Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Guest: Eric J. Gates

As Christmas approaches, I need to save a few pennies for gifts for the family so my Guest this week is myself. But I'm taking advantage of the forum to tackle head-on something that's been bugging me for a while...

Eric J. Gates

Why you SHOULD Self-Edit!

If you are an Indie author or aspiring to become a novelist you probably have trawled the Interweb looking for sage advice on many different aspects of writing. One subject you will repeatedly encounter is the matter of editing the drafts of your completed work. Almost all (not to say one hundred percent) of what you will read about this important aspect of the writing process will insist you search out a professional editor and decry any mention of doing the job yourself.

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Now if you were to be a little cynical, you might note that almost all of these articles are written by… you’ve guessed it… editors, some blatantly offering their services at the bottom of said diatribe. Okay, so what’s wrong with that? Before I go into this I have nine words to say to those ‘Editors’ who are about to stop reading and pen an irate comment – STOP! Read to the end of this article first.

So what is wrong with editorial services being cited as the only way to create a ‘real’ book? Well, in my opinion, a number of issues.

Firstly, the editors you generally find (not all, please note, just a notable majority) fall into two camps. The first is the ‘I used to be an editor for a famous Traditional Publisher and have lots of experience’ people. Then there’s the wannabes, often attracted to the ‘profession’ of editing by the large sums of money the former group commands for their services.

Okay, let’s take a step or two back and look at the ‘business’ of editing, especially in today’s publishing paradigm, with a little more objectivity.

So just what IS editing?
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Okay you Google ‘Editing’ and are confused and lost almost immediately. Yes, you’ve just discovered there’s no such thing as a simple edit.

I was told, shortly after Man became bipedal, that editing was all about the four ‘C’s’ – Consistent, Concise, Correct and Clear. This will help you understand the different types of professional editing available:

Developmental editing is the most all-encompassing, consisting in revising the entire narrative to detect where improvements can be made in its structure. It will endeavor to root out plot-holes, inconsistencies in the storylines and their order, incorrect facts, shoddy writing, characters that just don’t convince, terrible pacing, waffling, and overlooked opportunities in the narrative. Yes, it’s a big job and usually the most expensive.

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Copy-editing will devolve around spelling and grammar essentially as well as Formatting and Style and is often confused with…

Line-editing which is the most invasive of the edits and will examine word choice, use of Passive tense, sentence flow and paragraph structure, overall pace, in short a very detailed analysis/rewrite of the prose itself.

Proofreading is the top level, the least incisive in the editing spectra. In Traditional Publishing, it is usually done just before publication and after all other editing has taken place. In essence it’s a hunt for errors in the text (spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, use of abbreviations, how you represent numbers and dates, in short, the nitty-gritty).

Now you’ll note I mentioned TradPub again. The World has changed since TradPub was the only solution to offering a ‘real’ book to an expectant readership. And, in the same way the TradPub houses are so slow to revise their methods of work (it takes eighteen months minimum to get a book from manuscript to the bookstore? Really? Have you noticed how many TradPub outfits run book
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competitions to help discover new talent? In most cases, within two months or less of the winner and runner-up being announced, their respective books are on the shelves in store! Inconsistent is the word I’m looking for, I think) their approach to editing is invasively being applied to the Indie world. 

But ‘Things’ are now different…

Most Indies work on tight budgets, after all they do everything themselves, so not only are they looking to produce an outstanding finished product (it’s their reputation on the line, not some anonymous worker bee in a huge TradPub firm) but they want to do this as cheaply as possible (Why? Remember all those surveys that say most Indies make about $500 a year from their books, then stack that up against an editor asking $4,000 for a Line-Edit. You don’t have to be a math genius to see which way the decision is going to go.)

This is how many are approaching the need to have in-depth editing of their work.

‘Beta-readers’ (often fellow writers) are given early drafts – never should be the first draft though (more on this in a minute) and these people are trusted to undertake a critical read-through, noting anything and everything that gives pause for thought. Typos, inconsistencies, grammatical errors, facts that are blatantly wrong or that need to be checked, punctuation, the rhythm, pace and flow of the tale, and even suggestions for improvement both in storyline and character development should be annotated). Some charge for this, fees considerably less than TradPub’s editors I might add; others do it for free on a reciprocal basis (something that you won’t find anywhere in TradPub).

