on August 4, 2011

I’m nearly done revising a digital-only, self-published novella for a charity anthology benefitting breast cancer research. ENTANGLED (9.12.11) has a great group of paranormal romance and supernatural thriller writers and I’m thrilled to be included. Because we’re self-publishing it, and because all the royalties for the first year will be donated to charity, I’m not going to see any money on it. And that’s okay because it’s for a good cause. I’ve written other free stories–for International Thriller Writers and for my website–so I’m just happy to do something that contributes back.

I decided to write a Seven Deadly Sins short story — originally, it was supposed to be 10-15K words, but right now my “short story” is novella length at 27K words. I’m editing it down tonight and revising. (I’d hoped to cut it to 20K, but I think it’ll end up being 22-23K.)

For “Ghostly Justice,” my Seven Deadly Sins novella, I hired my former editor to read and offer editorial advice. I could have submitted the story as I wrote and edited it and it wouldn’t have been bad. But I’m used to a certain level of editing, and I know that every one of my books has been better because of editorial input. In fact, I’ve written seventeen full-length novels and each one I have done one or two rounds of editorial revisions. I would panic without editorial input. And ultimately, if my name is on it I want to make sure it’s as strong a story as possible so that fans of the series won’t be disappointed. I don’t work with beta readers–my editor has been my first reader since book #4. (Books #1 and #2 I had a critique group, and then an agent read them; then book #3 my agent read first.)

There are two types of editorial — story and copy. Story is the editorial that I care most about. Yes, I want the copy clean (and honestly, I’m very spoiled ibecause most of my copy editors have been wonderful) but for me, story is king. The story has to be there–well-paced, great characters, organic conflict. Plus, I want the suspense to be as strong as I can possibly make it.

As the creator, I am so close to the story that I often can’t see the flaws. I know what I was thinking when I wrote a scene or chapter, and sometimes I think something isn’t clear and I over-explain. Or I think something is perfectly clear, because I know what I mean, but it’s not clear to the reader. A good editor can read the book and not only know what’s wrong with each scene, but how the book works as a whole. She can identify the small issues that take the story for good to great, and the big picture ideas that take the story from “this doesn’t work” to “this totally works.”

The Seven Deadly Sins series has two full-length novels, a novella and a short story all in the world I created. Because MORTAL SIN is delayed, I wanted to give fans a meaty story in this charity anthology, so I took a scene from CARNAL SIN where a witch (Julie), when on the astral plane, encounters a ghost at the L.A. County morgue. The ghost is stuck there because she’s a Jane Doe–no one knows her identity. She tells Julie who she is, and Julie’s dying wish is for her boyfriend (a cop) to find out what happened to Amy so she will no longer be trapped at the morgue. “Ghostly Justice” is the investigating into Amy Carney’s murder–it’s my take on vampires.

Charlotte identified some minor things through–confusing sentences, repetition, and some dialogue and character decisions that didn’t ring true. All easy fixes. But there were two big story issues that need fixing, which is what I’m doing right now.

1) Backstory. Some was easy (making it clear that Moira and Rafe are demon hunters) and some is more work (removing some of the unnecessary backstory.) As Charlotte pointed out, only the backstory relevant to the current story should be included, and that needs to be clear as soon as possible. But I’d included information about Moira’s mother Fiona and what happened in Santa Louisa and talked about characters that have no role in this story. All that is going, while making the relevant backstory clearer.

2) Why was Amy Carney not ID’d for six months?

The second one is the hardest. Because they have a recognizable body, she’s from a family who reported her missing, why didn’t they ID her? That’s what I’ve been thinking about all day. Because the whole story hinges on her being a Jane Doe–that part was already published in CARNAL SIN.

I think I have the solution, but it’s taking a bit of time to work it through. But this is what I love about revising–it makes me dig even deeper into my fictional world, my characters, and pushes me to be a better writer, and ultimately a better storyteller.

But writing is not just about WRITING, it’s about editing, a essential piece of the writing process. Which is why when I hear that some people don’t think they need editing, I cringe.

The other night, I retweeted a comment by agent Jessica Faust:

“It concerns me how many times I hear a self-pubbed author talk about taking on marketing themselves, but never once mention an editor”

This stuck out to me because I’m paying for an editor for a story I’m not getting money for because I think that editorial is the single most important component of writing a book after the first draft. EVERYONE can stand to be edited. SOME writers need less editing than others, but ALL writers benefit from editorial input. (And there is the issue of editors who aren’t a good match for the author and that creates creative conflict, but that’s a completely different issue.)

After I retweeted that comment, a fellow writer/teacher said yeah! She wished she could convince her students of that–that one guy said he’d hire a marketing person, but not an editor. Which prompted me to respond with a flip, “If I only had $1000 to spend on a self-published book, I’d spend $800 on an editor and $200 on a cover designer.”

That was an off-the-cuff comment, but as I thought about it I realized I truly believe that. Cover = package (the package reflects the type of story the reader will get in a compelling and graphically intriguing way) and editor = quality-control (does the content support the package? Is the story worth the readers time and expense?)

I recognize that not every editor on the planet is a good editor. And every editor has a different way of working–and sometimes, finding the right editor is like finding the right agent. The first or second person might not quite fit with your style or needs. But when you find that golden editor and you click — you will never want to give her up. A good editor shines a light on the flaws, but doesn’t tell you how to fix it–she leaves the story in your hands. You may not always agree with the editor — and that’s okay. Sometimes, I leave something as is, or tweak it because it was obvious my editor didn’t understand my intent. But I consider every editorial comment on the manuscript.

The other writer/teacher said her student planned on using free cover art from someone he met on-line. Great … if they’re good. But if they’re good, why are they designing covers for strangers for free? Cover art is something else I’m willing to pay for because that draws in readers of the genre who may never have heard of Allison Brennan.

If you’re going to put your name on a book and want to build a readership and go the self-published route, paying for an editor is worth it, IMO. Not just a copy editor, but a story editor.

Now, for something (sort-of) completely different … I’ve written several short stories recently. When I wrote my first short story for the KILLER YEAR anthology, it was one of the hardest things I ever did (and it wasn’t all that great, either–too much going on in six thousand words.) But after writing several short stories and novellas, I’ve discovered the joy of writing short. (Meaning, stories between 10-30k words. Much shorter than 10K is very hard for me!) Writing short helps me write tighter and more focused stories, but it also lets me explore ideas that wouldn’t sustain a full-length novel. (Though, I’ll admit, “Ghostly Justice” could easily have been a 100K word book. I had to consciously remove secondary story threads to keep it as focused as possible.)

Some readers don’t like short stories or novellas because they don’t feel like they have enough story. My mom isn’t a big fan of short stories, for example. However, I grew up reading Stephen King’s novellas and short stories and loving them. For the last decade or so, there’s been a contraction of the short story market — particularly magazines which were the main places for short story placement. I think there’s a resurgence of short stories in the last couple years, not in magazines, but on-line and in multi-author anthologies. I think this is a great thing, but what do you think? Do you like reading shorter stories? What’s the last short story/novella you read that you’d recommend to Murder She Writes readers? Or do you not like short fiction?

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