As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to get it ready for my awesome professional editor, I reflected on what I went through to write the book. I see now this could have been faster if I hadn’t spent time editing as I went, chapter by chapter until the halfway point. In short, I actually aimed for quality too early.
At first this violated my expectations. Being into Agile, I figured that doing it piece by piece, making chapters available to prereaders, would result in better quality. It’s something I’ve read about authors doing before, and I’d read several articles on how instructional writing (which I’ve done for awhile) can be released in modules. Shouldn’t a story be something you can release chapter by chapter and get good feedback?
Now I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to make fiction available to prereaders in parts, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s of very limited value. Here’s why.
Instructional and nonfiction works are often something we can break down – and indeed, should break down – into pieces that almost anyone could edit. Yes, some may miss context or seem borderline useless on their own, but nonfiction is often very modular. We process instructions, history, documentation, etc. in discreet chunks – we think step-by-step.
Nonfiction works are a lot like modular software or dishes where you can sample individual ingredients and get an idea of their combined taste.
But fictional works? They’re different.
Fictional works are much more of a whole. They’re intellectual and emotional and literary, requiring many modes of thought and feeling to appreciate them. They often have mysteries and callbacks and references – indeed, deception is part of some some fiction writing. Fiction is hard to evaluate apart from the whole of the work – to truly “get” it you need the whole experience a complete work. Finally, as fiction involves imagination, you often discover your work as you write it.
Fictional works are like software that requires a lot of code to be done before it functions or a crude alpha before it can be evaluated. They’re like a dish that you can’t appreciate until it’s done, or ones requiring careful tweaking to get “just right.”
I now realize that I could be delivering A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to you quicker if I’d decided, as opposed to editing chapter by chapter, I’d just run on and pushed myself to finish the thing and accepted it wasn’t perfect – maybe put out one or two chapters to get my groove. Now that I have a complete work, all the edits are far more richer, far more revealing, far more coherent – and much of my best edits were made when it was done and I could see the whole thing.
When I write fiction in the future, I think I need to accept that my initial effort is basically going to be like a piece of alpha software. Good planning and thought can make it a very good alpha, but my focus should be to get it done so I have enough to work from. Many things in fiction writing only become apparent once you have the whole picture.
Again, I don’t think this means you can’t put unfinished fiction up for review. I just think people need to accept the limits of such things – and ask what delivers the most value for them and the audience.
I also find this very satisfying to think of. I can accept that fiction starts imperfect because of all its factors and charge ahead, admitting it won’t be perfect. It’s just that when the imperfect version is done, the perfect version follows more easily.
(By the way that title took me forever to come up with so I hope you appreciate the attention to alliteration.)
Been awhile since a Way With Worlds Update! So let’s find out where we are on my essays-rewritten-and-now-a-book on worldbuilding.
First, there’s a web page for the first book that gives you some idea of what I’m up to. You can also see the sample cover art – and you’re going to love the final cover!
I also got the book back from my editor. My editor is a “word of God type editor” – when it’s edited it’s done. So I spent an entire day going through her edits for the first book. After about ten hours of work, I have a book that is mostly ready for publication. One more read through and it’s ready for publishing (which itself is going to take a few months).
This brings up a really good lessons – there are several kinds of editors and you have to know how to work with them. Some are like a friendly guide with advice. Others are the Word Of God. Yet others are instructional. Each is different and you have to figure which works for you, your works, and your goals.
For instance, these books, though being creative and chatty are instructional. I needed a Word Of God editor on them.
On the other hand, some of my more intimate career books need a lighter touch as an editor. They’re chatty and friendly.
My upcoming Sailor Moon book has yet a different editor, a fansourced editor with an academic background and a fandom background, which seems perfect.
Now there’s also been a few schedule changes, so let’s recap!
I think you folks are going to love the books. It’s really my near-final word on Worldbuilding, and there’s a wealth of worldbuilding advice.
All right, so where are we in this extended discussion of how I write my books? We just covered how I edit my wordspew and it’s time to talk editing.
After revising and revising and revising, my book is eventually “good enough” to be edited. By good enough I usually mean a mix of “this is good” and “oh god I’m sick of this, I’m gonna stop now.” The latter is usually more prominent than I’d like, but anyway I’m at least at a stopping point.
When I refer to as editing, there’s sort of two kinds I lump under “Editing” because they’re really intertwined.
Before I go into how I do this, there are times I don’t do any editing beyond my own writing. At least in the past. Let’s take a look at that, if only for confessional purposes.
Let me repeat – this is when I don’t have others edit. I still edit the hell out of my own work, even if poorly.
So first of all, I don’t think you should avoid having your work edited. If at all possible, someone should at least pre-read it. However there’s a few cases I can see someone not editing, which I’ve done or at least think I did:
I’ve done two published works this way (and hope to revise them with editors and pre-readers when I can). It can work.
But I don’t recommend it. But hey, I gave you an out, and you can always say “but Steve said.”
Now anyway, on with editing.
I didn’t always use pre-readers – originally I only did when a book had a lot of interviews and I used them as pre-readers. In time I found that pre-readers were invaluable for insights.
See, a pre-reader isn’t an editor in the traditional/specific sense and that’s good. A pre-reader is a reader. They are not there to edit a book for language and punctuation, even when they do because they can’t resist. They’re they’re for content and flow.
They’ll catch things an editor won’t because an editor, no matter how much they read, is still editing. You really do need both. Plus it takes a little pressure off your editor – “Can you edit my terrible abuses on language and tell me if this meticulous battle scene makes sense?”
Secondly, a good pre-reader thinking as a reader can give you feedback on your book to help it become a better book. They can tell you how it can be more consistent, better organized, and so on. In turn it won’t just be a better book – that will make the book a hell of a lot easier on an editor. A book that reads easy, even with flaws, allows an editor to go to town as opposed to being stopped by confusing twists or ill-explained concepts on top of Oxford comma arguments?
How do I handle pre-readers?
Thats about it. Find, send, wait, integrate.
After the pre-reader feedback I usually do another pass through the book. then it’s off to the editor
First of all when you get something edited to publish professionally, make sure they’re professional.
That may not mean they’re a professional editor. It means they have professional-quality skills relevant to what you’re doing. It could be from writing their own novels, it could be editing fanfic for ten years, it could be an experienced technical writer. Just get someone who can edit for what you’re doing.
I like to fansource, finding editors through fandom and geeky connections. They “get” me, I often get a break on price, they get their name on a book they like, I act as a reference, everyone wins.
I usually give an editor 1-3 months depending on the complexity of the work and their schedule. It also gives me a nice break, and sometimes while waiting I do extra formatting or setup for publishing. Or write another book.
When I get the edited document back, I don’t use that document to make the final book – I read through it, page by page, integrating comments and changes into a new copy master document. That forces me to read and pay attention, and makes sure I don’t end up with a book laden with things I forgot to address, remove, or change.
This part usually takes at least a month. My goal, when it’s done, is to have it done.
So once that editing run is done, I do one more spellcheck and grammar check, and read through the book (yes, again). If I find any errors, I fix them – and run that check again.
At this point, having done so much editing, I use that previous trick of reading parts out of order just to keep myself fresh.
My approach is to read it through. If anything changes in the small I fix it and re-read that chapter. If there’s any large change, I re-read the book from the start, or at least skim. I’m done when I do a pass through and didn’t change anything.
Then it’s one more spelling/grammar check. Then it’s done
So with the book edited – pre-read and edited properly – and with my final read-through’s its done. Ready to go.
It’s time to publish.