A bit of a ramble here. Bear with me…
One of the questions I get asked a lot lately is “When is Frostwalker coming out?”
The answer is usually “Soon, Mom. Jeez! Stop buggin’ me about it!”
Back in early January, the plan had been to do one last line-by-line edit of the manuscript. After that, it would be a few adjustments to scenes for pacing and then maybe one last round of beta-readers before release, maybe in March if things came together nicely.
Now, I’ve had the great fortune to have some very talented beta-readers. Not just their talents, but the mix of talents as well. Some were eagle-eyed typo hunters. Others weren’t into grammar and spelling, but they had an eye for details. Between the various beta-readers and my own line edit, Frostwalker was in pretty good shape – I thought.
Then something interesting happened: I had the fantastic luck of meeting some people who were editors. Better yet, I’ve had some willing to take a look at the Frostwalker manuscript. Now, editing isn’t cheap. That, coupled with the fact that the budget I have for producing Frostwalker is pretty much nil, has meant that I’d made the dangerous choice to avoid hiring an editor at all. It wasn’t so much a choice as it was a fact of life – no money means no money for an editor. In short, I lucked out and met people who were capable editors and who were willing to look at Frostwalker for free for various reasons.
Based on initial feedback from these editors, the release is likely to be pushed back. Still no solid date at this time, but March doesn’t seem likely. A lot depends on how quickly the editors are able to finish their work. But, given that they’re doing it for the low, low price of free, I’m not going to complain if they take their time. Once they’re done, I have to go in and implement what they’ve told me.
My initial thinking had been that beta-readers were probably good enough. I know that mine have been fantastic. The Frostwalker manuscript is probably as free of typos as any manuscript could be at this stage, although it’s hard to judge that. If I knew how many typos and other issues were left, I would have fixed them already. In other words, you can’t really quantify an unknown.
However, as valuable and important as beta-readers are, editors are something else entirely. In particular, a good editor knows grammar inside and out. But it’s more than that. The feedback I’ve gotten from the editors I’ve been working with has been fantastic for things like tuning the pacing of the story or maintaining tension within a scene.
But, isn’t that the author’s job? The answer, of course, is yes. That is very much the author’s responsibility. However, a novel length book is a big project. More than that, it’s a big project that has been largely created by a single person from beginning to end. Not only is that one person simply incapable of spotting all of the problems on their own, but that one person has a lot invested in the story emotionally, whether they know it or not. As writers, we’re told that in editing you must “kill your darlings”. We’re told this over and over. When we start editing, we keep that in mind, and we think that we’re doing it – but we often are not.
For example, there is a scene in Frostwalker that I have known from the first draft was just not really worthwhile. It’s a good scene, I think, but it doesn’t belong in the story. It breaks the narrative and slows things down with back-story that isn’t really needed. Worse, it does this shortly before some other scenes that are actually important, but that are also less tense. This creates a dangerous lull relatively early in the book – a place where the less determined reader might set it down, turn off their lamp and go to sleep. Then, when it’s time to read again, maybe they’ll just see what’s on TV instead, or possibly read something else, or maybe fire up the old Xbox and see what’s shakin’ with their friends online.
Are readers that prone to ADD? Maybe. Some are, others are willing to give an author a little slack. But, don’t your readers deserve better than that? If they’re willing to buy your book, shouldn’t you make it the best you possibly can? So, you kill your darlings. Not because you have to, but because your reader deserves to have them out of the way. A good editor can’t pull the trigger, but they can tell you which darlings would look good in a toe tag.
Which brings me back to responsibility. Yes, it is the author’s job to make sure the pacing is correct. It’s the author’s job to make sure the spelling and grammar and everything else is correct as well. But no one writes in a vacuum. If nothing else, your future readers are there, waiting. It’s not a perfect analogy, but a comparison that recently came to me is this: The author is like an architect with his own construction company. Editors are like interior designers.
The author builds the story. He lays the foundation, frames out the walls, puts a roof on it and so on. With a good team of beta-readers, he can even get some drywall hung and maybe a little painting done. But, an editor comes in and makes the structure livable. They make sure the doors are hung level, that the walls are straight, and that the paint matches the carpet. Not only do they check the wiring, but they tell you if the lighting is good enough in any given room. It’s still the builder’s job to make it happen, but the designer can help them make sure it’s done right.
When your reader comes to live in your story, don’t you want to make sure they like the place?