It Takes a Team to Write a Book

Photo (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

Back in the 1990s, a well-known political slogan went, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, there is a version for authors, and it goes, “It takes a team to write a book.” So, who’s on the team?

First and foremost would be the author him or herself. After all, the author is the star of the show, and the captain of the team. Some of you may have an image in your mind of an author, in some isolated house on the seashore, working away at his or her typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were really like that, but it’s not. In my case it’s me, in my office, working with my team.

The first person on my team is my beta reader, Geneva. She’s an avid reader, but not a writer herself, and she’s honest. Sometimes brutally so. That’s what qualifies her for the job. Every couple chapters or so I call Geneva and read it back to her. If something isn’t working, she’ll tell me–and in no uncertain terms. “Cut this,” she’ll say, or, “No, that’s not accurate.” Granted, not all of you will have someone in your circle who is willing to give you such candid feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writer’s associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups will typically meet once a week, someplace quiet, like a coffee bar, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. They can be a real asset, and it can save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.

So, if the author is the captain, the editor would be his or her first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct those gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. He or she is the person who separates the pros from the amateurs. My advice is to find someone you feel comfortable working with. I’ve been working with Cynthia, my editor, for sometime now. We have a great relationship. She fixes the problems, without changing my voice. She also likes to make snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.

The next team member is the proofreader. He or she goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, my have missed. Typically these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark, that can be easy to miss.

Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers or illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or you’ve had some professional training, leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines that take many years of training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you look like an amateur as well. Also be cautious using stock images, especially for your cover. Another author may come along and decide to use the same image for his or her cover.

Finally, the last member of your team is your publisher. You have many options here, and I have a page on this blog that discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which would be the best for you.

Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. He or she is the most important member of your team, and would be the one you simply can’t work without.



So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part 3

wtf graphicThere are time when I get a little weary trying to explain to newbie authors why they need to have their manuscripts professionally edited.  Sometimes they get it, other times they don’t. (Sigh.)  So, if for no other reason, have your manuscript professionally edited and proofread so your readers won’t go onto forums and rip your book to shreds.

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. They’ve just paid good money for your book. They’re used to reading well edited books, and they expect your book to be well edited too. If it isn’t, they will be disappointed at best. At worst they’ll feel like they’ve been ripped-off. They may write you a bad review, or they may go on-line to reader’s forums and point out your mistakes. Either way, your dirty laundry just got hung out to dry, and your career as an author may have just come to an untimely end. That said, I’m going to paraphrase some of the avoidable errors I’ve seen mentioned in online forums. (Please note that if you are reading this in a language other than English some of the errors I’ve listed below may not apply in your language.)

  • A leading lady gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The leading man is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners.  No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual with that one. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene he’s having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After his tryst is over he’ll need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures?  Sounds like that old Vincent Price movie about the wax museum. I’d much prefer that he’d gathered her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? According to the forum I was reading, they all came out of self-published books. Yes, it’s funny to us, but not so much to the authors who wrote them.  What’s sad is that these are just a few of the kind of mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

Still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you’d better find yourself a good editor.

My tip for the day.


So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part 2

pen&paperIn my previous article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor – Part One, I discussed the fact that your editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript and give it the polish it needs to become a successful book.

I know for many of you money is tight, and unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who gets picked up by a traditional publisher, you’re going to have to invest some of your own money into producing your book. Typically, at least in my part of the county, a good editor will charge around one or two cents per word, which means for an 80,000 to 100,000 word manuscript you’re looking at spending around $1000 to $1500. I know it’s a lot of money, and I know that some of you are tempted to take shortcuts. My advice: Don’t do it.

For example, it’s tempting to ask your friends, you cousin, of even your mom to do your editing, and while these folks can offer good suggestions, unless they have a background in journalism, teaching English, or other professional writing experience, they’re really not qualified for the job. Let me give you an example of what happens when you ask your friend or relative to do a job that should be handled by a professional. One of my friends once told me she had her mother help her with her income tax return. Her mother had no accounting or bookkeeping experience, and needless to say, her return ended up being audited by the IRS. They came after her, not only for the additional taxes that she owed, but with penalties and interest as well. She ended up paying far more for the penalties and interest than what she would have spent on a qualified tax-preparer. Likewise, when you have an unqualified person edit your book, it too can come back with penalties and interest in the form of bad reviews.

Remember, your editor really isn’t interested in changing your content. They are looking for things such as incorrect homonyms, dangling participles, improper paragraph formatting and other things that make you look like an amateur.

We’ve entered a time when anyone with a pulse and a computer can upload a book on Amazon Kindle and call themselves an author, which means the market is now flooded with badly written books. I’m reading all kinds of comments about this on various forums from frustrated readers who are tired of bad books and want some sort of vetting process. If you want to get those five-star reviews to make you stand out from all those amateurs then find yourself an experienced professional book editor.  Nothing will kill your writing career faster than having a poorly-written book with bad reviews.

My tip for the day.