• The value of a good editor

    29 March 2021

    My editor, Zoe, returned her notes for the Volume 2 Archibald Lox books to me last Friday, and I'll be getting stuck into those over the next few weeks, as I work my way through the very final draft of the three books, ahead of their release in the summer. (There will probably only be a month between book 1 and 2, and book 2 and 3, which is why I'm working on all three together.) But Zoe already pointed out one enormous gaffe in her covering email, which all by itself justifies every penny that I'm paying her!!


    Basically, there are royals in these books, each one of whom has a unique aura. It's not a big thing in the first Volume, as Archie can't see the auras, and they're only mentioned in passing. But they get mentioned a few times in Volume 2, and feature even more heavily in Volume 3. They're not a MAJOR plot thing, but they certainly ARE a plot thing, and readers are going to notice if I muck them up... which I did!!!


    Without giving too much away, one of the royals disguises himself in the Volume 2 books. (Characters can be remolded in the Merge, to look like different people.) He wanders around, with a completely different face, and nobody recognises him. Fine. No problem. It all makes perfect sense. EXCEPT I somehow completely forgot about his aura, which would still be visible, meaning everyone who saw him would know he was a royal, and anyone who'd seen him before would know his identity because, as I said, each aura is unique.


    It's the kind of mistake that would have blown a canon ball sized hole in my credibility if Zoe hadn't picked up on it. Hard to imagine an author can make such a huge mistake, but hey, we're only human, and these things happen. (My favourite all-time mistake, which was missed by its editor at the time and still exists in all printed versions, comes from Robinson Crusoe. Early in the book, he strips naked to swim out to the wreck of his ship, but Daniel Defoe then forgot that he was naked, and describes him filling his pockets with loot before swimming back to shore!)


    Anyway, now that Zoe has drawn it to my attention (she was very polite about it -- if the shoe had been on the other foot, I'd have howled with laughter and screamed, "You don't know what you're doing!!" Which is why I probably wouldn't make a very good editor...), I can go in and fix it before the books see print. It's actually easy enough to fix, because there's a scene in Volume 1 which hints that auras CAN be hidden. Indeed, if I hadn't made THIS mistake, eagle-eyed readers would have pointed me back towards Volume 1 after they'd read the later books, to ask what the hell was going on in THAT scene?!? As things have worked out, I'll be able to tie the aura aspects neatly together across all three Volumes now, and won't end up looking like the bumbling halfwit that in reality, at times, I must confess I am...


    The moral of all this, for any budding authors who are reading this, is to respect and rely on your editors. They're hugely important to the publishing process. Your agent can be massively important too -- Chris Little (my agent who died early this year) and his team always read carefully through my early drafts, before they went to my editor, and often picked up on boo-books like this. If you end up being taken on by a traditional publisher, you'll be assigned an editor, and it's something you'll just take for granted for the rest of your career in that world.


    BUT if you self-publish, as I'm doing with the Archibald Lox books, it's VITAL that you hire an editor to work on your books with you. Self-publishing is a lot easier and cheaper these days than it has ever been before, which is why more authors are doing it themselves. If you're prepared to do some research and put in a lot of hard work, you can do the vast majority of the self-publishing jobs yourself -- you almost certainly won't do them as well as the people in traditional publishing houses will do them, but they CAN be roughly handled.


    The two exceptions -- the two things you should ALWAYS pay someone to do -- are covers and editing. My advice, based on a LOT of experience, is to ALWAYS hire someone to design your cover (including the spine and back cover), and ALWAYS hire someone to edit your book before you put it on sale. If you search around, you'll find they're not massive costs -- if someone is charging you an arm and a leg, keep looking for someone who'll only charge a finger and a toe! We're talking a few hundred pounds for each service (and that's for a GOOD artist and editor), and while I know that might be a lot of money to an awful lot of writers, it's money you really do NEED to invest. If you want people to pay for the story you've created, there are certain standards that have to be met, and no author is an island. If the cover and the editing aren't up to scratch, you're going to get a lot of angry feedback, and you might even -- as I would have in this situation -- end up looking like a fool who can't remember the rules of their own books... :-)


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