Lamar Giles
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Editing

Gremlins in the manuscript

Sorry to leave you for a few days, kiddies. Been hard at work on Agent-requested revisions to WHISPERTOWN. I’m nearly done on that front and wanted to take time to speak to the little (vicious) things.

Typos, missed words, and other general manuscript weirdness (AKA Gremlins).

If you’re familiar with the film, then you know the creatures I speak of. If you’re not familiar with the film, the picture to the left should let you know they aren’t chinchillas.

To clarify, I didn’t come home to find a green reptilian midget chowing down on my pages. In the film, Gremlins were mischievous, with antics ranging from messing up your appliances (especially microwaves) to murder. And they were damn hard to get rid of. The more you attacked, the more there were.

Thus is the nature of problems in manuscripts (for me, anyway…maybe for you, too).

You need to be perfect (REALLY perfect)

This is not true, nothing and no one is perfect. When dealing with Manuscript Gremlins, you gotta try for perfection, though. We’ve all read books where we noticed a misspelling, incorrect word usage, or just a missing word all together. It happens. It’s forgivable. But, have you ever read a book where something is wrong on every other page? Like the author didn’t check it at all?

Admittedly, the worst offenders I’ve run across were self-published books (NOTE: I’m not saying ALL self-published books are poorly edited, I’ve simply experienced SOME that were). That’s not to say I haven’t seen a novel come from major publishing houses with embarrassing mistakes, too. Bottom line: it’s your book, it represents your name, try to make sure it’s right. We’re all human, but don’t let the mistakes in your book label you a ‘lazy, illiterate, and possibly blind’ human.

“I don’t want to read the whole thing again…”

With each subsequent draft of your manuscript you’ll gain confidence that the material is getting better and better. You’re right. But along with the confidence comes a level of comfort, and you’ll be tempted to skip whole sections because you know they’re good to go.

Never, ever do this.

Changes in manuscripts cause a ripple effect. That change to a character’s motivation in Chapter 5 effects what they do in Chapter 27. You changed the paint color on page 40, you better make sure it matches on page 216.

Make your changes, then re-read your whole manuscript with a critical eye. It’s the only way to catch lurking Gremlins.

Your new draft is still a first draft

So, you’ve made sure that your shiny new word upgrades haven’t conjured new Gremlins in your manuscript. All the new stuff is compatible with the old stuff, and you haven’t heard a peep from the little monsters. Guess what?

They moved.

They’re in the new text that you added. How? Why? Because Gremlins love first draft writing most of all.

“Wait,” you say, “this isn’t my first draft, it’s like my fifth.”

Technically, yes. However, anything you’ve added hasn’t been critiqued or revised, so those portions are first draft writing. You’ll need to pay special attention.

Seems like a lot of work

It does. And it is. If you do all this, you’ll know your manuscript inside and out, will likely get sick of it. You wanna be a pro, though, and part of the job description is Gremlin Killer.

So, have at it. Just don’t take your manuscript to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs…that’s not going to help anyone.

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Learning to love red ink

Last time I said I’d discuss training your brain to write original stuff (in other words, the opposite of what most aspiring writers are doing based on what I’ve seen the agents complaining about). I’m sorry to disappoint, but another more timely subject came up. My agent sent me the editorial letter for my YA Mystery WHISPERTOWN today, and I thought it would be a good topic to get into.

Direct your attention to the cartoon on the left. It’s kind of funny, but not the red ink I’m talking about (though mine can be just as difficult to handle). I’m talking about editorial changes, something you’re going to have to deal with when your writing career takes off.

If you’re really trying to break into this business, I’m sure you’ve got critique partners and beta-readers (if you don’t, you better get some) to help you iron out rough spots in your manuscript. These folks are invaluable, and they can really get your work past the initial suckage. However, you have to understand that even the most conscientious beta-reader, while enthusiastic and often willing to go the extra mile, probably lacks two things: 1) A vested interest in your work beyond friendship or reciprocation 2) True editorial experience.

Bottom line: serviceable editors are all around, but GREAT editors are hard to come by.

What’s that mean? Maybe nothing. But let’s say you’ve gone through your beta readers a couple of times, they’ve given the stamp of approval, then you’re fortunate enough to get an agent. That stamp just got revoked. All those re-writes are out the window because now your agent wants to fine tune.

This is the point where you might be tempted to get a little huffy. “The book was good enough for my agent to sign me, how could it possibly need more work? I’ve reached the pentacle.”

No, you haven’t. You’ve got potential, your agent saw it, and now she wants to make sure you’re not wasting her time by sending her out into the world with a mediocre manuscript. This is why the agent you choose is very important.The editorial pill will be much easier to swallow if you’re confident that your agent knows what she’s talking about.

My agent has great editorial experience, and backs up every change she requests with sound rationale. For the record, I didn’t feel the slightest bit of huff when I read her letter. I only disagreed on a couple of points, and once I explained my position, she backed me. We work well together.

If you’ve chosen your agent wisely, then you should look forward to those requested changes, because they mean your agent can go into the world with confidence in your project. A confident agent will work hard for you, because success benefits you both.

But, what if you don’t look forward to the letter? What if you hate the letter?

Then you better get over it. Because if you agent sells your project, most likely you’re going to get another letter from your new editor. More changes. And what are you going to do then? Throw a fit at the person who’s cutting you a check and fulfilling your lifelong dream at the same time?

It’s not your book anymore. Sure, your name’s on the cover, but you have investors to please. Beyond the investors, you have readers to entrall. If you’re lucky, you’re birthing your new career, a career that will bleed red ink often.

Learn to love it. Because as long as those agents and editors are staining your manuscript, you’re still in the business. When no one’s telling you what to change, it means they’re not reading anymore.

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