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Writing Right: The Blog

Saving Your Book's Life

When I began writing five decades ago, I found editing my own work a painfully difficult experience. I agonized over what to change and why, mostly because I didn't know a dangling particple from a split infinitive. After taking a few college journalism courses, I picked up a book on etymology and studied several classic works on how to write better. I began stringing for a local newspaper before landing an entry-level job as an editorial assistant for a national magazine. And, do you know what? Editing suddenly got easier.


Thank goodness, too, because even the most poorly written books can be improved with effective editing. Unfortunately, not all editing is "effective."


A case in point: I wrote a nearly perfect book a few years ago. No surprise. I'm a perfectionist. I've worked as a professional editor for most of my life; I've taught analytic grammar and creative writing workshop at the college level, and I ghostwrite, book-doctor, and edit for other authors. And, I'm a perfectionist. (I know, I know. I just wanted to hear it again).


My publisher assigned my manuscript to an editor who introduced herself in an e-mail. Not having worked with her before, I told her I was looking forward to any substantive suggestions she might make but that I didn't want her editing my work to change the book's voice or style to meet her own literary preconceptions and preferences. She said she understood. Read More 

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Someone recently asked me how he could find a reliable editor for his first novel. It seems the last people he'd hired stole his "uncopyrighted work," which left him with a bad taste in his mouth for this whole writing/publishing business. Understandbly. Adding to his trauma, he wants to publish his novel by the end of 2021. Is that even possible?


Well, first, I corrected some fallacies that others were throwing his way, so he didn't waste time running down a blind alley. Here's what I told him in a nutshell


*     *     *

  1. You don't have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office to protect it, and, in fact, you can't do so unless you're a U.S. citizen. Registering your work, while having some advantages, also takes time, and that's something of which you don't seem to have a lot. The good news is that, regardless of where you live, virtually all countries recognize the copyright of a work from the time of its completion. If you could afford an attorney or a legal counseling group's recommendation—or even learn more about copyright law yourself—you could go to the thieves of your work and demand in writing that they cease publication and reimburse you for any monetary losses you may have suffered. In lieu of hiring an attorney, you could join a writing association such as the Author's Guild, which provides complimentary legal advice and services to their author members.
  2. As for getting an agent, you can't just look in a guide and select one to represent you. Agents are overwhelmed by requests for agency representation and, thus, can afford to be incredibly selective. I've long said that the only thing more difficult than getting a book published conventionally is locating a receptive literary agent. And I say this, having had six to date. But I'm the exception and not the rule.
  3. Similarly, while you search the Web to find conventional (that is, advance-paying) publishers who accept unagented manuscripts, the chances of anyone even reading your material, let alone contracting with you to publish it, are minimal. The reason, as in finding an agent, is that the ocean is filled with swimmers, and there are only so many lifeboats to pluck them out of the sea. Besides, conventional publishers take an average of anywhere from one to two years to bring a book to market. Read More 
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Writer, Edit Thyself!

I was reading an article the other day about the importance of authors self-editing their work before sending it out for publication, and I ran into this gem: “An author [singular noun] should always aim to make their [plural pronoun] book the best it can be. Unless we [third person] are literary geniuses, you [second person] can’t get away from some element of human feedback.”

Is he kidding? Fortunately, he got one thing right. He nailed the importance of self-editing on the head! Unfortunately, he failed to heed his own advice.

This is a good example of how easy it is to miss little things in our work. Sometimes, authors believe that a publisher’s editors will clean up the book, so why spend any more time than necessary on that boring, unglamorous chore?

The answer: Because you’re a professional who wants a professional-looking product before it ever leaves your desk. Professional-looking products take time and energy to produce. Here are a few tips to help you self-edit your book.

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