Anne Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, has a chapter on “Shitty First Drafts.” She advises, “All good writers write them. That’s how they wind up with good second drafts and wonderful third drafts.”
One of the best ways to create that wonderful draft is to get feedback on what you have written. Here are three ways to do it.
Are you in the later writing stages of a book or have a manuscript or two set aside? Are you wondering if the book is marketable to a wider audience or do you struggle with a problem you don’t know how to solve? Even with a very rough draft a professional editor can answer your questions and help you to plan your next steps. Here's how.
Most people who read books have no idea of the lengthy discussions held about the tiniest little details. Do you capitalize the L for emphasis or will the reader think it’s a typo? That comma—is it in or out? Is it two sentences or one? Each of these questions can take several minutes to a good half hour to discuss, I kid you not. By the time the final edits are done, you are ready to scream and pull your hair out but you don’t because you care so deeply about your manuscript, instead, you take a deep breath, sit down with a bowl of ice cream (because by this point you need it), and take one more look before sending it to the printer.
With all these tiny and seemingly miniscule edits one after another, how do you know when your book is done and ready to send? When do you leave well-enough alone and click the “submit” button?
Beta readers are an invaluable part of the publishing process and one not to be skipped over. Though it’s tempting to publish your manuscript as soon as you’ve edited every line within an inch of its life, handing your work over to beta readers to hear what they think before going to print prepares you for a wider release in a way nothing else does.
Here are some tips on how to use beta readers effectively.
One of the first things an editor learns is the importance of a good style manual. When tricky questions of grammar, punctuation or usage arise, it’s good to have a “bible” to refer to get the definitive answer as to the “correct” way to write something.
Today I got a good reminder. Correctness is not always absolute, even with the best of style manuals.
My problem was simple. I wanted to create a possessive of the name Julius. My client had written Julius’s. My recollection was that no additional s was necessary and that it should be Julius’. Which was correct?
I checked the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition and found the following advice:
Would you like to write in a crisp, concise, vivid style? Who wouldn’t? A new app called Hemingway allows you to see how your writing measures up to Papa’s standard. Ernest Hemingway, the king of powerful, spare writing, has influenced generations of writers. He crafted his Nobel Prize-winning novels based on four rules he learned as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star:
Use short sentences.
Use short first paragraphs.
Use vigorous English.
Be positive, not negative.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger adds a fifth rule Hemingway confided in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
You can use the app in two ways:
Hit the Write button and create a new piece of text to evaluate.
Hit the Edit button and plug in a piece of existing writing.
It’s the end of National Novel Writing Month. You have a finished (or even almost finished) draft in hand (or on your hard drive). Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment. Relax for a couple of days, then take the next step in getting your book ready for publication.
If you’re like most of the people who met the NaNoWriMo challenge you’ve produced what Anne Lamott, in her book on writing Bird By Bird, calls a “shitty first draft.” How do you get from here to a version you want to send off to a printer or a literary agent?
Think about revision as a three step process.
New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler asked himself, “What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?” The answers he discovered appeared in a piece in the Sunday Times titled The Stories That Bind Us. It should be required reading for genealogists and family historians.
Feiler consulted Emory University psychologist Marshall Duke who had explored myth and ritual in American families. What he learned was that, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
Family historians and genealogists must be onto something. The large majority of people I talk to about writing their family history say that their goal is to create something to pass on to the grandchildren. Writing a family history will, they hope, help those grandchildren have a greater sense of identity.
The draft of the book you plan to self-publish is finished. Your beta readers have offered good feedback on the book’s content. You have revised and edited the manuscript until it’s as polished as you can make it. You are ready to send the files off to the printer. But wait! It needs a thorough careful copy edit before it goes anywhere.
“Copyediting is what turns an amateurish book into a polished, professional one,” says bestselling author Guy Kawasaki in his new book on self-publishing, APE: How to Publish a Book...Here are seven ideas that will improve your copy editing.
Who will edit the manuscript for your self-published book? If you haven’t thought about the question you should.
There were 347,178 new print books published in 2011, the last year for which complete figures are available. With ebooks added the number probably approaches half a million. How will your book stand out from that torrent of others?
You might begin to answer that question by thinking about a slogan Ford used in its advertising a few years ago, Quality is Job One! How will you assure that your manuscript is of the highest quality it can be? The simple answer is, make sure it is well-edited.
It's hard to describe what I do. I help authors. As you know, it’s easier to understand a process when you break it down into manageable steps. Like a recipe; you just gather the ingredients, prepare, cook, and serve, right? Yes, but it’s not really that simple. Experienced cooks know that there are lots of choices, methods and tools at each step, and these will determine how the dish tastes.
My guide for authors outlines “6 easy steps” - to imagine, plan, create, edit, design and publish. At each step, some authors will need help. It’s my specialty to know all of the choices, methods and tools, to prepare the book right along with the author, and to ensure the final product is excellent.
I’ve never identified with the term “book shepherd.” That implies that authors are sheep who need to be driven with a stick. I am a mentor, a skilled craftsman, and a seasoned veteran. I don’t push or carry anyone. My job is to carry the ball into the end zone. The team scores.
