self-publishing

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 3: Editing and Proofreading your Work

Novels, short stories, articles, even blog posts, all need a thorough proofread and edit before submitting or publishing. Of course, if you’re writing a novel, then it really is worth considering hiring an editor –  see my previous post here. However, everyone needs to edit and proof their work at some stage. This can be a tricky job and one that many writers detest – they want to get on with the fun part, the actual writing, and for them editing and proofreadinging is a pain. It may well be (although I have to say I really enjoy it, even when I’m editing and proofreading my own work), but there are ways to make the chore a little less onerous.

Clear desk – clear mind

messy_desk_2
Make sure that when you sit down to edit or proofread that it is your sole focus. Clear everything else off your desk, close emails and the internet, put your phone somewhere else and focus on the task in hand. If you’re distracted, you’ll lose the flow of the work, or your place in the text.

Give yourself a break

biscuits
Editing and proofreading take a lot of concentration and focus. It’s impossible to do either for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Don’t try to work for longer than thirty minutes in one stretch. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea (and have a biscuit). Give your brain a five or ten minute respite. But don’t check Facebook or Twitter or your emails. You’ll just get sucked into wasting an hour.

To spellcheck or not to spellcheck?
Spellcheck is a really useful, if much maligned, tool. Do use it, but don’t rely on it. And when running a check, don’t drift off and end up changing things you don’t want to change because you’re not really looking and you just click the ‘change’ button automatically! Remember, spellcheck isn’t an alternative to editing and proofreading; you still need to go through everything yourself.

Get printing
Many people find it difficult to spot errors on a screen. Print off a hard copy of your manuscript and use a pen to correct errors.

Know yourself!
As you are working through your manuscript make a list of any errors that crop up again and again. Do you use ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ for example? Mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’? Too many unnecessary dialogue tags creeping in? (See my post here.) Is there a word you overuse? (I know I use the word ‘really’ far too much, in novels, blog posts, even emails!) Jot them down and you’ll know what to keep an eye out for, and you’ll also learn what to avoid when you’re writing your next masterpiece.

Go backwards

backwards
As discussed in my previous post here, we become so familiar with our work that our brain fills in the gaps for us. We know what that sentence is supposed to say, so our brain glosses over it, stopping us from seeing errors that a reader will pick up on instantly. One way to avoid this is to read your manuscript backwards. That way your brain doesn’t know what is coming next and it’s easier to spot mistakes.

Read out loud
I know lots of people are uncomfortable doing this, but it really helps. Reading out loud helps you to spot all sorts of errors including typos, misuse of commas or missing commas, problems with flow and awkwardness. It also helps immensely with checking dialogue to make sure it sounds natural (see my post on writing dialogue here).

I’d love to know your editing and proofreading tips; do share them by leaving a comment.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 2: Beating Writer’s Block

writers block typewriter

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For me personally, it often stems from a fear that my writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or I might be feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on my next novel rather than writing something I’m actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities like the housework, the garden, shopping, the children (they should probably appear higher on the list!). But, as my husband keeps telling me, writing is important because it’s important to me. So next time I’m faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, I’m going to try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful- it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

writer's block girl

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone and your iPod behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you are writing when you are most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you are trying to do too much, that you are tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring into your mind when you are trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

writer's block - cat

I’d love to hear your strategies for beating writer’s block.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 1: Writing Dialogue

dialogue

Dialogue is a hugely important part of writing fiction. It can move the action forward, reveal character, emotions and motivations, and can help prevent exposition. Good dialogue will draw your reader into the story. The good news? It’s not that difficult to achieve.

Listen

Writing excellent, realistic and informative dialogue begins with listening.  Pay attention to how people actually speak to each other. Listen out for elements such as turn taking, pauses, figures of speech, contractions etc. This last one is really important. If you listen to people you will notice that hardly anyone says ‘would have’ or ‘did not’, for example. What they will say is ‘would’ve’ and ‘didn’t’. Make sure you use these contractions in your dialogue. Nothing sounds quite as unrealistic as someone saying:

‘I did not go for a walk. I could have but it was raining.’

What they will say is:

‘I didn’t go for a walk. I could’ve, but it was raining.’

(OK, so that’s not exactly the most enthralling thing I’ve ever written, but you get the point.)

