For the past few weeks I’ve been getting one manuscript ready for final layout and working hard on a third draft of a second manuscript. I’ve done little to no new writing this year to this point. Most of what I’m doing is editing and revising or rewriting. I think many self-published writers either avoid lengthy editing and revising or simply chose not to do it at all. This is a huge mistake. I know, because I have been there and done that, as they say.
My first self-published novel went to press with many, many mistakes in the manuscript. Not just the spelling and grammar but story structure and inconsistent punctuation were also clearly abused. As a result, I was weary about promoting it and to this day hardly ever mention it in promoting my writing.
My second novel has taken a completely different path to press. After I finished the first draft, I had beta readers read it and tell me where I was going wrong. These were programmers and technical folks familiar with Amateur Radio and the weapons featured in the story. Taking their comments to heart, I did a second draft. Then I submitted the first few chapters to a critic group. Having other writers look at your work is invaluable. I also had the synopsis read by an actual book agent. More changes were needed in character motivations. Back for a third draft. Then I had writers and readers familiar with the genre read the manuscript. After that, you guessed it, a fourth draft. Then I payed an editor to go over it even closer. After making those corrections, I was on the fifth draft. Finally, it went to the layout stage and came back for another copy edit proof. By the time I was ready to go to press, it was on a sixth draft. This lengthy process is completely normal in the publishing business. Anything less is not worth doing. As it turns out, I probably should have had it looked at by a couple more, detail oriented folks because it still has a few errors. But the final result of the second book is orders of magnitude greater than that first novel. When you are doing things yourself, there is a greater effort required by the writer to make sure the book is as perfect as possible. But you can’t do it all, you need help and sometimes you need to pay for that help.
One of things a new writer may overlook in their rush to get a book in print, is taking the time to learn how to write. You can’t just string borrowed plots together with cliched characters and expect it to be a engaging story. Writing takes time to learn. Nobody can just start typing and come up with a good novel. You have to write many novels. You have to take the time to learn about writing and go to classes or take seminars, whatever you can do to improve your mastery of the craft. You can’t become a great writer by reading books. You have to write them. Lots of them. I firmly believe that the industry average of three to five novels written before acceptance in the traditional press is dead on. Having now written three books, I think I may be starting to figure out this novel writing thing. At least on a journeyman’s level.
There are other important aspect of writing to work on as you learn the craft. One of the most valuable is to refresh you knowledge of the English language. If you can’t string together words in a coherent manner, an editor will not be able to help you. Learn the written language. I know that sounds painfully obvious, but people need to realize that you can’t skate by as a writer without being able to write in your native language. Nobody will take you seriously. It’s like a doctor who can’t remember the parts of a body. “We’re going to cut right here, where this bone connects to that bone, you know, the funny bone.” Seriously? I want a new doctor.