There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind.
One of the most common accusations levied against self-publishing is the lack of editing. As a professional editor, I understand completely. It’s a compulsion. If I carried a red marker with me, no sign or menu would be safe. However, in the face of this changing industry, such accusations are sometimes tossed out by people in the industry too easily, simply as a knee-jerk reaction. While I agree there is a lot of dross out there, the industry needs to examine its own ways. Many of them are, to be sure, and are adapting to change in interesting and creative ways. But still, some so-called “legacy” publishers cut back on editorial services, and typos that would have been caught by spellcheck are in books. And if we’re going to start talking about quality work, then why are we seeing books “penned” by the cast of Jersey Shore? It seems to be more about money than quality of writing. Everyone is grasping to make sense of this sea change, and there are those who cling to whatever they can: their accusations of lack of editing; lamenting that the publishing industry turning into the Wild West, etc. The same can be said of journalism with countless 24-hour news stations and the expanding universe of the Internet.
I’ve been in the editorial and publishing business since 1996. I have a grad degree in publishing and communications. I highly value the process. But sometimes writers need more than editorial services. They need other writers.
Last summer, I received an invitation to join a group of writers. I loved the diversity of the group: fantasy, screenplays, short stories, sci-fi, screenplays, and literary fiction. We meet weekly, and I’m often reminded of the Algonquin Round Table. I’m one woman in a group of six men. We meet up, we laugh and joke, debate works, and provide detailed feedback on each other’s work.
Case study: I gave them the first two chapters of my new novel. My protagonist, also a real woman in history who needs to tell her story, is very, very different from Ecaterina in The Veiled Mirror. Ecaterina was often passive, following the orders of her lover, Dracula. My new protagonist gives orders and does what she damn well pleases.
I’ve been mindful of the different voices of the two. During our discussion this week, I was asked thought-provoking questions: Why tell this in the first person? What is a certain conversation being played out like this? Why does chapter one end this way? Any typos were suitably marked up.
My playwright friend and I lingered after the lunch was over, and he gave me great insight into how I can improve the pacing and voice of this new novel. He had read the first couple of chapters of The Veiled Mirror alongside this new work, and noticed that Ecaterina’s voice was creeping in. His advice connected back to what my thesis advisor said years ago when I was still working on Ecaterina’s story. Pare down the flowery style of writing. Don’t overexplain historical elements. Show more action, don’t describe it from too distant a lens. Simplify.
It’s something I’ve always struggled with. I love dense, lyrical literature. My strongest influences are Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and the like. But this isn’t suitable for my new novel. It’s full of action and adventure, and the ship started to sink under the weight of detailed descriptions. My playwright friend revised three paragraphs to demonstrate what he meant. And he was absolutely right.
And so it goes. We help each other every week with our lunch discussions. My advice to any writer is to find the most diverse group of serious, dedicated writers you can. Meet as often as you can, and really dive into the works and help each other…as editors, writers, and friends. It worked for the members of the Algonquin Round Table, and that model can work at any level, anywhere.