Wednesday, August 19, 2015

3 Biggest Mistakes New Authors Insist on Making

As a multi-level editor of award-winning work, I receive many requests for work. They come in bunches, of course, so that I’m always either swamped or...well, I’m always swamped since I also field half a dozen requests a month for book reviews, which I take seriously.

My editing process is risky to my professional reputation in that I allow writers to look like idiots if they so choose. Sometimes I ask that they not use my name in connection with their work when they insist on making mistakes that make it look like no editing was involved. Of course there are always trolls who bark that finely edited material needs major work, but that’s not something we can control.

The biggest errors my authors insist on perpetuating?

Point of View, 
Fooling the Reader, and 
Rushing to Publication

This post will not address how to properly address these issues—there are plenty of lessons on that already. But you really want to know why I let people pay me to allow them to look like morons or hacks or perpetuate the reality that self-published work makes everyone look bad, don’t you?

I’m babysitting a rooster. My job is to nurture you, provide comfortable surroundings, explain the rules, but it’s not my job to isolate you from the hens who insist on telling you how handsome you are. If you choose not to listen to me, and believe that the best pickings are outside the confines, you leave, you get eaten by a fox or run over on the road. The end result—you provide a meal—is the same. You either provide the public a delicious meal or you feed a colony of blowflies, and I get the catering fee either way. I do have a list of people I will not work with again, no matter the money.

Some clients want to learn, but they’re few. Mostly I get ardent arguments about why untrained new author is correct and I am wrong. Hey, I used to be that way—in my head—while being edited by professionals before and after I got contracted by publishers.

Here are mistakes I’ve seen this past year (situations changed slightly):

Point of View problem: Thinking the reader is not smart enough to follow you.
Character finds a lost pet, beloved of an Owner who is searching for lost pet. Finder gives pet a name which is vastly different from Owner’s name, yet author insists Finder use the original Owner’s name for pet in the narrative. So the reader will know it’s the same pet.

Point of View problem: Thinking the reader is too smart to follow you.
Character is being followed, but doesn’t know he’s being followed, so author stops to tell the reader, narrating the action between Followers and what Character doesn’t know is going on in the shadows.

Fooling the Reader
Opening the story with a group of adults discussing a non-problem in chapter one, then spending the bulk of the story in the childhood of one of the Characters, then closing the last chapter with why Character turned out that way. This is not an adult novel; it’s not a tween novel; that’s not really even a novel.

Rushing to Publication
E-mail: “I just wrote my first book and it’s going to print next week! Can you edit it?”
Me: “No.”

Please don’t do this. Writing your first book is a delicious ritual. You miss steps, you end up with a copy full of errors. Give it a few months. Spend time doing it well, figure out your audience and get your pre-marketing in place. You'll thank me later.

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  1. Lisa, you are an awesome editor and don't let anybody tell you otherwise:)

    1. Naturally you wouldn't insist on making mistakes unless it was a well-considered reason, even if butt heads on your fabulous work.

  2. Good stuff! Thanks for this.