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Editing Tips Needed

Lafayette

Man of Artistic Fingers
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Phoenix, Arizona
I can't afford an editor and can't find any volunteers so I have to do it myself.

I started out with 672 pages and have whittled it down to 650 pages. Looking at the word count of 202, 490 I know that this isn't good enough. I know that as a rule it shouldn't be more than 130, 000 or at the very most a 180, 000.

This is becoming a real struggle. Can someone give me some tips and guidelines?

By the way, is over writing command?
 

Dan Jones

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What type of book is it? 202,000 is truly enormous for a first-timer. You might get away with it if it's a) epic fantasy and/or b) magnificent*, but if not, then you're right, the sheer size of it will make most agents balk (if you're looking to sub).

I also have not paid for an editor (yet), and have gotten by on the good will of readers and by learning to be objectively hypercritical of myself (but not in that destructive, "inner critic" manner). You'll have to find a reader who has time, an interest in the theme/genre/type story, a lot of experience (giving it to the first person who says they'll read it won't necessarily help), and a lot of good will.

It took me a while on these boards before I found the handful of readers whom I trust objectively to be honest, critical, and constructive in their feedback, and they are people whose writing and experience I also respect greatly. I made those relationships by just joining in the conversation here, on the boards, and figuring out who was of a similar mindset to me. You'll have to make those relationships too if you want to get by without paying.

It's tough, but it can be done.

In the meantime, why not concentrate on figuring out a synopsis, blurb and perhaps a query letter for the book? These are useful exercises in getting to the heart of what your book's about, and also will help you explain your book to potential readers without waffling (it took me a while, but I can now give an excellent 30-second elevator pitch on what Man O'War is about to potential readers).

*Of course, the magnificence might only be brought about by an edit. ;)
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
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blah - flags. So many flags.
I can't afford an editor and can't find any volunteers so I have to do it myself.

I started out with 672 pages and have whittled it down to 650 pages. Looking at the word count of 202, 490 I know that this isn't good enough. I know that as a rule it shouldn't be more than 130, 000 or at the very most a 180, 000.

This is becoming a real struggle. Can someone give me some tips and guidelines?

By the way, is over writing command?
In my experience, I have only one beta reader I know who approaches that of the editors I work with (I'd say sorry to all my other betas but I think they'd all agree with me, given who it is...) And self editing can only go so far - those external eyes are absolutely needed. Having said that, if you are planning to go the agent route, not having had a professional edit isn't a problem as many agents will provide editorial advice.

Rewinds.

Start again:

You have a two fold dilemma here.

If you want to go ths agent route the lack of editorial isn't necessarily a problem - and other writing sites froth at the mouth at the very thought of using one - but the length is. Most agents don't like debuts above c 125,000 words, although this can go up to c 150 for epic fantasy or space opera. In which case, you either need to blow their socks off, cut it down, or see if you can break it up.

But if you go the self published route the good news is that the length doesn't materially matter (your print book will be pricy but you'll sell 150 e books to 1 print). But lack of editorial will put you at a disadvantage in the market where professionalism is expected and where reviews will hammer you for it. My advice is - if you want to sell books, if it's a vanity thing, do what you like - you will need to pay for an editor and cover designer.

Now, you are in the right place for both. @Gary Compton does very good deals for Chronners on covers. And we have several editors here, all of whom charge very fair prices for the market (I've worked with all 3 and can recommend them) - @Teresa Edgerton , @Boneman @TheDustyZebra.

So I'm afriad my overarching advice is if you do need an editor (ie are self publishing) you will need to try to find the money to have any chance in a competitive market. But, in the meantime, take the free advice available through eg crits, start critting for others and making networks and you'll get some betas yourself.

A few thoughts: you mention over writing. I might be wrong, but have you ever posted in critiques? If not that is exactly the sort of question that works well. 300 words from that huge amount will not risk the book/idea stealing etc, and you can ask ghe simple question, am I overwriting. It's always a good idea to check if your start is working, too, or if you are running into trouble in those critical pages.
 

