20 Apr 2016

Mr Stargazer on Editing

Hail readers!

It has been a while since I last updated the Magical Realm, though I do hope you have taken notice of some of the essays I’ve bumped up. Largely, my blogging efforts have been sidelined to work on the Ark; but now that I have collaborated with my editor, and await more from her, I can find enough time to blog.

And what will I be blogging about? Well; that’s easy enough to guess. Editing! Here I will detail my experiences so far with my editor, and what it has meant for me and the Ark.

What I’ve Requested

First off, you have to understand exactly what I’ve hired my editor to do and at what stage I am with the Ark.

Now: I don’t know how much attention you’ve been paying to the Magical Realm over the past couple of weeks, but I can tell you that the Ark—my Sci-Fi novel come LGBT romance extraordinaire—is 2/3 finished. Due to various reasons (writing style, voice of narrators, and more besides) I decided to pause work and revise the Ark under the watchful eye of an editor.

I hired my editor to do three things, basically:

  1. Help me with my query letter—believe me, it’s not all that simple. The query letter sells my book to agents. I have to get it right.
  2. Give me specific comments inline of the book.
  3. Give me an assessment for the entirety of the book, covering plot, characterisation, writing style, and more besides.

The one thing I have not hired my editor to do is, well, edit. She does not actually re-write my prose or make edits to the text proper. And why, do you ask? Well; editing is time-consuming. And therefore expensive.

Hiring the editor to perform an editorial assessment with commentary, however, is cheaper and still gives me the valuable perspective of a 3rd party and an expert in the field. The only caveat is that I have to do the edits myself. Then again, that’s no bad thing—because it’s my book, my writing style, and I’m the person best placed to maintain my voice and vision throughout.

All of this, however, does involve a little work. (‘But Alex!’ you cry; ‘surely writing a book is a lot of work anyway?’ And you’d be right.)

Query Letter Writing

Writing query letters is hard. But the basic layout is fairly straightforward:

  1. You start with ‘dear [agent’s name]’ and ideally not with dear agent. Agents don’t like that.
  2. You usually introduce your novel at this point. You mention word count, genre, and possibly successful books that your novel resembles in style or form. It is also recommended that you personalise your query letter with specific reasons for why you chose the agent—something like ‘since you represented Cassandra Clare, an author I admire and whose writing style I resemble, I believe you would be an excellent agent to represent my own work.’
  3. The hook. As the name suggests, this is a short paragraph that hooks the agent into reading more. In my case, it goes: Two boys falling in love. A world falling apart. And a chance to escape it all...
  4. The meat. Here you describe your book in a bit more detail. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this should be more passive than the hook; it shouldn’t be. It should be just as interesting as the hook, only longer. Generally, the meat should be about the key conflict in your story. It could be character-focused, plot-focused, or even world-focused. A fantasy novel may be in the latter, and could start with ‘In a world where dragons fly and the dead walk among the living...’ A good length is one, two or three paragraphs and preferably no more.
  5. (Optional) Your biography—what have you written? Do you have prior publications? It doesn’t have to be a book; it could be writing in newspapers or even blogging. Other pertinent details like e.g. having a creative writing degree or winning a competition should also be included.
  6. Closing thoughts—say why your book will appeal to the market, and thank the agent for their time.

Now, that’s a lot of stuff to squeeze into a page (or close to it). And it’s not easy—you have to be both precise and informative without being overly verbose; your prose has to capture the interest, and only in a few paragraphs.

So far, my editor has proven rather helpful. For example: initially, my query letter did not have anything on why the Ark would appeal to market demands. The layout was awry, with no clear structure. There was no reference to other successful authors. And most importantly: the editor re-wrote my meat.

Of course I ended up re-writing it myself. My voice is pretty unique. However, it did give me a much needed shove in the right direction; and that led to what I feel is a stronger piece of text.

The editor was also helpful in perfecting some of my prose. My hook, for example, did not initially half-rhyme the way it does.

Edits on the Ark

The editor has given me plenty to think about. So far, she has raised:

  1. A problem with the beginning. The action and tension of the prologue did not really flow into chapter one; the tension broke like a wave, instead of cresting.
  2. The prologue was overwritten.
  3. The quotations and poetry in chapter one came in the way of the reader interacting with the book—and worsened the sense of disconnect from the prologue.
  4. The writing style was at times too poetic, and detracted rather than improved my authorial voice.
  5. The Technical Notes section would turn away some readers, being somewhat daunting and preventing interaction with the book.
  6. And numerous other minor points.

This led me to re-write the prologue. Then, I re-wrote the first scene of chapter one and made quite a few edits to the rest of the chapter. I also removed the technical notes; pertinent information is now being kept in footnotes.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, revising a book is a hell of a lot of work. But I can tell you one thing: it’s easier with an editor. An editor can tell you what works, and what doesn’t; and, once you’ve revised the prose, they can offer feedback and tips.

Also, unless you happen to be extremely experienced and able at writing query letters, I would strongly recommend you hire an editor for help with your query. This service is far cheaper than editorial work on your book (indeed my editor was kind enough to offer it for free under the price I paid for editorial assessment) and is very useful for getting your query letter right.

And good query letter = much better chance of representation.

Anyway, that’s it for now folks. I’ll post updates once I’ve done more work with the editor. And, sorry to break it to you, but my usual regime of poetry/essays will be put on hold for a while. Don’t complain; there’s a huge backlist of older essays here on this blog.

And of course, you could always take a look at my finished books—the Necromancer and the Sandman.

Now, goodbye. There’s more to be done...

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