Say it

Whenever you write dialogue read it out loud. If you can, get someone to read it with you. It’s not until you actually hear the words spoken, that you can tell how natural it is, if it flows, if it works. Incidentally, I tend to read all of my own writing out loud. This really helps to pick out errors, repetitions and sentence structure issues (it helps that there’s not usually anyone else in the house but the dog).

 Leave out the boring bits

I know I said dialogue needs to be realistic, but it can’t be exactly the same as real speech. If you listen to an actual conversations, you will notice lots of pauses, lots of sounds that aren’t actual words (ums and errs etc.) and lots of ‘fillers’ that are completely irrelevant. Your dialogue has a purpose, and while it should be ‘real’ it should also achieve something. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the plot.

Beware dialogue tags

In a previous life I worked in a school. I spent a lot of time teaching children to avoid using the word’ ‘said’ in their writing. In fact, I have spent whole sessions putting together lists of alternative dialogue tags. Now I spend a lot of time editing these same tags out of manuscripts. The problem is that exciting, exotic dialogue tags only draw your reader’s attention away from what is actually being said. They detract from the story. And, if your writing is peppered with words like ‘exclaimed’, ‘bellowed’, ‘croaked’ etc., it looks like you’re trying too hard to come up with something different each time. Which you probably are. Stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ for the most part. Your reader shouldn’t have to be ‘told’ how your character is speaking; she should gather that from the words, the actions, the situation etc.

Break it up

While dialogue is exciting and adds variety, you don’t want line after line of dialogue. Break it up with some action. Actions can also work in place of dreaded dialogue tags. For example:

 ‘Did Ted drop off the package?’ asked Linda.

‘I don’t know,’ said Sophie.

‘For goodness sake,’ Linda sighed. ‘I asked you to remind him.’

Can be transformed into:

 Linda burst into the office.

‘Did Ted drop off the package?’

‘I don’t know.’ Sophie glanced up from the screen, her lips pursed.

Linda flung her bag onto the desk.

‘For goodness sake! I asked you to remind him.’

It’s completely clear here who is talking. Also, there is a sense of where the action is taking place, an idea of what the characters are doing and how they’re feeling.

Avoid exposition

I know I said above that dialogue can help with exposition. However, you must be very careful to ensure that readers do not feel that dialogue is being used simply to let them (the reader) know certain facts. Let the reader ascertain things from what your character is saying. Trust your reader – don’t force feed him details.

Read

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to read. A lot. And reading someone else’s work can help a great deal when it comes to writing dialogue. When you come across dialogue that works really well, work out how the writer did that. And when dialogue doesn’t work, again, work out what went wrong. You’ll then know what to do and what not to do when it comes to your own work.

Got any great tips for writing dialogue? Do post them here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

Why you need an editor Part 2 : A writer’s view

edit

I recently edited a novel for a wonderful writer, Quil Carter. Quil very kindly offered to write a testimonial to use on this blog. When I received his testimonial, as well as being really thrilled and pleased with his kind words, I realised that he also had some extremely good advice for writers, whether considering self-publishing, or already published. I decided that, rather than writing another post about the necessity of an editor, it would be really useful for authors to see things from a fellow writer’s point of view. So here, in Quil’s words, is why you need an editor:

If you are on the fence about whether you need an editor or not, let me tell you… you do. You can have as many friends look over your manuscript as you want, but in the end, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and Alison is that person. Believe me when I say Google will not help you if you want to try and edit on your own. It’s full of confusing misinformation, frustrating contradictions and will most likely teach you bad and incorrect habits. The buddy you asked to proof-read your book will most likely make it worse too.

If you do say defiantly ‘nah, I’ve already read it over and so have several of my friends and it’s fine’, it isn’t, it really isn’t. Grammar, sentence structure, where colons go and more complicated things like awkward sentences or just parts that are not needed are all things that need a professional’s touch, not someone with an ‘okay’ understanding of editing and grammar.

Still on the fence? Let me paint a picture for you: You just spent over a year writing something that you’re proud of, something you consider your baby. You finally decide, after going over it many times, to self-publish and put your work out into the world.

Then the ratings come in, and even if they are good you start to notice people commenting on the editing. ‘Needs an editor’, ‘it was a great story but it had some grammar mistakes’, believe me… it will crush your soul. All of a sudden you will be pouring through the original manuscript trying to find these errors and when you do… you will be picking apart EVERYTHING and second guessing things you once thought perfect. You will become neurotic, it will stress you out and it will not be a fun experience. You want people to see your writing, your plot-lines, your character development… not errors.

