Birthing a Book

Writers

After having two children, I thought I would never have to suffer the birthing process again, then I wrote a book. Just like producing offspring, the actual conception was fun, interesting and entertaining. During the “pregnancy” I did rewrites, added chapters, rearranged and dreamed of what my offspring would accomplish. Then began the actual birth.

A labor is thought of in three stages. The body readying the muscles, softening tissue for the baby to come down. Then there’s the engagement in the birth canal, and the final stage of pushing. An edit is similar. There is the restructuring of plot and story line. Then the grammar checks and at last, the line edit.

With each editor’s comment, correction, and suggestion, the pains intensify. My poor husband sits by my side patiently listing to each rewrite as I read them aloud. I do this in order to ‘hear’ my mistakes. When he tires of it I call family and friends, until, mysteriously they no longer answer when I call.

Oh the pain! Cutting my favorite tidbits. Rewriting, rewording, reworking chapters. Tightening the theme. Balking then relenting to my editors careful direction. My weary husband holds on, trying to ease my discomfort with food, chocolate and copious amounts of coffee. I hear him whisper on the phone, “No, she’s not there yet,” when people call.

Finally, it’s time to push. At this point I want to give up, quit and never write again. Then in a growl of pain, it’s delivered, much to my exhausted family, friends and husband’s relief.

In the after glow of a job well done, I look with wonder upon the new arrival. In gratefulness I can recognize my editors skill, my family’s support and my husband’s love. And just like that dewy-eyed new mother, who swears she will never do it again, a few years later, I find myself facing another child on the way.

Oh when will I ever learn!

How Do You Critique Nicely?

ImageThis is one of my favorite Facebook posters, because it is me in so many ways. For years I’ve battled a ferocious temper, instant impatience and lack of empathy. I could be Queen of Road Rage or Superman of Sarcasm. Yet, I try hard to control it so that I can be a beneficial member of society. So when an acquaintance asked if I would read their book and review it on Amazon, I eagerly jumped in to help. I regretted this within the first four paragraphs of their book.

All the beginner’s mistakes times twenty. I profess not to be an editor of any sort. I know my grammar mistakes and plot holes drive my ever-patient Editor to drink, so who am I to rate someone else’s book? Easy, I’m also an avid reader. I instantly know if it’s readable material. 

What captures my interest? Smooth, easy to read writing. Unusual writer’s voice. Different descriptions.  Solid characters. Interesting plot. But most of all, proper sentence structure and grammar. If I have to stop and go back to read something, or ponder over what the author means, you’ve lost me. I don’t care how good the story plot is, I have to be able to read uninterrupted to actually be in the story and escape there. I want no bumps to cast me back out into the real world, thinking, “Huh? What was that?”

I actually get mad. It’s like going to the movies and having someone kick the back of your seat while you are trying to get into the show. I also feel, as an indie author myself, I have to be better than best, so I can compete and look competent  If I’m going to go up against the big boys, I had better have my best game forward. This also helps my fellow indie partners to build a platform of trust with our readers. Instead, a book poorly written, reflects on all of us..

So what should I do? Tell this person off? Point out all of their flagrant, erroneous problems like adjectives in every dialog tag, or POV shifts, or mixing past and present tenses, or the many, many typos? Do I berate them for wasting the money to self-publish and making indies look bad for shoddy work? No, that would only hurt and discourage. I’ve been in this writer’s shoes. How do I gently direct them towards hiring an editor before printing?

I turned to my trusty Editor and she gave the most wonderful advice: “You tell them that there are two aspects to being a writer: craft and talent. You think they have great talent, but they need to work on their craft. Highlight the strong points. Give them good resources that don’t take too much of your time to explain. I think James Scott Bell has a good book on POV, if I remember right, and refer them to a simple grammar book like Grammatically Correct or any of the Grammar Girl books. Someone like that probably won’t hire an editor, but they might invest the time to learn.”  (quote by Chryse Wymer)

Now you know why I think she is the best in the world! An excellent and wise approach and that’s exactly what I decided to do. I don’t know if this author will take the gentle suggestion, but I’m hoping they will. For the sake of their book sales, their readers and all of us indies who are struggling to get a foot in world of publishing. .

Instant Edit

Windswept Hearts Book Cover
Hindsight is always 20/20 and quite amusing. Though at the time going through it wasn’t so funny!

Gosh I was naive when I wrote my first book! I did all the right things. Made note cards to keep track of characters. Outlined feverishly. Checked plot, made sure it was correct and authentic in all aspects. Interviewed a lawyer, a cattle rancher, a doctor, etc., to get every detail right. Then I took a six month break, came back and edited. I had neighbors, family and friends read it. Took all feedback in a polite, mature fashion. Then I was ready for the editor.

I hired a freelance editor, Chryse Wymer, who I had worked with briefly on another project. I liked her style and knowledge. If she made a correction she pointed out why and gave references to back it. I learned a lot from her and especially liked her respect and patience towards my work.

Just knew she would be amazed at my book. I could hardly wait for her glowing praises, and most importantly, I knew we’d have it done in a month. (I can hear some of you laughing, be nice!) Five months later I was much wiser. Short version – I cried, pouted, re-wrote every chapter, and lost any shred of pride I had left.

In traditional publishing your book goes through several editors. One will check for plot problems, one will do a line edit, another may handle the grammar. Poor Chryse did it all. I swear she is working towards sainthood. Our first run through was just about plot. The story I thought was the best I’d ever written, was simply the caterpillar. Her comments were funny and to the point. When I opened her first page of edits I about fainted. The entire first chapter had to be re-written.

After the plot edit, we started the grammar edit. Won’t even talk about that. All through it she urged, suggested, held my hand, and was spot on. Then came the final edit, the line edit. If I had thought I had seen a lot of red before it was nothing to what I saw now. One morning I remember getting up and ranting at my poor husband that here I was arguing over what imaginary people did or did not do! One chapter beginning I re-wrote in a snit, and it came out to be one of my best! Patiently my editor helped me mold the final product into a wondrous butterfly of a book.

So in humble retrospection, I would like to warn any new author. There is no instant edit. If you want the best work ever, be prepared for a bone-breaking, pride-stomping, difficult and long journey. Take heart, in the end if you do the work, you will have a product comparable to a publishing house production. And an editor who is thankful it will take you another year before you write another book!