An editor looks for… Timing Problems

Here’s a tip for writers who wish to publish: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR TIMELINE!

Each novel I have edited has had some kind of problem associated with the order of events. It’s one of the most common mistakes that writers make.  Seasons, months of the year, days of the week, times of the day are either out of sequence or missing altogether; characters who seemingly travel from one place to another in record time; daffodils in the autumn, fallen leaves in the spring… these are a few of my favourite things!

Whether you are writing a complex time-hopping tome or a straightforward linear narrative, keep a note of the sequence of events, when they occur, and to whom.

Sorting out timelines are a headache for the editor; that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy it, but it don’t half take a long time! By far the best person to keep track of a novel’s timeline is the author.

Why is the timeline so problematic? Well, many writers prefer to create events as they go along rather than plan out the whole story. Planning can take the fun out of the writing process; the writer wants to be as surprised as the reader as the plot unfolds. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily make for commercial success. It can cause a good idea to present itself as a rambling mess.

Apart from keeping tabs on the basic sequence of events, below are some examples of timeline inconsistencies that you may wish to bear in mind for general fiction:

  • The order in which the seasons, months, days of the week, and times of the day follow each other. Pay particular attention to sunrise and sunset times, and whether its BST or GMT; which plant life appears at which time of year; and the differences between the southern and northern hemisphere.
  • The feasibility of the time it takes to travel long distances. This applies equally to riding by horseback in historic times as to driving a car in the current day (Google Maps ‘Directions’ is useful for checking the latter).
  • The mention of a song, film, or TV programme that hasn’t been released at the time of your story; technological advances which have yet to happen; language usage relevant for its time…and other anachronisms.
  • Physical characteristics that change over time: if your male character is being held prisoner for six months, and has no access to shaving equipment, ensure that he has grown a beard.  If your female character becomes pregnant, ensure her term is no greater than nine months…

There are several commercial software applications that help to keep track of a novel’s timeline and even calculate the age of characters. For example: Timeline Maker, Storybook , and StoryMill. For fantasy and sci-fi authors, Aeon Timeline is popular as it has a ‘fantasy calendar’ for the creation of ‘off-world’ timescales. Some writers simply create their own timeline check using an Excel spreadsheet.

It is part of an editor’s job to determine the timeline, but the job would be much simpler, and quicker, if an author could include a sequence of events with their manuscript.

Happy planning! 🙂

Professional editing as a transferable skill… interested?

A few years ago, I had a great idea…well, I thought it was.  Why not set up a local group to help writers become self-published; offering advice on the creative writing process, the editing process, and the publishing process?  I went through the motions of advertising, finding a venue, and paying for it. I had received enough enquiries from interested parties to make it worth my while, and so I prepared everything for the first session.

The day arrived.  I took myself off to the venue, set myself up, and waited in anticipation for my ten students to present themselves… Only two people turned up. To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Also, the community building where I had booked the room had a rumba class in the adjoining main hall, which for the first half-hour of my two-hour session was somewhat distracting. All that the three of us could hear was loud distorted music and the yells from the tutor; not to mention the boom-boom that vibrated through us.  It was not ideal, and given that the two people who kindly turned up were not even on my original list, I decided not to continue with the group at the time.

I still believe that there is a demand for this service, because many writers who wish to self-publish do not understand what editing for publication is all about, although many are coming to realise what it means, and how much work is involved. It doesn’t matter what anyone says; a writer cannot truly edit their own work. Having made the transition from writer to editor and having undergone the necessary training to carry out that task, the reasons why are obvious, but these are not always apparent to the independent writer.

It is a universal truth that nobody has to read a novel.  Just because a writer spends four years, or four weeks, writing a story, it doesn’t mean that a prospective customer is going to like it enough to spend money on it, especially if it hasn’t been edited or typeset professionally. But, in order to be able to use that service, the independent writer has to invest hundreds of pounds in preparing their work for publication, with no guarantee that they will recoup the outlay from sales of their books. It’s a risk; a gamble, but has far better odds than simply publishing their raw text – which without professional editing, their hard work will always be…

Hence the reason for my desire to set up a local group.  I would still like to be able to share what I have learned about the editing process with independent writers, face-to-face, so they can enter into self-publishing with a complete understanding of what editing for publication is all about. If nothing else, passing on some of the transferable skills to the writer will certainly make my job easier (maybe even cheaper!). However, as I have mentioned previously, an ongoing family illness prevents me from having much time to pursue this, unless I change the way I carry out my day-to-day editing, which is also on the cards at the moment.

Watch this space. 🙂

Expressing thoughts and imagined dialogue

There are no hard and fast rules about displaying a character’s thoughts. It tends to be dictated by trends of the moment or personal preference. The one rule is that once you have chosen a style, be consistent in the use of it.

