As I may have said (a couple of times, I’ll ask that you forgive me, I’m excited) thanks to Conor Kostick at Level Up Publishing my Zombie Apocalypse LitRPG is lurking in the shadows of pre-pub, ready to leap out and devour your brains! However, before it hits shelves and screens there is a lot of work to be done. I’ve covered editing in brief before in regards to my own contract work on RPG’s but, while those mere ten-thousand-word cantrips come with their own challenges, this is a fully blown hundred-thousand word manuscript and the task of editing can be…. challenging.
First-off let me say that, while I know it’s a trope for writers to have little to no formal qualifications in English, I really don’t. I received good grades in my GCSE’s but, beyond that, I have little relevant book learning on the subject (other than the learning that comes from reading). My relationship to grammar is strained and my initial use of punctuation has been described as ‘loading it into a scatter-gun and firing it at the page,’ I thank Athena that I was wise enough to surround myself with people more intellectual than I.
Back in the early days writing Camelot 2050, letting go of a section was difficult. I would write, reread, fret and rewrite ad nauseam. I must have gone over the prologue dozens of times, and that was pre-editing! However, as the project really got rolling I learned to let go, to stop second-guessing myself and just ‘get it down’ and, once it was done it needed editing and proof reading. Back in the ‘before’ I’d handed my pages tremulously to my mother but, I’d not learned to take constructive criticism at that point and that just slowed the project further. Once Black Knight was done and into edit I had to find someone to fix my many and varied errors of spelling, continuity and grammar. It is to my good fortune that my partner has a degree in law (for navigating the complexities of language), a shared enthusiasm for fiction and a voracious capacity for books (I swear, new books are lucky to last more than a couple of days!).
Still, even then our editing process, though rigorous to our minds, was fairly cursory when compared to the realities of the industry process. Between myself and my live-in editor we performed two grammar and continuity edits before the manuscript even went away to Level Up. Now, an important thing to remember when you get notes from an editor is this. They want your book to succeed. They’re not offering their feedback for fun, if they see an opportunity to improve the book, they will tell you. My editor for Level Up, Conor, is a historian and published and acclaimed author in his own right so I would be at the least remiss to ignore his advice (at worst I would simply be arrogant). But Conor knows his business, he knows how to give feedback and he knows the audience for LitRPG. So we go, back and forth, with notes and feedback, both creative and mechanical. We had a Zoom chat about the finale and I can’t tell you how exciting it is for a self-pub author to finally say, ‘I’ve got a meeting with my editor’ and not be making a joke about my cat.
Of course, it being the job to raise a manuscript to its highest potential, the editor has to highlight areas the readership might find as ‘lacking’ or that spoil the flow of story or dialogue, and it is human nature, sometimes, to fixate on the ‘bad’. No matter the praise it’s far easier sometimes to get hung up on the ‘criticism’. I spent five years training as a therapist, we practiced the ‘sharing sandwich’ (know in many workplaces as the ‘shit sandwich’). In addressing a perceived ‘negative’ you bracket it with positives, encouragement or highlighting the ‘good’, I know it, I’ve done it in a therapeutic setting and I recognise it when it comes my way. Of course, knowing that your knee-jerk reaction to feedback might be to resist (and this is a lesson I learned from my contract work) it’s important to take a breath, step back, maybe give it a little time, and then re-approach both the feedback, and the work.
Rendered Flesh is now in edit four as we approach Christmas and, this being a full manuscript, it is becoming a bit of a slog. This latest sequence of edits is centered around the dialogue, not so much the body, but the flow and the way it is presented to the reader, looking at the flow between the dialogue and surrounding prose and smoothing it into something that flows organically and, I tell you, it takes a lot of work to make these things ‘flow organically’. But this is where a ‘good’ manuscript becomes a ‘great’ manuscript and it’s also where many of us fall into traps like lethargy, self-doubt and the old ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ trap. Reading someone else’s work half a dozen times might bring you increasing joy as you notice the details you missed the first time around, reading your own stuff can be more akin to your mum showing baby photo’s to your friends accompanied by suitably embarrassing stories. But, here’s the most important thing to remember, whether you’re doing self-pub or have attracted a publisher. You’ve seen the spark, it’s what prompted you to write. Somewhere down the line someone else has seen it too, you’ve shown it to someone you trust and they’ve affirmed what you already knew. Your story has an audience out there waiting for it, they might not know it yet but you do. You might temporarily forget, throw down your pen in disgust but you know and can remember that what you’re doing is going to be great. It might take four edits, it might take fifty (although I truly hope it doesn’t) but you’ll get there, in the end.