You’re a writer, and you should be writing, not picking apart grammar, or forever googling ‘semi-colon’ in hopes that maybe you’ll finally understand just how to use one.

Solution? You need Alison! She is perfect for self-publishers; not only is she here to help you with issues with your manuscript she knows things that I guarantee you don’t. Not only did she send back my edits days before she said they would be done, she did a wonderful job and offered suggestions on my book that helped make it better. Alison is easy to work with, professional and I am eager to use her again for my future books.

Your book deserves to be perfect; after all the time you put into writing it you’re selling yourself short if you don’t use Alison as your editor. With her golden touch you can make a good book amazing and if you have an okay book she can give you the tools needed to make it amazing. She knows her stuff and she knows what she’s doing.

One of my favourite parts about using her was the report that she included in her edits. She pointed out areas of my writing, bad habits that continued throughout the book she was editing (and that I know are in my other books) that I never realized I was doing. So not only did she do a great job editing, she has also offered suggestions that I feel will make my future books even better. I appreciated that a lot. I have used her report as my own personal writer’s guide and have referred to it many times to remind myself of parts that I need to fix for my future work. That is actually something every writer needs. Chances are you are making the same mistakes throughout your book and having them pointed out and corrected has been a huge help for me personally.

All in all, save yourself the stress and get Alison. I couldn’t be more happy with her work, and she has my full recommendation.

Quil Carter, author of The Fallocaust Series

Why you need an editor

edit

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re thinking of self-publishing. You’ve spent hours writing. You’re proud of your work, but nervous about how it will be received. You’ve spent time revising and polishing when you could have been doing other things. You’ve already paid out for a professionally designed book cover. You really need to start making some money on this project. So you don’t need the extra expense of an editor do you? Well, yes, you probably do.

You’ve written your masterpiece. You’ve had family and friends read it; they’ve pointed out a few typos but have told you it’s wonderful and that you should publish. So that’s what you do next, right? Well, possibly. If your friends and family are completely impartial and will tell you the honest truth. And if you are completely sure that you’ve managed to catch every typo and grammatical error in your copy. And if you’re one hundred per cent sure that there’s nothing that can be improved, corrected and enhanced by a completely impartial, professional eye. By someone who edits as their job and whose reputation depends on how well they do that job.

You need an editor because you won’t catch every error. You will be so close to your words, so familiar with them that your eyes will pass over mistakes like typos and missing words. Your brain will read what it expects to read. You need the fresh eye of an impartial editor to break this cycle, to read what is actually there.

This closeness also means that, not only will you not see all the typos and grammatical errors (and there will be lots of those), but you will be too invested in your work to see it impartially. You know your characters and your plot inside out. You know the sequence of events and why and how things happen. And this is where the problem lies. You can’t ‘un-know’ all of that, so you can’t see the flaws in plot, in structure, in characterisation. You can’t read your book from beginning to end the way a reader will. And if there are flaws and inconsistencies, if there is more than the odd typo, then your readers, if you publish without having had a thorough edit, will be happy to point them out in reviews.

I’m a self-published author. I understand how attached you are to your work. I know how horrible it is to send that work to someone else and have them criticise it, however constructively. However, I also know that this process is far less painful than sending your precious work out there, warts and all, to have those warts picked over by readers and reviewers.

So the question is not ‘can I afford to hire an editor?’ but ‘can I afford not to?’

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

Calling all indie authors – want a review?

five-star-review

 

As a newly published independent author, I have come to realise how important reviews are. Without the publicity department of a traditional publishing house, indie authors need to help each other to get the word out there about their work. For this reason I have decided to expand the purpose of my blog to include reviews and interviews with other indie authors. My first review of the wonderful ‘Thores-Cross’ by Karen Perkins will be here soon. Please see the Reviews page for more information. Thanks.

Self-publishing – what I’ve learned (so far!)

This blog is about historical fiction – but as an independent author and very proud to be one, I’d also like to share some experiences of my self-publishing journey as it happens.

‘The Black Hours’ isn’t published quite yet, but it’s getting close. And only two months later than I’d planned. Two months longer than my well-planned, well-detailed, completely OCD schedule said it would happen. And that’s not because I spent loads of time on Facebook, watching Jeremy Kyle and cleaning the oven (although I did spend more time on these things than I should have. Except the oven). It’s not down to procrastination, laziness or tea and biscuit breaks. It’s because self-publishing your first novel is a hell of a lot more complicated than you could ever imagine.