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There’s even an odd bunch called ‘Alpha-readers’ who will help out a fellow author when they have lost the thread in their novel to such an extent, they are not sure how to get back on the right track. I’ve done a few of these myself for aspiring authors and they take much, much longer than a Beta-read because you are applying your own knowledge and experience to help someone who hasn’t been on the same learning curve. You’re providing a serious shortcut!

The idea behind this phenomenon of ‘authors-helping-authors’ in the Indie world is simple: most of us do not see our fellow Indies as competitors but as allies; we are all fighting the same battles, maybe for the same audience of readers, but that doesn’t mean we have to be at each-other’s throats. This very blog, which has hosted fellow writers and their work for more than four years now and actively promotes my ‘competitors’ and helps them sell more of their books, and all this for free, is an example of how this philosophy can be extended beyond Beta-reading.

Now I’ve mentioned you should never ask a fellow scribbler to read a first draft; why? You, the author, have a responsibility to make that as good as you can, which implies polishing and fine-tuning. Otherwise it’s like dumping a wrecked car on an auto-savvy mate with a ‘sort that out, will you’ attitude.

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Just a mo’, you cry. I’m new to this and have no idea how to edit. Me inglish ai’nt up to it, bro!

And guess what, you are also missing out on something very important. Improving your writing skills! Interesting, yes? Learning to do an optimal self-edit will highlight the mistakes you make and thus help you get better at the craft of writing.

So how can you perform an exhaustive self-edit, evolve your writing technique in the process, and still maintain your sanity? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the Interweb. No, I’m not referring to spell-checkers, or bits of software that are little more than Word’s own spell-checker.

The danger of using the tools built into your writing software or just re-reading the manuscript yourself can be summed up by the following:

I have a lovely spelling check
That came with my PC,
Witch plainly marks, four my revue,
Miss takes I can not sea.
I’ve run this poem threw the thing.
I’m sure your please too no.
It’s latter perfect in every weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

Or this:

Your memory will recognize the
the words and convince your
your brain it is reading what should
be on the page.

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And this will blow your mind:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Yes, a spell-check should have a fit over the last one.

So what do you need? For a number of years now I have been a fan of ‘Stylewriter’ (just click on the name to go to their website – yes, it’s an affiliate link – this is a business for me as an Indie too; the business bit is not just the purview of TradPub. Plus I will never recommend anything I haven’t used myself and which I don’t fully support). Now don’t be put off by the ‘serious’ nature of their presentation – yes it does look like they market primarily to large enterprises and governments rather than the lonely writer ensconced in their garrets seeking salvation, but, believe me, their software does have enormous benefits for the novelist (just click on the fiction option from the pull-down menu at the top, then, with practice, turn on those editing options you are interested in from the many on offer). Expensive? It might appear so, but here’s a couple of tips: there’s a free trail period where you can test drive the full package, using it against your work – you’ll be convinced! There are three versions on offer too. From experience, the basic one falls short for our needs and the most expensive just adds a lot of statistical data that I personally find useless, so the mid-range option is the best choice for a writer.

Now, I’m expecting a lot of comments on this post, mostly from irate Editors; I am apparently attacking their livelyhood after all. Perhaps if they took another, less avaricious, approach to the changes in publishing, they would gain new clients from the Indie world. And, not all TradPub editors are equally expert either. Last year I read the latest novel from a top bestselling writer (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious) and came across a whole paragraph (eight lines) of sheer nonsense that read more like the Cambridge University study sample above than anything else. Supposedly that paragraph had ‘passed’ all four editing phases with flying colours during the eighteen months to two years it had taken to produce the book! We can all have bad days, but software has far fewer than humans do, and using an outstanding tool such as the one I recommend you’ll improve your skills too while not losing any control over what you write.

Best wishes to all my fellow Indies, Beta-Readers, and friends in the new writing world out there. Remember the words of Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza: 

“Patience, and shuffle the cards!”


Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall publicly. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.

He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.

He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.


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By the way, there are a few subtle suggestions for Christmas book gifts in the above article. Just saying...  AND they are all FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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