Taking a #2 with all your data (aka the info dump)

In anticipation of finishing my book, I began to think about the editing phase. Now I am by no means a grammatical expert and I am the queen of stranded prepositions (I’m thinking of starting a band by that name, does anyone play the oboe?). So of course I thought I would like to find someone who could edit my work for me and make sure it’s polished before I start querying agents. In researching query letters and submissions and such I learned that some agents will want a polished version and that some publishers are no longer offering editorial services for the books they sign. (Collective gasp.) Editing services will also be something you will need if you are going the self-publish route. You will need someone who can format your book so that it’s ready to print as well as typo free (or as typo free as possible).

After researching a few editing services and realizing that most places were going to charge over a thousand dollars for a book the length of the one I’m writing (between 80-90 thousand words) I started to panic a bit. I did find one that was about half as expensive but I gotta tell you, the typos on their website were a huge red flag for me. For those of you considering a dirt cheap place like that DON’T, if their website has typos they’re not going to do much better with your book. It may seem like a good deal but you might as well save your money and have Joe Schmoe down the street read it over for you. Of all the places you spend your money on your book, editing is one of the times you should splurge. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that were riddled with typos. They’re distracting and they take away from your story. An editor is also going to help you see your manuscript with fresh eyes. They will spot holes in your story and inconsistencies. For me this is important because, as the author, I know the story in my head and can get from point A to point G but I forget sometimes to give my readers points B-F so they can get there with me! A good editor is great for spotting this sort of thing. All of which is most helpful in delivering a product that people want to read. Take a look at just about any acknowledgement section at the back of your favorite books, you’ll find that the author has thanked their editor. It’s an important job and it can make or break your book.

For those of you wanting another option, or further help with editing, I thought I’d tell you about my recent foray into writers’ forums. I recently joined a writer’s forum where you can SYW (show your work) and have it critiqued by fellow writers. It was a little daunting when I first signed up. I had to wait a couple days for permission to log in as a user and the forum is HUGE! They have thousands of posters online at any given time and they have every topic and genre you can think of. Of course being the lawyer that I am, I read the rules first. Yes there were rules. One of the rules was that you had to make 50 posts of substance before you can start posting your own work for critique. At first I was a little annoyed by this… Ok, I’m still a little annoyed by it cause I’m only up to like 25. But after exploring the site for a while I was glad I didn’t just jump right in and go crazy with posting my stuff. I have learned a whole lot about the editing process just by reading through the critiques of the works other people have submitted. Learning about staying consistent in the tense that you’re using, about showing versus telling, and about first person versus third person narration among other things. Through offering my own critiques of other’s work (I was a little hesitant at first) I learned how to view my own work more beneficially and spot a lot of the same errors in my own writing.

There are a couple of things I have to say though in regards to peer editing. First is take everything with a grain of salt. What I mean by that is, some of the suggestions given, deal with personal preferences. If someone doesn’t like something about the piece you submit, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change it. There will always be someone who doesn’t like it but a good chance that a lot of other people do like it. So be careful when taking advice like that. If you are seeing a lot of people agreeing with each other on something, then that would be a good time to heed what they’re saying. It’s hard to get a consensus with writers so if everyone’s agreeing, that’s usually a big deal! Ha! Also, you’re going to hear a lot about two things: 1. Showing versus telling and 2. Info dumping. These are two things that most writers need to be weary of. (ß Stranded preposition ftw!) I’m guilty of failing at both of these. And going back through my manuscript with an eye out for these two things has been of great value to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these terms I will briefly explain. (For those of you who want further help with them, keep an eye for the launch of my own writer’s forum where we can discuss them at length!)

  1. Showing versus telling – this comes into play when, in your writing, you are telling the reader how it is. ‘Susie was angry.’ ‘Bob was happy.’ ‘Tinkerbell entered the cold room.’ All of these statements are ok, and they may help tell your story, but that is what is meant when you hear about “telling.” What (generally) makes for a really great story is when you do more “showing.” To give you an example of this, I will use the sample sentences I gave above but instead of “telling” I will write by “showing.” ‘Susie’s face contorted into a sneer, her voice dripping with venom. “How dare you!” She bellowed.’ Or ‘Beginning in Bob’s mouth, the smile travelled up to his sparkling eyes. “It’s breathtaking.” He whispered.’ And finally, ‘The shivering started almost as soon as Tinkerbell entered the room. She wished she had brought her jacket. “I can see my breath!” She exclaimed, with her arms wrapped tightly around her body.’ You can see from each of those examples, you could see that Susie was angry, Bob was happy, and the room was cold but I didn’t just tell you, you figured it out from my writing. Showing your reader is almost always better than telling. Again, I must mention that not every situation will require you to show, especially the more insignificant parts of your story. Don’t waste time or words when it interrupts your story line, especially if it’s not very important.
  2. Info Dumps – As story tellers we fall into this trap a lot. We have created this magical place or person in our head and we want to tell the world every little thing about him/her/it. Be very careful! This is the fastest way to turn off a reader. They want to know things about your protagonist but they don’t want an eHarmony profile on them. They want to know about your setting, but take too long and they will get bored. Generally, the best thing to do is to sprinkle the details throughout your writing. Talk about hair color when she flips her hair over her shoulder as she flirts with a handsome stranger. Talk about eye color when he’s staring through his binoculars looking for the enemy. Be creative, don’t force it, just casually mention them when it fits with the story and try to spread it out if you can. There are some exceptions. Things like science fiction and fantasy, any time your setting is somewhere that people aren’t familiar with. Here might be a time you have to explain things up front. Some people call it an info dump, some people call it world building, tomato, tomato (insert different accent on second tomato). Do what you gotta do, but again, try to spread it out if you can with action sections or some badinage if possible.

My final piece of advice is this. If you are a writer, then I’m sure you are a vociferous reader as well (and if you’re not then you need to be). So you know when something doesn’t sound right or when something feels flat. If you’re bored writing it, then there’s a good chance your reader will get bored reading it. Write something you would enjoy reading. Take your cues from other published writers who write books in the same genre as you. Have your friends read it and see what they think. Then change what doesn’t work. But if you really love something, think twice about cutting it. Trust your instincts, if you’ve read enough books then your instincts are going to be pretty good on what a good book reads like.

We have come, at last, to the end of another entry. Thank you, thank you for joining me this far on my journey of writing and publishing. I love that you are all here. For those of you who are wanting to improve your writing skills, I highly recommend joining a writer’s forum! I will be launching my own forum soon so be sure to sign up to follow my blog so you will be alerted to when that happens. It would be my honor to hear your questions and exchange of ideas. If you have any particular topics you would like to see on my forum site please leave them in the comments section and I will make sure to add them! Keep on writing my lovelies!

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