Last week, we looked at some basic quality control, using our hypothetical chocolate bar as an example for establishing your likely market (audience) and considering what will be required to meet their expectations. [The reader be reminded] that we are aiming to publish a book in the fiction genre, which brings its own problems, as a fiction book is even less ‘practical’ than a chocolate bar. But there are ways that this can be addressed, and we’ll come to that, but for now let’s stay with market research and look at one particular aspect that comes out of it: quality control. In the book publishing world, this essentially means: editing.
“Editing? I can do that myself…” No, you can’t. Even if you have serious skills in this area, you cannot do a final edit on your own work, because you simply cannot see it in the cold hard light of a non-involved and commercially-minded editor. Editing is far more than grammar and good use of English – though they are important too – it is an ability to overview the whole work and see if it provides a damn good absorbing yarn that will hook readers, keep them involved along the way, and provide a satisfying ending and a reading experience that will hopefully have them looking out for your next book. Exactly the same as that chocolate bar, remember? You want a purchaser to enjoy it sufficiently to buy it again, and even – if you’ve done it right – to make sure that they are buying your bar. The smallest corner store has a very large selection of chockie bars (books) – what is going to make yours not only stand out but bring repeat custom? Stand-out wrapping, yes, but much more importantly: customer satisfaction. So back to our editing!
A good editor, qualified within your genre, will be able to see if your manuscript is likely to meet your customer’s satisfaction. And this will cost you some money. If you have to go to a bank for such money, you will have to have a very solid business plan, which makes allowance for editing expenses. If you are really serious about this manuscript, then start saving… I took my text through two professional editing processes; both were totally essential to the final product. I first approached Kit Carstairs at The Manuscript Appraisal Agency ( www.manuscriptagency.com.au ) and for $750 and around 5-6 weeks’ waiting time, got the following:
“Appraisals offer a look at the general workings of your manuscript including narrative structure, pacing, plot development, characterisation, tone/voice, target audience and market competition/expectations. And we provide authors with a clear outline of their manuscript’s strengths and weakness (through the use of specific examples) to help find your manuscript’s full potential.” (text from MAA’s website)
And they did exactly that. They suggested substantial changes, including a complete re-structure of the sequence – I had developed my plot along two distinct time lines – to a simpler, begin-at-the-beginning one. This made it much easier for the reader to follow. Also, my over-long sections should be made into many much shorter chapters; my many side-steps into historical events which, while possibly interesting to a serious historian, did not directly contribute to the story; ditto some minor characters; and overall, the thing was just too long! (160,000 words; the average novel is 85 – 100,000.) A huge re-write was required, and it took me another 6 months to do. But what kept me going was that the MAA also included the plus-points in my manuscript, listing out what they saw as strengths, and specifying really good bits. And I could see the sense in what they had said – it’s just that I had not thought of it myself, simply because I did not have that distance from my own work to be able to see it clearly as a whole. MAA did, and provided this succinct guidance in a five-page letter. We will talk about detailed editing (which MAA can also provide) in the next posting.
As I worked on these improvements, I could see it coming together much, much better. My chockie bar was tasting ever better! Each chapter became more consistent with the overall object. The hardest part was taking out 30,000 unnecessary words – you don’t want so many nuts in your bar that the chocolate flavour gets lost. But I was fired up, felt personally mentored by this very professional guidance, and it really helped me on this first step of serious quality control. That was an exciting time!
So step three of the TBM (The Business Method) is: Quality Control. Next week we’ll look at what the second edit involved.