Saturday, May 22, 2010

"The Final Page" Tip of the Week: Think 10 years from now.

"The Final Page" column provides a weekly tip for avoiding common self-publishing mistakes. A professional final product makes the difference between being reviewed on The New Podler, or being one of the millions of books that sink through Amazon's sales rankings to languish below the 4-million mark.

If you want it now, that could be a problem.
This month, my freelance editing business received several requests for a free sample edit. In some of those requests I saw a trend; thanks to the ever-rising profile of self-publishing, many writers are ready to get their novel into print, and want an editor to make it ready for publication in one pass. The catch: What if it's not ready to be line-edited?

I could eat up a lot of space in the column merely listing the reasons why a novel might need heavy structural revisions. But the crux of the problem is simply that it makes little sense to pay an editor to prep, scrub, and polish your novel until you know that its beginning, middle, and end doesn't need rewriting. Otherwise, you and your editor are just writing on water.

Think 10 years from now.
One of reasons writers write is the desire to say something permanent, something that remains true or entertaining over time. Ironically, the easier it is to convert those words into immortal print, the greater the temptation to do it too soon. Ten years from now, that rushed book may not the proud accomplishment you meant it to be.

So, take your time. If the manuscript needs another year, or two, or three, give it time. If your editor advises you to join a good critique group, do it. If, despite your truly accomplished writing or topical plot, the manuscript has an Achilles heel that trips it up at the climax, then back off, cool down, and rewrite those chapters from scratch.

In a world where money will buy authorship immediately, patience is tough. A published book may make you an author, but the bookstore has plenty of books by authors who are experts, celebrities, journalists, and politicians--people who probably wouldn't call themselves writers, per se. If you aren't an expert, celebrity, etc., then you need to be a writer before you're an author. Repeated failure, continuing improvement, and patience are what makes a person a writer. This is probably the hardest lesson I've had to learn, and from what I can see, it's not just a lesson for beginners.

Sarah Cypher is the author of "The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists" (Glyd-Evans Press, 2010) and runs a two-woman editing and book design shop, The Threepenny Editor.

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