From the Desk of the Editor: When You Can’t Afford an Editor ~ Cheryl Freedman, Nov.8/13

Cheryl FreedmanHiring an editor can be very expensive , especially if you hire the editor too early in the writing process, i.e., when your manuscript is in very rough first draft form. I’m talking here about such basic writing mistakes as incorrectly formatted dialogue (i.e., technical errors) or random changes in point of view (i.e., content/style errors).

Now if you want to hire me to fix such rudimentary problems, who am I to say no? I can use the money, although I have to admit that I will feel just the tiniest bit guilty on my way to the bank with your cheque. And in cases like this, I’ll often edit the first 25–50% of such a rough draft and then send it back with copious comments and a suggestion that the author work further on the manuscript and then send back to me.

In other words, sending as polished a manuscript as possible to an editor will not only save you money but also turnaround time.

So how, you ask, can I do this?

There are five ways:

– Books, magazines, how-to-write Websites/blogs
– Writing groups
– Writing courses & workshops
– Professional writers’ associations & conferences
– Lagniappe: Two fundamentals of good writing

Books, magazines, how-to-write Websites/blogs
There are far too many resources to list here, but email me and I’ll send you a list of books (style and usage, general fiction writing, crime-writing, and miscellaneous) I’ve found useful. As for magazines, there’s Writer’s Digest (hardcopy, digital, and online tips http://www.writersdigest.com/) and The Writer (hardcopy, digital, and online tips http://www.writermag.com/).

Writing groups
‘Fess up now. How many of you have given your manuscript to your mom or BFF to read and critique? It’s OK, really…if all you want is a pat on the back. Odds are that your mom or BFF will tell you the manuscript is brilliant and you’re obviously a candidate for a Man Booker Award in the near future. Congratulations, kid, but such praise isn’t much help in making you a better writer.

Enter the writing (or critique) group: a group of five or six writers who read and critique each other’s work. How you set up your group—face-to-face, online, via email, via Twitter, on FB—is up to you and beyond the scope of this post, but you can find suggestions online and in magazines.

Who should be in such a group? Even (or especially) if you’re not yet published, try to have at least one published author or editor or writing instructor or reviewer in your group—in short, someone who is familiar with the rules of writing and who will:

– Read your work for what it is;
– Critique your work honestly but fairly;
– Point out any over-arching content and/or technical problems that your work might have (point of view or voice inconsistencies, motivation problems, factual errors, words used incorrectly, poor pacing, etc. etc. etc.).

You don’t want someone who will:

– Try to co-opt your book and impose his or her view of what your book should be; it’s your book, not theirs;
– Copy edit your work;
– Not be able to give you a rationale for his or her comments.

In addition to working with a writing critique group, it’s also useful to have a friend or acquaintance whom you can call upon for technical information. For example, if you’re writing a police procedural, it’s a good idea to make friends with a cop who can identify factual mistakes in your procedural.

Writing courses & workshops
You can barely turn around these days without finding a writing course or workshop being offered through your local school board, a community college, a library branch, as a Webinar, or via email. These courses are almost always taught by well-established, long-time authors with many works to their name. Some courses are general writing courses, but you can often find specific genre courses, too. Courses can range from very basic (for folks who’ve never written before) through mid-progress (for folks in mid-book who want a bit of a nudge) to advanced.

To find out what’s running in your neck of the woods, check the continuing education page of your local community college(s) or board(s) of education, or the Website of your local library system. You can also check Crime Writers of Canada’s monthly Author Events PDF, which sometimes lists library workshops. And this last point allows me to segue into…

Joining a professional writers’ association & attending writing conferences
If you write mysteries or crime-related fiction or nonfiction, you should join Crime Writers of Canada. You can also do an online search for other writers’ associations, both general and genre in Canada and elsewhere.

Consider attending writing conferences, especially (and here I betray my bias) Bloody Words (BW). The next BW will be held in downtown Toronto from June 6 to 8, 2014. Bloody Words offers professional development in the form of panels and presentations, workshops, a short story contest, a chance to pitch your book to an agent, and lots of opportunity for networking with published and aspiring authors as well as others in the publishing biz. There’s also a reception and a banquet. To find out more about the conference, go to http://2014.bloodywords.com/.

Lagniappe: Two fundamentals of good writing

– Show, don’t tell. Make sure you get the reader involved in the action and in your characters’ (especially your protagonist’s) head space. Don’t just say that Jane is angry; show her anger and make us feel that we’d better get out of her way or else.
– Reality check. This covers everything from making sure your gun doesn’t fire too many bullets (i.e., getting your facts right) to having your characters speak appropriately (e.g., it’s OK for a character not to use contractions in speech, but you’d better have a good reason). Reality check also covers time and space (make a timeline for the events in the book and sketch out elements of the setting if your characters’ physical movements are important) as well as how to convey back story and background information to the reader.

So there you are: a few ways to polish your manuscript to the point where you can hand it to an editor for a final buff that won’t break the bank.

CHERYL FREEDMAN has been a freelance editor for 15 years, editing a range of material from Kabbalah and academic math articles to memoirs to crime fiction. (Unfortunately, because of time constraints, she did not edit Thirteen.) She is chair of the Bloody Words board of directors, has been chair of the BW conference itself four times (including the upcoming BW 2014 ) , and was executive director of Crime Writers of Canada for 10 years before she left to write her own book.

Visit Cheryl at her CWC Webpage
Or Email: cheryl @ freedmanandsister . com

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