The gentle art of editing your book

2000px-Ryanssandbox.svgI’m currently working with my publisher on editing my next book, The Pick-Up Artist, ready for its publication in February 2015.

It’s part of the process I enjoy – but then I think I’ve been lucky both with this book and with my previous novel Song Of The Sea God to have editors whose work and opinions have brought out the best in what is there. It can be a curious feeling to have your work looked over and commented on by somebody who you don’t know – but, given that it’s going to be published and read (hopefully) by lots of people you don’t know it’s best to get used to it at this early stage!

I had a head start on this, even before Sea God found a publisher because for years I was a newspaper journalist so I was used to having my copy go through the hands of news editors, sub-editors, feature editors and of course editors all of whom, from time to time, would have an opinion on it and changes to make. You learn not to be too precious – to take criticism on the chin and you learn that good editing can improve your work. That said, bad editing can ruin your work – but that’s another story, and not one that I have had any experience of as a fiction author thankfully.

So you hand over your book, your baby, to a stranger and she or he hands it back at length with suggestions for changes. She doesn’t actually make the changes, that’s your job, but points out areas which might be improved, and sometimes gives suggestions how.

With the Pick Up Artist what I’ve found is that all the changes suggested by the editor at my publisher Magic Oxygen were things which I agreed with. I could see how they would improve the book over all and in some cases they were even things I’d half thought myself but not got round to tackling or had put to the back of my mind. Perhaps that’s a sign of good editing, that it feels organic – part of making the book what it should be.

With The Pick Up Artist I also had a couple of friends whose opinons I trust and value read a draft of the book at an earlier stage and provide their feedback, large parts of which I took on board in later drafts. I didn’t do this for Sea God and I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s quite a quirky book with a vision that is uniquely mine. With the Pick Up Artist I was aiming for something a little more commercial and I wanted to ensure I was on the right road before travelling further down it.

Once they have been handed over to the publisher both my books have undergone a thorough examination but it’s fair to say that neither has been very dramatically altered at this stage of the process. Perhaps that’s partly because they go through many rewrites before I let go of them.

How would I react if a publisher did want me to do a major overhaul on one of my books, or they were set on doing one themselves? I really don’t know. As I said above I am someone who is used to being edited and sees the value of it. However I do have a much stronger emotional attachment to my fiction than I do to copy I write for work – there’s more of me in it so of course it matters to me.

I think it would come down to how much sense I saw in the changes, which I would want to do rather than having them done for me. I don’t know whether I could go along with a root and branch overhaul of my work if it was taking the book in a direction I didn’t agree with. Thankfully that’s not been an issue so far and I have nothing but good things to say about the way both of my books have been handled!

Raymond_CarverI remember one author telling me about her play, which had a successful run in London‘s West End. It was a drama set in the trenches of the First World War and, as is the nature of these things, at the end, everybody died. At least they did in her version. In the version which was staged everybody lived – because that was a more cheerful and optimistic ending apparently! That’s the sort of thing I would struggle with I think.

What if changes are made by an editor which are significant but improving? The great story writer Raymond Carver had a tough editor behind him, Gordon Lish, who used to cut his stories very heavily, sometimes making them very different from Carver’s original version. Carver didn’t like this one bit, but he did accept the edited versions were often better, and added to his reputation as a writer. It was something he had to wrestle with – I know I would wrestle with it too.

Song of the Sea GodIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Which is better – a Facebook page or a Facebook profile?

Writers these days need to care about more than just words on the page, they have to let the world know that their work exists if they don’t want it to disappear into the ether having been read only by their auntie Marge and their best mate Dave. And that means developing a presence on social media, which inevitably includes Facebook.

