Tag Archives: Ellen Raskin is My Hero

Novellablog: Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, but You Will Probably Frack It Up.

It will not surprise my nerd audience that I’m watching Battlestar Galactica as I write this. But that’s neither here nor there. We are now progressing into the portion of this series I like to call

From Beta Readers to Copyeditors; In Which Kate Panics About the Editing Process. 

Here’s a list of things I am worried about with this project:

  • 1)   Finishing the novella. (April Kate checking in: done and done.)
  • 2)   Raising the money. (June Kate, did you want to weigh in? . . . June Kate . . . ? You there? Or do we not have forward-going time travel budgeted into this thing? April Kate: No, we do not.)
  • 3)   Does anybody actually want to read this thing? (Anybody? Bueller….?)

Then, right on schedule, (I KNOW!!)  I finished the first draft of the novella, and a whole new set of panicky things set in.

  • 1)   Without running the agent/editor gauntlet, how do I actually know this thing is any good?
  • 2)   Who’s going to edit the thing?
  • 3)   Who’s going to copyedit the thing?

I had already decided I needed to have someone else copyedit the manuscript. The biggest complaints I have been reading about self-published works all have to do with poor or absent editing. Heck, traditionally published books get poorly edited all the time, too. So, yes: having editors involved=critical. But I worry that the challenge is bigger than just having a strong copyeditor come in at the end.

We all make mistakes. I’m good with grammar, spelling, and apostrophes, but I’m bad with who/whom and further/farther. I have a tendency to use the words odd, strange, and bizarre too often (if you have read any of my books, you will understand why). I am fascinated by the different kinds of glances and smiles and grimaces that people use to communicate wordlessly, so I tend to overuse those devices when I write. I have characters fold their arms too often, and my first drafts have an excessive number of paragraphs begun with a character’s name. And this is just the stuff I know I do. Let’s not even think about all the awkward writing stuff I do that I don’t know that I do until someone hits me with a rolled-up newspaper and says, STOP THAT.

All of these things get fixed because someone other than me looks at the manuscript in a particular way. Awkward sentences that turn out to be a paragraph long? My husband usually catches those before they go to the critique group. Random missing words and bogus references to antibiotics prior to World War One? Thank you, critique group. “I don’t know why I think this, but I wish you would do this part differently, ’cause it bugs me”? That would be the Kid Editors, weighing in.

And yet. And yet.

A page from the revised final draft of Ellen Raskin's THE WESTING GAME. There is no such thing as a clean draft, evidently.

The last time I got a manuscript back from my editor at Clarion, it was prefaced by an email that said (I am not paraphrasing), “Great job, Kate! This manuscript is in great shape.” And it was still covered in blue. I mean covered. (She uses blue pencil, she told me once, because she figured if any author got a manuscript back with that much red writing on it, they might go into a cave in panic and never come back out.) And that was a manuscript that was in great shape. One on which I did a great job.

What would it look like if she thought the manuscript quote-needed work-unquote? The evil truth is this: even the cleanest, sharpest draft I’m capable of turning out needs several passes of editing before it’s ready to be picked over by a copyeditor.

And I think my critique group will confirm that I turn out fairly sharp drafts before I share them with anyone. This is not boasting. Remember that thing I said before about not always knowing where things are going in my stories before I get there? This means I don’t always even share a draft with my crit group until I’ve gone back and cleaned up the results of my (ahem) particular process, read it back through, cleaned it up again, revised a bit, read again–you get the idea. So who’s going to go three rounds with me with the blue pencil this time?

Then there’s this to panic about: catching potential historical mistakes. I’m a good researcher, and I do my due diligence with everything, but I’ve made some bizarre mistakes before. Only a couple weeks ago, I caught an error I’d made about the use of sugar in fireworks and had to send a frantic email to catch it before The Broken Lands’ ARC materials went into production. I sent the novella manuscript to my critique group still full of notes to myself like (CHECK THIS) or (ERA-APPROPRIATE ANTIBIOTIC) or (COLOR OF STITCHES?).

And how about the moment I realized was that I couldn’t remember whether the word “gingerfoot” had been capitalized in The Boneshaker, or whether Doc Fitzwater was referred to as the Doc or just the doc? I couldn’t immediately find my hand-drawn map of Arcane, so all of my locations were going to have to be double-checked. Last week my friend Lisa noticed that I changed the spelling of one character’s name midway through the manuscript. I fixed the inconsistency, then had a moment of doubt and went back to double-check how I’d spelled this guy’s name in The Boneshaker. Get this: when I’d “fixed the inconsistency” in The Kairos Mechanism, I’d changed all the spellings to the wrong variation of the name.

This nearly sent me into a full-on panic attack as I was reminded suddenly of a series of (incredibly, incredibly bad) fantasy novels I read last year in which the spelling of a character’s name was inconsistent from one novel to the next. How the hell does anyone make a mistake like that? I’d thought at the time, stunned at how very, very bad this writer was.

Okay, to be fair, it was also an adult series from the mid-Eighties, and the name thing was the most minimal of the reasons why these books were so very bad. I mention this because I’m now certain that guy and I are not the only ones to have made this mistake. And a mistake like that doesn’t make a book–or anyone’s writing bad; but it does make the writing in question look careless.

So what’s the answer? Well, among other things, I’m starting to compile a style sheet for myself and for the copyeditor, so that I can at least try to avoid calling a character Wylie when I’m already on record calling him Wiley. But more on that in my next post. I think I feel another panic attack coming on, and I’m going to see if going to the diner to get some new writing done will put a stop to that, at least temporarily.