My first novel was essentially written. Or, at least that is what I thought. I had managed to develop a protagonist who was both engaging and believable. I had created a setting that was historically accurate based on my research of upcountry South Carolina in 1907, and on the condition of public schooling and the political and social climate of the day. The story had a compelling beginning and a realistic and satisfactory ending. The themes explored–love, friendship, and loyalty–were universal ones.
As this was my first foray into fiction, I read everything I could get my hands on about the process of writing a novel. The internet was a rich source for learning about character and plot development, and illustrating how to go about “showing not telling” the story. Free information abounds. In addition, my google searches led to several books which I purchased, read, and added to my writing library. Two that were particularly helpful were The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson and Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. Both authors have active blog sites with many free tips about the writing process, and their books are referenced on those sites. (http://www.Marthaalderson.com and http://www.Victorialynnschmidt.com)
Having completed what I considered to be a polished first draft, I felt I had gone just about as far as I could without seeking some type of professional feedback. As a self-critic, I had identified weakness in the plot and knew that I should probably cut several scenes to which I was dearly attached but which did not further the story line. But I did not know what specific revisions were needed to make the story more successful. And, I wasn’t entirely sure that I was on target in diagnosing the problems anyway.
I began searching for advice on what form the needed feedback should take, and again found a wealth of it through the internet. Ultimately, I used the Kirkus editing services for authors, from the Kirkus website at http://Kirkusreview.com. I purchased the Collaborative Editing Package for $99. plus 3 cents per word. My word count was about 90,000.
The work was assigned to a professional editor with experience in the genre of my book, which is women’s historical fiction. The package included copy editing as well as editing of the stylistic elements, and a one-hour consulting session with the editor, held by phone. Once I uploaded the manuscript to my author dashboard on the website, it took about a month for the edit to be completed.
I received a seven page written narrative, as well as the original manuscript with editorial suggestions, that could be accepted or rejected in the review section of the word document. Both the comments and edited manuscript were posted on my author dashboard on the Kirkus website and could be downloaded to my desktop.
The service was pricey, although competitive with similar online editorial services. However, it was invaluable to me as a novice writer of fiction for two reasons:
(1) It confirmed that my self-editing was on the mark. There were few surprises about areas for revision. That gave me confidence in my own judgement and my ability to critique my own work for future writing.
(2) My editor made very specific suggestions about how to correct the problems, which gave me lots of support in the revision process. It is easy to say what doesn’t work, but harder to say what would work better, and a the same time not re-write the pages for the author. My editor was very skillful at doing that.
I agreed with 99% of the suggestions and revised the novel accordingly. When the revisions were complete, my novel was vastly improved.
The consulting session was also very beneficial. My editor was affirming of the revisions I had made and gave me good advice on how to begin marketing and publishing my book. She carefully refrained from making any value judgements of my novel, but at the end of the conference told me that it was beautifully written. That was the most encouraging thing she could have said to me.
Since I had made so many revisions to the book–I completely rewrote the ending and had added new sections–I decided to purchase the Kirkus basic copy editing package to get the manuscript cleaned up and ready for publication. That was at a cost of 2 cents per word, or $1580. I had already spent $2448.93 for the collaborative edit and so I had sunk about $4000 into the project.
The second edit was more cut and dried, but helpful nonetheless. The editor focused on consistency in spelling, usage, and grammar, according to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition and The Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition. As I had written a historical novel, she also checked all idioms and expressions to determine if they were in use by 1907. Among those that had to be changed were “pack rat,” “fund raiser,” “fence mending,” and “stir crazy.” She also made a list of all of my characters and noted where names had been repeated, suggesting that some could be confusing to the reader. As the novel was very linear in structure, she checked to make sure that dates coincided. For example, I had Hattie graduating from college in 1907, at eighteen years of age. Later in the book, one of the characters refers to her as nineteen, and the year is 1909. This editor was a real nit picker! And good for her, because I surely am not.
I am pretty sure that I will forgo the collaborative edit with my next novel, partially due to the expense and partially because I think that a local writers’ group would provide the support and feedback needed. I already pay dues to the Writers’ Group of the Triad Triadwritersgroup.org, and they sponsor a critique group for fiction, which I intend to join. But I am convinced that I got my money’s worth this time around by paying for the professional edit. I will continue to have a professional copy edit done on any future books that I intend to publish. It is such a tedious process that it is well worth the cost.
I had finally reached the point where I felt my writing was complete. I could have gone on making minor revisions forever, but unless I had started over from scratch, the changes would not have enhanced the story in any significant way. Hattie’s Place certainly does not rise to the status of the Great American Novel, but it is a tender story about a simpler time and place, and it deserves to be shared.
It was time to move on to the next step: publishing.