This is my first post in a while for which I apologise. As many of you will know, I am in the lucky position to have found a publisher (Unbound) willing to take my book and polish it towards that elusive goal of publication.
I have been writing the book on and off for several years, self-editing the manuscript around four times now, each time thinking it was perfect. I was very wrong. I knew it was good as it managed to get through a couple of rounds of the Amazon breakthrough contest but something was definitely lacking. On the verge of ditching the project, I happened upon the Unbound crowdfunding model. Initially I dismissed it any another way of labelling vanity publication but the more I looked into it the more I was convinced this could be the route for me. They had published a number of big names including one of the Pythons and that (along with their distribution contract with Penguin) convinced me to submit my manuscript. After reading they only accept around 10% of applicants I wasn’t expecting much, but two months later I received a contract and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now I am a fair way into the editing process I thought I’d share a few of the insights I’ve received along the way. They are only snapshots, but I believe emphasise the need for professional help at this stage. Within a month of funding I received an editorial report comprising 6 pages of rhetoric essentially ripping my work (or rather what I perceived was ripping my work) to shreds. It took me three days before I could read more than the first page – I’d experienced critics before but never at this level of detail! It took my partner to metaphorically, talk me off the ledge. She told me that I needed to detach myself emotionally from the project and just treat it as a piece of work – work that has now been marked and now needs improvement. Eventually I took this on board and implemented a whole host of changes. As an example of the critique I was given, I have included a brief extract below:
Basically, I think you have made negative decisions regarding point of view. Usually, in a mystery story, (mystery in its broadest sense), we follow one point of view, the detective-like character, as they uncover the clues and the plot.
Now, perhaps this main detecting point of view can be augmented with the point of view of an antagonist, and/or a sidekick. But still, we are pretty squarely, and most often, with our hero.
But here you have elected to pursue the points of view of your hero, Hunter; a copper, McInerney; then a second copper, Tom; the antagonist, Hans; the sidekick, Sarah; the priest, Nathanial, and the bodyguard, Darren. Plus a few others whom we waver into briefly.
As a result, we are not often enough in the cockpit of the mystery, experiencing it, uncovering it, as your detective figure experiences and uncovers it. If we had pursued only Hunter as he unravelled the mystery, then the mystery would have been pressing and close. As it is, he does not carry the burden of the uncovering substantially. He does not shoulder the protagonism, and we are not with him enough – feeling, sensing, hoping, empathising, closing in on the mystery. Instead the protagonist’s role is split between at least himself and Sarah, at times also Paul and Tom.
Basically, the main protagonist whose point of view we follow in a story like this is the reader’s proxy, our psychological avatar, who uncovers the mystery for us. But you have split the protagonism across characters, and therefore blunted, for me, the dramatic effect of the mystery.
But in sum, each time you jump from one point of view to the next, you risk blocking the experience of the reader and knocking the reader out of an immersive reading experience. The consequence of your narrative decision is that you undercut our sense of empathy with your main character.
Once I’d worked through the points raised in the Editorial Report and implemented a whole host of changes, I submitted a fresh draft for closer examination by the same editor within a structural edit. The manuscript was returned mainly with comments and a limited number of tracked changes. The edit challenged the way the book was written – what I could delete and where the plot needed to be thickened. Another rewrite resulted which I completed in conjunction with the editor, asking questions and gaining an insight into why things didn’t work – particularly when I thought they did. The process certainly opened my eyes to the difference between seeing things through the eyes of a reader and a professional. The novel is certainly much tighter as a result and even if self-publishing, I’d advise taking this route. It is expensive but there is a reason for this, and in the end it will make you work infinitely more saleable.
My final brush with the professionals came at the copy edit stage. Unbound provided me with a different editor (and fresh pair of eyes) which initially filled me with dread and a little fear. What if he disagreed with all the changes and asked for yet another rewrite? After a month the report dropped on my desk and certainly didn’t disappoint. The copy editor probed the manuscript with what might be described as a finer sieve, delving deeper into the minutiae of my work. Again, as an example of what one might expect please find an extract below (keep in mind this arrived alongside the manuscript and hundreds of tracked changes):
The Copy Edit
My main issues with the text are: 1. Sentence construction – more specifically, how you use clauses. More specifically still, commas and semicolons. There are many instances of what is known as ‘comma splicing’, where you use a comma to join what are effectively two separate sentences. Sometimes this sort of thing can be used for effect (all rules for this sort of stuff can be broken under some circumstances), but here it generally seems to be an error. Conversely, you also use semicolons wrongly a lot, usually where a comma is needed instead (before a clause rather than a complete sentence). In general, semicolons should be used sparsely anyway (if you’re interested, the book The Bestseller Code suggests there is some evidence that readers are put off by them, in this sort of genre at least). I have tried to fix all of these things. 2. Overuse of capitals. Again, I have hopefully fixed this. Sometimes there are cases where they are needed (I’ve kept them for the Order, unless referring to ‘an order’ more generally; I’ve kept ‘the Pyramids’ for the specific monuments, but not for more general references to a pyramid or pyramids). I’ve tended to use lower case for the sun, as that’s common modern style. Generally, things like capitals snag the eye a little, so are best avoided unless needed for sense. 3. Occasionally overdone or slack expressions. A particular persistent example is things like ‘He appeared to be pulling at something and something heavy.’ – I’ve favoured simplifying where possible, with just a handful of cases left as they were for effect. 4. There are a number of places where ‘he’ is confusing, so I have tried to sort those out too. 5. It’s a shame, as I like the name, but I wonder if you might want to change the name of Lucien Knight – something made me google it, and I discovered a Lucien Knight is the hero of a series of erotic bestsellers! 6. Chapters in parts 2 and 3 needed renumbering – perhaps some chapters were cut? In a few places there are some abrupt transitions – I’ve attempted to suggest solutions in the comments. 7. There’s quite a lot of adrenaline surging (no capital needed, by the way) – you might want to chop a few instances, but up to you.
I have still a couple of hoops to jump through before my elusive publication date is announced but so far the opportunity to work with Unbound has been amazing. I cannot thank the professionals enough for their time and effort spent with me. I have certainly been through the ringer emotionally speaking but come out the other side without too many scars and all the better for the experience. I do not know what the future holds but whether Unbound choose to publish my next novel or not, I will be seeking the advice of professional editors in the future. They are invaluable in creating a creditable and professional persona for an author’s work. I’d previously hoped to skimp on aspects of the edit when considering self-publishing – now I know this is where the bulk of any budget should be spent. There’s no point building a house if you haven’t got strong foundations.
If you are interested in the Unbound model, please take a look at Unbound.com.
In terms of my own work, hopefully my next post will detail cover creation and why books (of new authors at least) are always judged by their covers!