friend who attended. He brought up the notion of perfection in writing vs excellence. The aim was to have writers concentrate on excellence and not try to be perfectionists. Writers should feel safe to make mistakes and be innovative. Which then begs the question, what is excellence in writing? I’m not a 100% sure myself. Some say it’s the point where you cannot improve on the story, plot, characters, etc. I agree, but I’m going to stick my writer’s neck out and also suggest that the manuscript being submitted needs to be free of obvious errors, grammatical mistakes, etc. If it isn’t it will be a turn-off for any literary agent or, in the case of self-published work, a negative experience for the reader.

 

Beta Readers are like Gold

I value my Beta Readers. Like gold, they shine bright and their feedback is invaluable. A keen reader of thrillers – who has devoured over 30 books this year so far – has just finished my book. He was tasked with general feedback, rather than detailed analysis. The golden nugget for me was his comment that he felt the story only got flowing with the submarine action. This got me thinking about the sequence of chapters and made me realise that I could bring the underwater action forward. After some heavy cut-and-paste, this action now begins at Chapter 3 and the story is better paced and more engaging. My reader made a few other passing comments which has led to further tweaks and a better novel. This one made me smile;

“I had a feeling that the story was going to end with a twist and it was a good one.”

Conclusion? Beta Readers are like gold!

Here is an easy guide for Beta Readers:

  1. Identify characters who are not engaging so I can strengthen or remove them.
  2. Identify anything that’s confusing (chapters, paragraphs, or dialog).
  3. Evaluate Plot and Pace: was the book a “good read” that kept you engaged and wanting more? If not, what parts lacked engagement?
  4. Finally, the ending: was it OK? Unexpected? Can you think of a better one?
  5. Would you tell your friends about this book after having read it?

Read–>Research–>Rewrite

Edit 101: A great technique that I have found useful for reviewing my work (after the basic spelling, grammar and sentence lengths, etc.) is to read through a chapter–>research on areas lacking detail and then–>rewrite. Let’s take an example from the 2nd to last chapter in my new book:

I gaze at my surroundings, soaking in the ambience. Beyond the pool and a sixty-foot yacht, sparkling blue water laps the high walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a bastion protecting us from prying eyes. Rows of olive and citrus trees flood the bank behind us, and the gardener waves when he spots me.

After a short google on “fruit trees in Dubrovnik” my rewrite looked like this:

I gaze at my surroundings, soaking in the ambience. A classic sixty-foot yacht lies tied alongside the pier and, beyond, sparkling blue water wraps the high walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, protecting us from prying eyes. Rows of olive, apple and citrus trees flood the bank behind us, and a gardener waves when he spots me. He’s gathering bitter oranges from laden branches with a grin as bright as the day.

Notes: a later reference to the yacht required more detail earlier, hence the rearranging and greater emphasis in the second version. The gardener needed a more solid platform, rather than a passing mention.

There you have a minor, but important revision tool

Looking After Yourself

I recently had a request from an agent for my full manuscript. You can imagine the excitement in our household after four years of punching out, and editing, the 101,000 words. This momentous occasion was a cause for some celebration but, some four weeks later, was followed up with this email;

Thank you for sending the manuscript for [new book name here]. I’m sorry to say that, after further consideration, I have concluded that it is not quite the right fit for me. This of course reflects less on the quality of your submission and more on my own personal tastes. Thank you for considering me this time and if you do not find an agent for this book, please remember to try me again with any future projects.

How did I feel? Gutted and dismayed that my book fell short, and somewhat disappointed that I did not receive more helpful detail from the agent. That resulted in a long lull in my writing and my enthusiasm to write died. But, a few weeks later, I am more determined than ever to take my book “up a notch” for readers (see earlier post) and for my future agent. The difficulty is how to do this. My first step was to send the manuscript out to two readers who I trust to be honest and ask for their feedback. While I await their responses I am taking a brutally honest look at the plot and flow, especially in the early chapters. The Synopsis is also on the chopping block.

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