In the last post we were waiting for my debut novel to come back from my editor. Was I going to be dancing round the house, reading bits of the report out to anyone who'd listen? Or was I going to be completely crushed?
Well neither, as it happens, but it wasn't altogether comfortable reading. There were twenty-eight pages of where I'd gone wrong. And the thing was, I could see that the editor was right. I recognised what she was saying. She wasn't telling me the book was terrible. In fact quite a bit of what she said was complimentary. But she certainly didn't pull any punches in the places where she felt I needed to tighten up the dialogue, places where the plot was falling flat, additional scenes I really ought to write, scenes I didn't need. And that, basically, my main character was a wimp!
The novel needed a lot of work. But was I downhearted? Well, yes, if you want to know the truth. But I'm a bit of a sticker, and besides, I was starting to see where I could make improvements. And the editor was very helpful: I sent a couple of revised scenes to her for comments and she made more observations and suggestions. Then having rewritten it almost from scratch, two of my writers' group members had a go at it. This didn't result in a re-write, but it certainly pointed out some careless mistakes and some more tightening up of dialogue and action.
And then guess what, I bit the cash bullet again. I paid for another critique. There was a 20% discount for a second read, but as the novel was now fifteen thousand words longer, it didn't really work out much cheaper. I chose to go with the same editor as before, because I felt we had developed an understanding of where my novel was going. And this time I got about twenty pages of notes. But at least now the changes were minor, and there were more positive comments. One excellent suggestion she made was to re-write a particular scene from the point of view of a different character. So I tried this, and she was right, it worked really well.
Of course, I didn't do absolutely everything my editor suggested. I'm not a sheep, after all, and in the end it's my novel. But her advice and recommendations were invaluable, and enabled me to create a much stronger story and with a much more credible main character.
Another good suggestion she made was to read it aloud to myself, all the way through. So a packet of Strepsils later I could now see how often my characters began dialogue with 'Well' (even though I'd known this and thought I'd eradicated it already) and the fact that the police discussed a partial thumbprint five times. Five times. Please!
So if you're reading this and you're in a similar position, don't try and go it alone. Don't be abashed at asking for help. Read the acknowledgements bit in a lot of novels and you might wonder how much the author actually contributed. Get the best advice you can, and that probably means paying for it some way or another. It might mean you undertake a serious creative writing course, such as a degree or an MA, like Sue. Or get yourself onto an Apprenticeship scheme like Clare. Or, like me, work with a professional editor you feel is on your wavelength. And if you can, find a group of writers with some experience to help you stay on the straight and narrow. If there isn't anything near you, join an on-line critique group such as Word Cloud or Authonomy. If you like crime you could join my Google+ group Creative Crime Writers. Post your stories or reviews on there and join the community.Creative Crime Writers
The other thing you need to do is read, read, read, especially, but not exclusively, in your chosen genre. It's only by studying others that you learn what works and what doesn't.
Altogether my book went through at least seven re-writes, probably more. It was at this stage I began the wearisome process of submitting to agents. And you know the rest. That's where we came in.
Next time I'll talk about getting your book ready for e-publishing.