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How to Publish a Book - UK Edition - Editing

Hopefully by this point in your writing career, you don't need someone like me to explain to you that first drafts are terrible. But then again, we do live at the start of the digital age, where people are used to posting emotional first drafts on social media platforms, so I can see why this simple fundamental concept, could escape just about anybody. So, here it goes:

First Drafts are ALWAYS Terrible!

You are writing from the point of view of someone who is already knowledgeable of the topic being discussed. When describing locations, interactions, characters etc., you are doing so from the point of view of an omniscient observer. And while you may think you described the interaction between two characters perfectly the first time around, you are most certainly blind towards some detail that you missed to mention. Maybe character A was having a bad day, which would explain the motivation behind her dialogue line. Or maybe, character B was really focused on his task at hand, which would give him the motivation for the reaction you described. In either case, these are details obvious to you, but not to the reader. And realistically, it's very hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn't know everything you do.

On top of this, we both know that writing is MUCH harder than what it may appear. Inspiration is an all-important fleeting ingredient of what we do, and we want to hastily put it all down on paper, before it fizzles out. So naturally, first drafts are all about speed, accuracy be damned. I'm not here to say that you should try to change the way you write your first draft, just that you should be aware of this process and act accordingly.

Your first line of editing should of course always be yourself. Give yourself some time, then come back and read it with fresh eyes. You are bound to spot inconsistencies at that point. Correct misspelling errors and grammar mistakes, then give yourself some more time, rinse and repeat.

Dr. Jordan Peterson spoke of his painful process of writing his famous book, "Maps of Meaning", on the Joe Rogan Show. He explained that after having the book "finished", he started re-writing it. That implies copying a sentence, pasting that it in a new blank document, and then writing another 10-15 possible ways of expressing that message. Afterwards he would spend time destroying those written sentences, debunking or faulting them, until he was left with a sentence that he couldn't attack. It took him 15 years to publish his book as a result, and this example perfectly illustrates just how much work can go into a single book. Not a very chunky one, either. Maps of Meaning, together with "12 Rules for Life", are both recommended for your self-published journey. The world of self-employment is riddled with moral puzzles and tough decisions. I have found Peterson's words to be a beacon of light in the ever darkening world of people blinded by their search for opportunity. It's not just important to stick to your moral guns, so you don't end up in places you don't belong, but you also must not develop any resentment as a result.

Am I saying that you should re-write every sentence in your work 15 times? NO! God NO! Dr. Peterson is, well, a Doctor. A clinical psychologist at that. His moral obligations towards his work are of the highest importance. As such, we can think of his method, as one extreme. The other extreme being "facebook posting" where you just post your first draft without even reading it once. You don't want to be in either extreme. You need to find a spot in-between that best reflects the complexity and topic of your work. Are you writing a scientific paper? Then you may need to lean more towards Peterson's extreme. Are you writing fiction? Use his method just for the parts that you're unsure about.

But whatever you do, do not, for the love of all that is holly, live with the impression that you are some sort of genius that knocks out great pieces of text every time you sit down. You are not that. Nor will you ever be. First drafts are terrible, no matter who you are.

Finding Feedback

With that out of the way, let's say you did your due-diligence and went over your first draft a few times, crossing all the "T"s and dotting all the "I"s. What now? Do we publish?

The answer to that is a big fat "NO", followed by several smaller "no-no"s.

Now we need some proper feedback from someone other than yourself. The first victims of your still under-prepared text, should be some friends and family members. Take their feedback with a pinch of salt, as they themselves are not professional editors. But they can help you form an idea of what your readers' reaction will be like. Ask them questions such as:

Which parts weren't clear, or you're unsure about?

Are the motivation of the characters clear?

Did you enjoy reading it?

Do not expect them to pick up on technical mistakes. They are just readers, and the feedback you expect from them should be according.

After you have exhausted your friends' feedback, decide what requires changing in the book as a result, and where your friends are an exception from the general public. The best way to sort this out, is to focus on the feedback that is shared among them, rather than the unique points they are raising. Then go and re-write.

Finding an Editor

Now you should have a draft that has been repeatedly scrutinized by yourself, and a handful of the target audience. With this, you can go to a professional editor.

I wish I could give you some experience-based advice on how to find a good editor, but unfortunately for you, I have been blessed with friends and family members that are not only avid readers, but a couple of them have worked / work as professional editors for big publishing companies. As such, I was always blessed with not just good quality editing, but also for a pittance of a price. Thank you, dear friends.

But not everybody is in my position, so you need to find yourself a good editor. You don't want the best editors out there, as there is a point of diminishing returns on your budget, but you also don't want some snot-nosed 20-year-old who edited some university assignments and thinks they got what it takes. I find that age is generally a good indicator of a person's professionalism, most of us maturing professionally by the age of 30. I'm not saying don't work with younger people, just be aware that their self-assessment of their abilities may not be as objective as they think, and the price should dramatically reflect that.

That being said, the hourly rate for an editor to read AND edit your work is going to have to be much higher than the average hourly wage. This is skilled work that requires a lot of commitment and attention. Do not disrespect this person, vital to your publishing process, by expecting them to work for the same rate or less than you. If you expect to haggle your way though, you will end up working with hagglers, and that is a can of worms of itself.

Besides price and experience, it's more important that you find someone you can easily to talk to. Build a rapport with this person, as you will need their services in the future as well. Keep them close and involved.

Besides the feedback your friends have provided on legibility and clarity of message, your editor will also fix grammar mistakes, syntax misalignment, spelling errors and should also be able to highlight sentences that potentially send the wrong message, due to culture and trend changes.

If the budget allows, you can hire multiple editors, and compare and contrast the feedback. This will help you find the best one at your budget, but for a price. It's up to you to decide if that price is worth it or not. A bad professional edit is better than no edit, and you will have no way of knowing the quality of the edit, due to your lack of experience.

Whatever the case, this part needs to be 100% completed before we move to print and marketing. While your editor is working on your draft, you can start looking for a graphic designer to help with the branding and text layout.

More about that next week.

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