But please don’t let that put you off. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean difficult. It just means fiddly and frustrating and time-consuming. Don’t believe all those stories you hear about people having no money for rent so they sit down and write a few erotic novels and stick them on Amazon, making a fortune on the way. Take these tales with a hefty pinch of salt. For a start, royalties don’t get paid instantly even if you do sell – CreateSpace pay the month after the royalties are earned, and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) pay 60 days later. So if you want some money for Christmas, and you’re just starting out, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any money until well into the January sales.

Don't assume the money will roll in instantly.

Don’t assume the money will roll in instantly.

Even if your book is ready there are lots of things to take into account. Before we even get to the content, you need to think about the cover. Have a look on Amazon. Look at all those books. Look at all those awful, awful covers. Some of them are really beyond belief. Ok, so I know that not everyone can pay a professional to do the job for them, and writers aren’t necessarily good at the visual side of things, but this is important. You’ve spent time on your book. You care about it. Isn’t it worth a decent cover? Think about it. Your book needs to stand out; your potential readers need to have the right impression of you. If your cover looks shoddy, why should they bother with your book? The one next to it, above it, below it, they look far more enticing. You wrote your book to sell it, didn’t you? Then you have to make it appealing. Consider whether you can afford to hire a professional. There are lots out there and they can be reasonably priced. Have a look at the KDP and CreateSpace forums for recommendations. Or try the Goodreads site: http://www.goodreads.com/

I had edited ‘The Black Hours’ thoroughly. My trusted readers had read it thoroughly. My husband, an experienced journalist, editor and communications specialist, had read it thoroughly. It was ready! Just had to be formatted for KDP and CreateSpace. That wouldn’t take long, would it? Well, it does. Especially if you’re using Word. Word has its own, completely illogical rules that you won’t be able to fathom. Your book will get formatted eventually, but you’ll upload it and check it and check it again and then again and then again (with several more uploads) before all the widows and orphans are gone (you’ll find out what they are), before you find some random post on the CS community explaining about pagination, and before your book looks as professional as it really needs to before you send it out there to compete with the thousands of others available. You may well, by this point, feel like this:

frustration pic

So then you’ll have your KDP version ready, and you’ll upload your CreateSpace version. And then you’ll realise that you need to order a proof copy to make sure it’s all ok. And that these come from the US, cost money and take a while to come (you’ll pay about £15 to make sure you get t as quickly as possible). Only then will you realise that what you should have done is sorted out the paperback version first, ordered the proof and then worked on the Kindle version while you were waiting. Store that away for the next time.

So your proof arrives. You’re so excited; here is your book, at last. You take a photo and put it on Facebook and bask in the congratulations for a while. Then you start reading it. And realise that, despite all that checking and editing, there are loads of commas that shouldn’t be there and there are spelling mistakes. How did you miss them?! Well, it’s because you get used to reading on a screen. If you’ve been working on a novel for a while and you’ve read it through a lot, then it seems that your brain sees what should be there rather than what actually is there. The commas and spellings drift past. And some that your readers have been pointed out get missed. You realise then that your precious book won’t be on sale yet, and that lovely first copy ends up battered and scrawled on with pages turned over. Like this:

004

So you order a further proof. And then you wait for it, with your fingers crossed that you found all the gremlins and that it won’t take too long to come and that you’ll make back the postage costs.
So, before you start on your self-publishing adventure bear a few things in mind:
• Don’t think you can publish in a few days, or even weeks, especially if this is your first book. It takes time and if you don’t realise that to begin with, you’re going to be very frustrated (like me!).
• You cannot proof enough. Accept that. Read and re-read and get everyone and his aunt to read for you too. If you don’t have anyone that you trust to pick up mistakes, then consider paying an editor.
• Be prepared for your first proof copy to need alterations. If you have a timescale, factor this delay in.
• Remember that self-publishing isn’t free. Well, technically it is but that’s if, as well as being a writer, you are also a proof-reader, an editor and a graphic designer. And also someone who is confident enough to think you don’t need to see a real proof of your book before you approve it. You will need to invest some money in your book.
• Read all the advice you can find – there’s lots of it out there. Keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. And have faith through all the frustrations and re-drafts and edits and endless uploading. You will get there!