Why do writers need editors?

editing-apps-800x600Before you say, “Duh!” please remember that some people have lots of self-confidence. Others can crawl off into a mental state and ignore the world around them, which can be considered a skill in the writing biz, but conformity is comforting to readers. Other writers seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them, like ee cummings. A few insist on ignoring the red and green squiggles that the word processor uses to offer help in eliminating common mistakes. Writers suffer from any of those problems, or have other idiosyncrasies that make editing necessary. Yes, I considered dealing with editors to be something of a pain, because I am self confident and not afraid to break a few rules.

However, I have learned quite a lot from writing teachers and editors. Friends and family will offer a few tips, but if those friends really like you, brutal honesty is off the table. Sometimes the distance combined with authority that goes along with having an editor is transformative. My first novel was a hot mess when it finally got a full length reading at the micro press that ultimately put it through line editing. My second novel was better, but still needed a lot of work in the editorial phase, beginning at conceptual, then line by line, and finally, proofreading. At that time, WCP did not pay proofreaders, instead relying upon volunteers, which was a bad business decision. My work suffered from that lack, as a few errors made it into the printed work, and sales were less than optimal.

Publishers seldom take on a fiction manuscript that isn’t complete, which leaves out the project development phase. Once the novel is finished, most writers will attempt to put it into the hands of either an agent or a publisher. Problems with style or continuity may crop up at this stage, but if the work is compelling, those can be addressed. What most people consider editing is copy or line editing, which is a line by line examination of grammar, spelling, mechanics, and style. Any “big changes” in the manuscript probably occur at this stage. The back and forth over details can be annoying or even funny, but most problems in the work are solved at this phase. Once, an editor challenged me on a detail where I described a man wearing a glen plaid suit. I thought it descriptive, but she thought it was a weird description that no reader would understand. Ultimately, the description remained, but that is the kind of thing that comes up in line edits.

Before printing comes proofreading, when any style or content changes have been addressed—so what’s left is a last look at spelling, capital letters, and adjustments to make the page layout work. I remember the copy editor at Whiskey Creek Press had to substantially change one sentence to avoid a page with a single word on it, and I was okay with her changes.

A good editor makes printed work better—by questioning, suggesting changes, and insisting on being absolutely correct. Real editing makes the author’s work shine, without the distractions of mistakes or inconsistencies. Nowadays, many people think that word processors have made editors obsolete. Unfortunately, that is simply wrong, and writing is suffering mightily. Errors abound, and the solution is a great editor who reads and corrects. Technology is advancing, but it cannot replace editorial expertise.

Going, going, almost gone

TrinitycoversmThe Whiskey Creek Press version of Trinity on Tylos is about to become a bit of a collector’s item. When it was first published, I was mostly pleased, although the final edits were rushed and far too many mistakes made it into the print copy. The paperback was not of the best quality, either. The ebook, at least the one I got from the now defunct Fictionwise, was far worse. What few royalty reports I received indicated low sales, and even lower royalties. At one point, I was getting seventeen cents per ebook sale, and a typical quarterly check was about five bucks.

When the book came out, in 2006, I sought out speaking engagements, author-guest slots at science fiction conventions, and I did quite a bit of internet promotional activity, hoping to help Trinity find an audience, and to do my part to help sell the book for WCP. By 2007, I realized that the sales were not going be as good as my self-published debut novel, so I spent far less time promoting it. But, WCP continued to be a disappointment, too. Just to get Amazon to list it, WCP required that I purchase two copies at full price; then, initially, the title was misspelled on Amazon’s website. Eventually, the print book was listed correctly, and I did have a couple of very good reviews on Amazon, as well as several from other sources. When Amazon’s Kindle format began to take on increasing importance, WCP indicated that eventually all of their titles would be available for the Kindle. While Trinity on Tylos was available for the Nook, it was never converted to Kindle format. My original contract was for two years, but I did not ask for my rights back, in part because I hoped WCP would eventually pay me more royalties, and that they would support the book. And, to be honest, I was very busy with my adjunct instructor job, as well as being mom to teenagers, so I didn’t push either promotion or accountability from WCP.

After years and years of zero communications regarding sales, I can only conclude that either there were no sales or WCP kept all of the royalties. I will never know which. I’ve maintained a website, with promotional materials, links to vendors, and so forth, at my expense, and I finally came to the conclusion that WCP was never going to pay me anything ever again. Anyway, I did ask to have my rights back at the end of last year, via email, and there was no response. I asked again recently, via snail mail, and while I still have not heard a word from WCP, I noticed today that Trinity on Tylos is no longer listed for sale by Whiskey Creek Press nor by Barnes and Noble. Amazon still has it for sale, but they list the one lonely copy, and I do remember that I paid for it in 2006. I’ll bet it is quite shopworn by now!

Fellow WCP authors are in a bit of an uproar, because WCP has been sold to a New York firm, Start Media. Some of those other authors have suggested that I self-publish it, as they are doing with their own books, and I have talked with Booklocker about doing the formatting and cover. Since I don’t have a clean copy of the manuscript, I’ll be doing some editing before doing anything else.

In the meantime, Whiskey Creek Press is going, going, soon to be gone. Various interent sites have chronicled the demise of this small press, and much of the dirt is recorded here. For whatever reasons, I’m sad, which is illogical, because the publisher hasn’t been paying me or even bothering to respond to email. And there is little solace in knowing that I am not the only author that they deemed not worth a simple email.