Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Editing is Like a Snowstorm

It snowed today, which is not unusual for January. With a fresh layer of snow on the ground, the world looks clean and new. Each snowflake that lands adds to the illusion.

Editing is like a snow storm. There’s a flurry of changes, words deleted, sometimes even entire paragraphs disappear. At the end of the book, you decide it’s good enough to start querying. But no agent loves your book as much as you do, and no agent wants to read more.

It’s time to reassess. If you’ve sent the book out to say a dozen or more agents with no success, read the book again. Better yet, read it out loud. Don’t make any changes. Read the book like you were someone who paid $25 for it.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize there’s something fundamentally wrong with the book. You may spot what the problem is. You may even have an idea how to fix it. Sometimes, though, substituting one word for another, deleting and adding paragraphs, changing the season, adding a character or deleting another aren’t necessarily enough to make a mediocre book into a good one. You may still be hiding the dirty snow beneath a layer of new snow.

It may be best to wait until the season changes. Set the book aside for three months. Before you pick it back up, make a list of things you need to look for - POV, lack of character development, overused words, cliches, bad grammar, misspelled or misused words, etc. Then take it down off the virtual shelf and start reading. Read it aloud. Be as hard on yourself as you imagine a big publishing house editor will be. Chances are, you’ll feel the need to make changes - big and small - to the book. If you do, make those changes. When you’re done, send it to new beta readers, not to your friends or family. Send the book to people you don’t know. Specifically ask for honest and detailed feedback. Give that feedback serious thought and learn from it. Make the necessary changes. Read the book again. Is it better? Is it ready?

Like in the spring, your book may emerge like a beautiful bloom from beneath all that snow.

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