You are finished, or almost finished with the manuscript for your book. You have revised it diligently and asked friends and family to act as beta-readers. You are happy with what you have, but you understand why people like Ricky Pittman of Writers Weekly say, ““Every writer has blind spots to his or her own writing.” You know that when Jerry Simmons of Readers and Writers says, “Having an objective, experienced eye to evaluate and edit your work is worth its weight in gold,” he’s right. You want to find a good editor for your book.
How do you know when a person is the right editor for you? Here are five questions that will help you decide.
I love newspapers, especially the Sunday editions, because you never know what interesting idea or insight you might come across. This weekend San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick La Salle responded to a reader’s question in an exchange in Sunday Chron:
Q: Why are so many movies so long these days?
A: Very few movies need to be longer than two hours. Directors should make movies, not take hostages.
There’s an important lesson for writers in La Salle’s comment. Most first drafts have a lot in them that doesn’t need to be there.
We’re almost a week into National Novel Writing Month. How’s your book coming?
Based on the many conversations I have had with ambitious writers who have undertaken the challenge, there are a lot of you out there who have one underway. Good for you! It takes a real commitment to write a novel in 30 days. But with a lot of discipline and even more time banging away at the keyboard you can knock out a draft manuscript this month.
I just hope you don’t think you’ll have a book that’s ready to ship off to a literary agent on its way to the best-seller list, or what’s more likely, off to a printer for self-publication.
We spent a great weekend at the Wordstock Literary Festival in Portland, Oregon talking with authors about books. One theme came up in a variety of forms in conversation after conversation: I am finished or nearly finished with a draft of my book and I can’t get good feedback about making the revisions it needs to make it ready for publication.
Two people told us they had submitted books to agents only to have them sent back with notes that said, “Needs editing.” A number of authors said they were tired of having family and friends read their manuscript only to have them say, “This is really good!” or “I really like it.” Not helpful! Others belong to writing groups which have rules that all comments on members work be supportive and encouraging, so they can’t get real critiques of what they have written. One gentleman said he had posted his draft on line for people to review. I asked, “So, are you getting good feedback?” The answer was a swift, “No. None!” All of these writers were clearly frustrated.
If you’re a writer who wants ideas on how to revise your work you need to understand that most people don’t know how to offer useful suggestions. That doesn’t mean they can’t. It just needs that they need some help from you about how to do it. You need to tell your readers what you want to know. It’s best to give them specific questions you would like answered. Here are a few examples:
“Should self-publishing be hyphenated?” I asked.
It seemed like a simple question, triggered by a desire to be consistent in the way we handle a word we use a lot here at Stories To Tell. But the discussion it provoked was rather protracted and, I think, an important illustration of something to which writers should pay more attention – consistency of style.
We discussed what you see in common usage. Many pieces of published writing have hyphens. But what seems an equal number don’t and that number seems to be growing.
We talked about grammar. If you use the word as a verb without a hyphen you are saying to self. That doesn’t make sense. So you should use a hyphen to self-publish to make it grammatically correct. But as an adjective, as used in self published book, would the same thing be true? Of course your grammar checker in Word says it’s not correct. But, I hope everyone knows that’s not always a guarantee of correctness.
Finally, we did what we should have done in the first place, we checked the Chicago Manual of Style.
You have finished the draft of your book. Congratulations! You are ready to have an editor look at it to make sure there are no egregious errors in grammar or usage and to make sure the commas are in the right places. Hold on! Not so fast. You’re missing a critical step in the creation of a successful book: developmental editing.
Think of the developmental edit as a big picture look at your manuscript, a macro edit, if you will. Its purpose is to answer a simple question: Is the manuscript done? The final chapter is written, but are you done? Developmental editing analyzes the clarity, cohesiveness, and effectiveness of your manuscript, with the assumption that you’ll go back to work to improve it. (After that, you’ll really be finished.) You should be open to adding, cutting, changing or moving elements of your manuscript based on what you learn from the feedback you get from both your early readers and then the advice of a more professional editor.
We’re visiting family this week and as things always do the conversation came around to books. My sister-in-law told us about a friend who had recently self published a novel. He chose not to use an editor. Since the book appeared on Amazon he’s gotten a lot of attention from reviewers, all of it negative. Some have focused on points of style that interfered with their reading experience others bemoaned errors that a good copy edit would have picked up and corrected.
The author, like many first time authors, failed to understand that self publishing is about access to publication which eliminates the need for a traditional publishing house, but it doesn’t eliminate all of the steps a publisher fulfilled in the process of producing a book. Quality books need quality editing, good design and an effective cover. Not many authors possess the skills to do all of these things themselves
The next time you sit down with your book manuscript think of yourself as a sculptor.
Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it’s the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Manuscripts are often a lot like that.
First drafts contain a lot that needs to be chipped away to get down to the books essence. Too often writers to cram far more into their manuscript than one good book can possibly contain.
Who do you expect to read your nonfiction book? Taking the time to think about your book’s audience will help you write a better book. Most nonfiction will appeal to only a segment of the mass market. They are niche books. What’s your niche?