When my first book Song of the Sea God was published by Skylight Press I had the same level of presence on social media as a member of a remote, undiscovered tribe in the Amazon jungle – so at least I had he luxury of starting from scratch. I also had a reasonable knowledge of social media since part of my day job is creating and managing accounts for the organisation I work for.

facebookOne of the things I had to decide when I came to open my own accounts was whether my home on Facebook should be based on a profile, the standard Facebook presence everyone starts with, or whether I should set up a page – (what used to be called a ‘fan page.’)

Now, of course, you can have both – nothing stopping you, but I decided that posting to one or the other was the best use of my limited time and in the end I decided to stick with the profile which you can see if you click here and not bother at this stage with a Facebook page. It’s not a decision I’ve regretted in the couple of years since then.

Why did I choose this route? On the face of it, it seems a contrary decision, the pages after all are set up precisely so people can promote goods and services – big corporations have pages, major charities, brands, large and small. And I have a book – soon two books – to promote.

Well – here are seven reasons why I use my profile rather than set up a page:

1. Pages are Facebook’s way of trying to make you pay.

Facebook is a company and, in the end, it will have to make money in order to keep going. One of the main ways it is seeking to do this is through establishing business users, who have pages, and separating them from individual users with profiles. Once you have a page you are targeted for advertising – Facebook offers to ‘boost’ your posts and allow you to reach more people the more you pay. This is great if you are a big company with an advertising budget – I’m sure Facebook advertising can be very effective, I’ve used it in my day job in communications. But I don’t have a budget as an author – I make very little from writing literary fiction, certainly not enough to make it worth advertising.

2. You only ever reach a tiny proportion of your page ‘fans’ for free.

Surprise! Facebook limits the number of people who see each post on your Facebook page – it wants you to pay to reach the people who signed up to get your posts anyway. My experience is that the ‘edge ranking’ for a page post, the number at the bottom which shows how many people it has reached, can be as low as 10 per cent of your fans. So you make all that effort building your ‘fans’ but most don’t see your posts on their newsfeed – unless you pay of course.

3. Pages are a one way street – not mutual sharing.

If you have a profile you become friends with people and effectively share content – they see yours, you see theirs – it’s a mutual experience. With a page you are asking someone to take your content in a one-way stream – fine if you are a big brand and people are interested in you. But if you are just starting out and don’t really have genuine ‘fans’ then what is people’s motivation for liking your page?

twitter4. Set up a page and you will spend your time begging for fans on Twitter.

There’s sometimes a feeling of desperation over Facebook pages on Twitter. I have 20,000 followers on there @ChilledCH and so I get inundated with requests from people to follow their Facebook author pages. Every day there are new appeals in my Direct Message box “Like my page, please like my page – I will like yours if you like mine …”

5. A profile is more personal.

The reason I like the Facebook profile is that it feels more personal – less corporate. I want one presence on Facebook which covers all my needs and I don’t constantly bang on about my book – I ask questions, join in with jokes, communicate with people in a two-way conversation. That, for me, is what social media is all about. I’ve made some great friends on there, not to mention contacts who have been kind enough to help me in all sorts of ways. I’m not sure I could have achieved that through a page.

6. A profile allows up to 4000 friends.

Which is more than enough at my stage. I have less than 1,500 friends on Facebook. Why would I need an uncapped page when I am nowhere near having enough people to reach the limit on my profile? I’m not a famous author, I’m one with a single book out and another on the way (The Pick Up Artist, due out with Magic Oxygen Publishing on February 14!) My writing is important to me, but so is building up friendships and connections.

7. You can set your profile to accept followers as well as friends.

I have my profile set so that people who do not wish to ‘friend’ me, and so share their own posts, can simply ‘like’ my profile, in the same way they would like a page – so they see mine but I don’t see theirs. If they are interested in my writing but don’t want to do the full ‘friends’ thing then they have that option. It’s the best of both worlds surely?

Perhaps in the future – if my reputation as an author grows and I have people flocking to get to know me on Facebook I might start an author page. Until then, in all modesty, I believe the profile option suits where I am as an author.

What do you think? Page, profile or both?

Song of the Sea GodIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.