Luiglin

by day Stuart Orford by night Dark Lord's scribe
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I'm in exactly the same position @Lafayette, although not with that many words under my belt.

I've kindly had an offer from a Chrons member to beta read but have yet to send anything over. This is more due to continual editing of the work as I don't want to waste their time by sending over something half done (in my eyes anyway).

Therein lies the problem though, as no matter how much editing you do, you'll never be happy.

Something else to consider though is local writing groups. This may not help with your main work but I've found the one I go to be be invaluable for my general writing. I'm quite introverted and the group has helped with confidence by giving me an option to read out my work. Likewise check up for local open mic events. Reading your stuff out is quite liberating.
 

Toby Frost

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Something else to consider though is local writing groups. This may not help with your main work but I've found the one I go to be be invaluable for my general writing. I'm quite introverted and the group has helped with confidence by giving me an option to read out my work. Likewise check up for local open mic events. Reading your stuff out is quite liberating
I agree. I don't think I'd have got published if I hadn't joined the local writing group (which is, admittedly, a pretty good one). They were a huge help and, good as forums are, provided something that being online couldn't.
 

Serendipity

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Every writer has their blind spots when it comes to editing their own work (mine is missing out small words, which can be embarrassing when that word happens to be 'not'). So getting a fresh pair of eyes on manuscript is essential.

This is where I disagree slightly with Jo - if you're trying to get an agent, then having an editor for the initial submission bit (usually the first three chapters or 50 pages) is equally essential - you need to impress with as much professionalism as you can muster.

If money is tight and you can't get a 'pro' to help out, then I would limit the professional edit to that first chunk of the manuscript.

Also thanks Jo for reminding me about the 125k limit for a first novel. My current estimate (am now drafting the last chapter) is running at 127k - so I need to look a doing some reduction, which I hope will come naturally when tightening up the manuscript. The theory goes that you should be able to loose 10% on a manuscript, but I've already edited chapters all the chapters up the last.

I must admit I'll be sad the day I put the final full stop on my CAT novel - its craziness has kept me sane for the last few years!
 

Brian G Turner

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This is becoming a real struggle.
IMO good third-party input is absolutely invaluable.

Putting up Critiques in chrons is a great way to get third-party input - I know you've put up some pieces before, but there's nothing to stop you putting up a first chapter again - heck, I think I put the first for Gathering up here 8 times over the years!

However, nothing beats a good editor. The trouble is, finding one that works right for you.

Whether you have money or not, I'd recommend sending out your first three chapters to a few different editors - approach them first to get an idea of availability and price, and ignore the stupidly expensive ones.

If you can get feedback from just 3 on your first 3 chapters, that should give you enough critical insight to learn a lot of what you need to do - and that should be enough to keep you busy for a long time!
 

AlexH

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I find Hemingway Editor really useful, with it's highlighting of adverbs and hard-to-read sentences. I don't 'correct' everything it suggests of course. Though it's not really worth using until you've got content-edits out of the way - there's no point perfecting the prose of a scene you might end up deleting.

If you haven't already, my advice (from what has helped me with my own short stories - nothing as mammoth as yours) would be to content-edit other writers (perhaps start with short stories and extracts posted here), and critique swap. I found content-editing others REALLY difficult at first. I still do, but it gets easier.

And if you can offer value, you're more likely to find someone who offers lots of value to your own work - and content editing others will also help improve your own writing. I actually need to take my own advice and critique in here, but when I get chance to look, I never have anything to add that hasn't already been said - which in itself is a learning experience, and there are always things I haven't picked up on = even more learning.
 
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Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
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Hi Lafayette,

My draft and WC history:

Draft 1: 197k
....
Draft 4: 175k

Expected Draft 5: ~130k

Why the expected big drop for 5? Because for the first few drafts I was lucky to get a couple of people to read it, and they were helpful, very nice and had some insights, but they were not editors.