Below are a set of published conventions for the expression of thoughts.

Thought and imagined dialogue may be placed in quotation marks or not, so long as similar instances are treated consistently within a single work.
Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003

…Italics are also used for emphasis…In fictional works italics may be used more creatively, for example, to convey unspoken thoughts.
Mitchell & Wightman, Book Typography, A Designer’s Manual, Libanus Press, 2005

(It is worth noting here that there are conventional editorial rules for the use of italics, and I shall cover these in a future post.)

Some authors have their own system of quotation marks, which they are anxious to retain: for example, double quotes for speech and single for thoughts…Try to persuade your author not to do this, as it can be more confusing than helpful.
Butcher, Judith, Butcher’s Copy-editing, The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, 4th edn, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Placing quotes around direct thoughts is now deemed old-fashioned. Modern convention is to display them without quotes. Italics can be irritating for the reader, especially if used a lot. It’s worth researching traditionally published novels to see how thoughts are displayed. Here are a few examples:

‘Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now,’ he thought savagely, as he spread manure on the flowerbeds, his back aching, sweat running down his face.
Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998

She looked up from her desk and glanced at Mma Makutsi, who was busying herself with the typing of a letter which Mma Ramotswe had drafted, in pencil, earlier on. We must try to help her, she thought. We must try to persuade her to value herself more than she does at present.
Smith, Alexander McCall, The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Abacus, 2004

So then I went back to the clearing he still wasn’t there and I thought Well, I guess he just made up he was coming and he didn’t want pants so bad after all.
Niffenegger, Audrey, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Vintage, 2005

(It is also worth noting that the first two are written in third person, and the third is written in first person.)

My personal preference is to use italics to display thoughts and imagined dialogue, but this will depend on the context, and how much text has already been italicized. 🙂

Editing tip 4: Unnecessary Words

Every word counts when writing a novel. Your prose ought to be concise and not contain unnecessary words and clichéd or overused phrases, particularly in the narration. In dialogue, you can get away with it, but not if it is repetitive. For instance, people do say, “At the end of the day” and “When all is said and done”. Having a character say it once will be excused by the reader, but several times? It will become irritating and is likely to be interpreted as a sign of lazy writing. As you self-edit your work, keep an eye out for this kind of thing. Read the sentence without the unnecessary words or phrase and, if it makes sense without, delete it, or replace it with something more meaningful.

Below is a list of common overused words and phrases, with given alternatives.

As to whether: whether is sufficient.

At this moment in time: simply use now.

At the end of the day: replace with the adverb finally or ultimately.

For the foreseeable future: unspecific. Tell the reader how much the foreseeable future is.

For/to all intents and purposes: replace with the adverb effectively or virtually.

In any way, shape or form: this phrase can be dropped without changing the meaning of the preceding text, but if it must be included, simply edit to in any way.

In spite of the fact that: simply use though or although.

In this day and age: simply use today.

One of the most: just use the most.

Par for the course: my favourite. People often mispronounce it as ‘path for the course’. It’s a golfing term that actually means normal or as expected.

The reason why is that: simply use because.

There is no doubt that: replace with no doubt or doubtless.

The truth is/the fact is: simply state the truth, or the fact.

The words who is and which was are often overused and can be removed:

Her son, who is currently living in Rome becomes Her son, currently living in Rome

Wales, which was the last place he lived becomes Wales, the last place he lived

This is just a small selection, but some Internet research or the purchase of a book of clichés will provide many more.

When editing for unnecessary words and phrases, first ask yourself what  meaning you are trying to convey; then decide if you need the phrase at all; then delete the text or rewrite it. 🙂

 

 

 

 

How long will it take to edit my novel?

This is a question that I am often asked by independent authors, and one of the reasons why I, sadly, turn prospective clients away. Some have unrealistic timescales, but this is usually because they don’t understand the editing process. They haven’t carried out any research (or bothered to read the information on my website!). Understandably, they are keen to submit their typescript to a literary agency or get on with the task of self-publishing, so want editing to be completed as soon as possible. Some also think that the more time editing takes, the higher the fee, but this is not necessarily the case.

To provide a realistic answer to the question, one needs to be aware of the traditional publisher’s schedule.  It can take nine months for a book to reach actual publication, with copy-editing taking 6 weeks, first page proofs taking 3 weeks, and revised proofs taking a week.* That’s almost 3 months taken up with editing alone.

The work that an experienced, and qualified, freelance editor or proofreader carries out should be no different to that carried out by in-house staff, except perhaps the hours they work. Although, due to increasing workloads and financial restraints, publishers now often outsource editorial staff.

Until a freelance editor has built up a reasonable amount of experience, it may be difficult to determine how long it will take to edit a novel. Word count is a factor, as is the level of editing involved, and the number of hours that an editor can commit to in any one week.

