Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Is the Devil Really in the Details?

Writing is hard work. For many writers it is an obsession, an all-consuming need. The words bubble up from the depths of the imagination and require an outlet. There is no such thing as being done. Writers have to write.

The process of arranging the words in a cohesive story, be it fictional or a progressive report of facts or opinions, does not always leave room for attention to details. The ideas need to flow. Stopping to consider correct spelling, the proper placement of commas and colons for verb agreements interrupts the flow. It's better to let the flow flow and leave the details to the devil.

Enter the Editor.

After weeks - months? years? - of writing, the story has become an extension of the author. If stories had DNA, it would match the person who gave birth to it. Stories are part of us. Just like a child, they are conceived, gestated and birthed through long hours of labour. To hand them over to someone who is going to put them under a microscope with the sole purpose of looking for and identifying flaws is one of the most difficult things a writer does. About the only thing worse than the agony of dissection at the hands of an editor, is a rejection letter from a publisher. Or so some writers believe.

Today, however, publishers are not strictly necessary. Anyone can publish a book. Be it print or digital, or both, publishing is no longer dependent on finding the right publisher in the right mood at the right time. Self-publishing is a thing. A great big, real thing! And more and more wanna-be authors are circumventing the traditional publishing houses altogether and going straight to being published authors by doing it all themselves. From cover design to marketing, writers are taking control of their work. Indie authors are a force to be reckoned with!

There are a lot of details in the process of turning a manuscript into a book. Writing is but the tip of the iceberg. There is the formatting (which has about a million steps of its own), the cover design, the copyright registration, obtaining an ISBN, depository submission, marketing, securing a platform to publish through... the steps are seemingly endless. Often the first step to be sacrificed is the editing portion of the process. Why spend money on an editor who is just going to tell you what is wrong with your masterpiece? Why put yourself through the emotional trauma? You know you're a great writer and your story is destined to be on the NY Times Best Seller list for, like, years! And besides, you did a dozen spell checks.

Well, spell checks aside, an editor is your story's best friend. An editor is not out to hack and slash your beautiful writing to pieces. That's not what they do. They genuinely care about your book and want the very best for it. And you.

Successful authors know the value of having their work edited. They understand that the words they write flow from the deepest parts of their being and between that core and the computer screen the ideas can - and do - get muddled. What flows from their hearts through their bodies and into the keyboard makes perfect sense to them. It is flawless and reads perfectly. What actually shows up on the pages of their word processors isn't necessarily the perfection that is in their minds. Words get mixed up. Punctuation shows up randomly. A simple rearrangement of ideas gets confused. All in the name of releasing the story. It's not bad writing. It's not flawed technique. It's merely a matter of the human mind and fingers not working in tandem from time to time. The phone rang. A visitor stopped by. The baby woke up from her nap earlier than expected. The dog needed to go out for a pee. Life happened. Think of the editor as a fresh pair of eyes; the eyes that remove the 'Life' from all your hard work and make you look even better than you already think you are.

If your ego is likely to be bruised, let it be bruised by a single editor rather than a host of readers. An editor will be far more gentle than a frustrated reader who has paid good money for your book only to discover that it is riddled with errors, as inadvertent as they may be. Remember that readers are going to rate and review your book. One bad rating or review is all that it takes to cause sales to plummet. And even if you revise it, new readers seeing an old rating are going to take a pass. There are many, many more authors out there to choose from. Why waste time and money on an author that publishes less than his or her best?

Far from being the devil, editors can help keep your hard work from being stuck in purgatory.

Next week I'll share my editing process. Join me as I polish my halo and reveal how things work in my little corner of the editing world.

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