Wearing the Editor’s Hat

It’s always a great feeling to finish writing a new book.  I’ve put the final words to the manuscript and am content with a story well told.  Now I want nothing more than to put it out there and start work on the next one.  But first, I have to put on my editing hat.

By editing, I don’t mean rewrites.  My non-fiction works never require rewrites, they’re all meticulously planned from the outset and I know exactly what ground I need to cover.  And I rewrite my fiction as I go along; if something needs tweaking or changing to suit developments later in the story, I’ll make those changes right there and then while they’re fresh in my mind.  I also have my wife Celeste to help me spot any loose ends, as she reads many of my stories while they’re being written.  I’m lucky in a way, I have a really good imagination and the characters I write really come alive in my mind and before long they’re making their own decisions without any conscious manipulation on my part.  By the time I get half way through writing a novel, all I need to be aware of are the broad shape of events and the ending I’m aiming for.  The characters then shape their own reactions and responses to those events and steer their own course through the book.  I’ve had plots completely reshape themselves as a consequence of character actions that were decided by ‘them’ rather than ‘me’.

The editing I’m referring to is the painstaking checking of spelling and grammar.  It’s a chore to do, but it’s an essential part of the job.

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I pride myself on my high standard of spelling and grammar (British spelling, of course, what on earth do you American folks do with all your ‘u’s anyway?), but when pounding out words on a keyboard at the kind of rate that has allowed me to write a 440 page book in just two months, errors and omissions will occur.  You can’t rely on a spellchecker either:  that only spots incorrectly spelled words, not incorrectly used words.  If I type “father and so” instead of “father and son”, missing a letter, the spellchecker will find no error, but the reader will be left scratching his / her head.  And it’s even more common to muddle up the word order in a sentence, to write “He didn’t know even what he was doing” instead of “He didn’t even know what he was doing”.  Sure, the meaning is still there, but it jars to read the first version and anything that jars the reader’s mind from the flow of the story is not a good thing.

I’m in the unusual situation at the moment of having not one, but two, books in preparation for publishing.  The first is Damsels and the Dark Arts, the latest novel in the Rampant Damsels Gutter Fantasy series:  all the vulgarity, depravity and perverse hilarity you could wish for between two covers.  This one is thankfully edited now.  The book interior is print ready, just waiting for the cover art to be completed and delivered.

The other title is The Sevenfold Mystery, the latest title in the Apophis Club’s range of Draconian titles, a study and curriculum of Work based around the Enochian system of Dr John Dee.  Now this one I have cover art for and am a third of the way through the painful process of checking and rechecking my spelling and grammar (an especial bind where Enochian is concerned!)

The thing is, with every single book I have published, no matter how many times and how carefully I have checked them, I have always found some little error after the event, some niggle that escaped me and made it into print.  I apologise for these and can only say that these things happen, in spite of my high standards and the many, many hours of work spent editing.  I can comfort myself by reflecting that in recent years, I have found just as many, if not more, errors in commercially published books by huge publishing companies as in my own modest titles.  One of the most poorly formatted and edited books I ever read was a writer’s guide which insisted strongly throughout on the necessity for professional editing.

This leads me to conclude by asking people to be kind in their comments to indie authors.  I’m not asking on my own account, my spelling and grammar are good and the few errors that creep through are small indeed.  But there are a lot of indie authors out there who also have to do their own editing.  They don’t have the money or resources of the big publishing companies, but you know what, their books often contain no more errors than the big boys’.  And yet, when you look at book reviews on Amazon, you’ll find the indie author gets ripped a new arsehole for spelling a few words wrong, while nobody blinks at the big boys.  Again, this doesn’t apply to me, and I agree that good spelling and grammar are really important and help a great deal with immersion in a good book.  But don’t let these things stand between you and a good story.  Indie publishing is one of the most exciting things to happen in years, books are being written by people with a real passion for their stories.  And bear in mind that these are people who will only make a few quid – if that – from what they’re doing, it’s done for the love of it.  So show them some love in return and you may find a new world of fresh and original stories opening up to you.  Give them enough encouragement and maybe they’ll be able to edit better in future.

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