So, to answer the initial question, I would suggest that an independent author be prepared to wait at least 6 weeks for their typescript to be copy-edited. If it’s sooner, then that’s a bonus. If they are serious about having their work professionally prepared for publishing, the wait will be worth it.

It’s also worth mentioning that traditional publishing companies usually set their publishing date at the outset and work towards it. For independent authors who wish to self-publish, this may be a useful working practice to acquire, as timing is important from a marketing point of view. 🙂


*Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (fifth edition), Routledge, 2014.

On a personal note…

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s mainly due to family illness.  My elderly mother, a widow of three years, was recently diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. As the only child, any duty of care falls on my shoulders, but I have a family of my own, with the responsibilities that go with it, as well as some minor health issues, so there is only so much I can do.  However, I have made the decision to put my editing work on hold, and am not taking any new bookings at the current time.  This is the second occasion that I have done this.  In 2013, it happened because my father became unwell and my mother found it difficult to cope. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in the April, and he passed away at the end of August the same year.  It was very quick, and stressful for all concerned. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve had a bit of a time of it with family members and friends becoming unwell and passing away!

I am fortunate in that I do not have to work for a living, and I am grateful for that because if I did go out to work, I would not have been able to help my mother as much as I have.  However, I enjoy being a freelance editor.  I enjoy helping fiction writers to achieve their dreams of becoming authors, whether self-published or trying to become traditionally published, and the extra pennies always come in handy.  I have a contract to fulfil with my clients, as they are paying me for a professional service, so I am still in the process of trying to work out how to strike a balance between my mother’s care and existing work commitments.

The nature of editing work means that I need peace and quiet, and the ability to concentrate and focus. Well, my concentration has flown out of the window, and my focus is currently on my mother.  Any peace and quiet I have, I use to recharge my batteries. So I have not even been trying to edit, but I will be keeping my hand in with regards to editing-related topics; this blog being one of them. I have also returned to my next passion, creative writing. Certainly, I have created all sorts of rubbish these last few weeks, including entering a fiction competition, hopefully not with rubbish!

After a four-week stay in hospital, my mother is now at home, with carers visiting three times a day. With this care in place, I am hoping that I can find the time to finish off my existing editing project. I am planning to return to a more normal editing service in the New Year, but this will depend on circumstances.

Self-publishing: an explanation

I thought it would be useful to cover this topic because there are still misconceptions about what it is. First, it will probably help to explain about traditional publishing.

A traditional publishing company will only take on work that they consider commercially profitable. After all, they are a business. Generally, manuscripts are submitted to publishers by literary agents, and the decision to accept or reject them depends on the potential of the story, market trends, and production costs.

If you are fortunate enough to have your novel accepted by a publishing company, all of the hard work required in the production and selling of the book is done for you. That’s the editing, cover design and typesetting, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution. You will receive a payment in the form of an advance, which you pay back, over time, out of the royalties you earn from the sales of your book.

With true self-publishing, you publish your work independently and at your own expense. No literary agents or traditional publishing houses are involved. You manage the whole process from start to finish. However, the amount of work you can realistically do by yourself is dependent on a number of things, including: IT skills, time, and a reasonable understanding of the processes involved.

If you just want to see your work in print and don’t mind about quality control, you could complete the whole process at little or no cost. That’s an achievement in itself. But if you lack the resources required, or you care about how your work will be received, or you would like your novel to be produced to a professional standard, you will have to pay.

The ability to self-publish was made possible by the arrival of Internet companies such as CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, back in the early 2000s. Prior to this, the only way to publish a book outside of the traditional route was to use a vanity publisher, where an author paid quite a lot of money up front to have their book ‘professionally’ produced. This was often regardless of potential or quality, with little or no editorial service, marketing, and distribution. As a result, vanity publishing earned a bad name.

These days, many independent publishers have sprung up to offer self-publishing services, but in essence, these are no different from vanity publishers. The author still has to pay up front. As I write this, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists over 100 such companies. Some are even offshoots of traditional publishers (where rejected manuscripts are passed to a ‘self-publishing’ department). Prices vary greatly, depending on the service offered. You could pay anything from £200 to £2000 to see your book in print. If you decide to take this route, shop around and find out what is offered for the money.

Regardless of the route taken, there is a lot of work involved in publishing a novel, whether it is produced as a printed copy or an e-book. It is not a quick process, either, taking months rather than weeks.

I hope this offers an adequate explanation as to what self-publishing is. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any questions, please feel free to ask. There’s one last thing I would like to mention: whatever your resources, try not to skimp on the production of your novel. If you do, the hard truth is that you are unlikely to sell many copies beyond your circle of friends and family, however good the story. After all your hard work in writing it, this would be a shame. It does not necessarily mean paying someone else to do the work, but just spending some time researching what is involved in the production process. 🙂