However, I paid for a professional content editor after draft 4 and it the difference was night and day. Not only was I made aware what didn't work (and what did) but it then became clear to me how to go about solving the issues. Or at least I have a very good idea of how to 'fix' it! Characters were ruthlessly expelled (but some character arcs were expanded), plots are to be drastically cut, yet the story will hopefully be more. Thus it is to be simplified yet made more complete. Note that these changes were not suggested by the editor, but came about from her comments and our dialogue about the draft. The solutions and the decision to do a dramatically different draft 5 were all mine.

Now I don't know if it will be a success, but I feel much more confident about the whole manuscript - or at least what I think it will turn out to be.

I think you stated that professional help is out of reach, which is fair enough, it's reasonably expensive.

But the main takeaway from this I can give you is that best thing to do is get another pair of experienced eyes onto the whole manuscript in some manner. And if this person is doing their job well you will have to be prepared for a 'harsh but fair' appraisal. I couldn't have come up with a better plan for the next draft until I had got good advice from someone else. Essentially I couldn't see the wood from the trees.

How you go about that is another matter - writing groups, online or physical are the obvious places to look, on Chrons or otherwise, where you'll pay for people looking at your manuscript by critiquing their in return, but you will need to find the right people or person for yourself as well as be prepared to put reciprocal effort into theirs. There have been a number of suggestions above about how to get started along this road, as it will take a little time to find the right people and group that suits you, which I won't repeat here.

Possibly if you ask nicely enough, someone may be gracious enough to volunteer to read the whole thing 'for free' but, is it likely that they will have the time and put the effort in to give it a comprehensive content edit? What's the adage, there ain't no thing as a free lunch...?

EDIT: There is also merit in, like myself getting to four drafts, just trying to learn editing and better writing yourself. It must and can be possible. My experience is, however, that if you want to get there much quicker, getting help from others is a must.
 
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Lafayette

Man of Artistic Fingers
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Phoenix, Arizona
Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. I am taking some of them into consideration.

My challenges are: I don't have any friends that are into fantasy, I'm more or less a shut-in, and I'm low income. I do have good friends, but they either don't read or are into non-fiction or are too busy with other things.

Right now my best option is this forum.

My plan is to go the e-book route. I am not financial well off or mobile or healthy enough to go traditional.

I have writing talent, but I know I'm not great or brilliant. Hopefully that will come later. Knowing that I'm not great and a beginner I know my odds are extremely small getting published traditionally. I believe that e-books also have a limit to word count. The other thing I'm thinking of is I don't want to bore my reader with padding.

For those of you that want to know my novel is a fantasy (I don't know if it qualifies as an epic). It's about a luthier, Penoit Seysounne who gets talked into going on a quest (against his wishes) to find a magical wood he doesn't believes exist. The wood is desired by an old troubadour for a new guitar to be played at a coronation of a new king.

Along his journey he meets up and travels with a temperamental, foul mouth, cynical young noble with an old man as his valet, a Timberman (a giant), a half elf hunter that doesn't like Penoit, a Vanadon (an Amazon type warrior), a young and pretty magic user, a Veevon (a dwarf), and a good natured dragon that likes to gossip.

Each of these characters have their own goals and/or struggles to contend with and hopefully will grow into a better person.

One of the suggestions I will take up on is critiquing someone else's writing as long as it's fantasy and not sf. I'm not scientifically or mathematically inclined. What I will do is you tell you if the sentence is unclear, awkward, too long, or too short. I will ask questions about your plot and characters. If you want me to brain storm with you I will. I'm not great on grammar, but I will give it a shot. If I think something is inconsistent I will so. However what I won't do is rewrite your sentences or paragraphs. Your story needs to be in your own words not mine. And yes, if I see something good I will say so.

By the way, I would like making new friends.
 

EJDeBrun

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Hi hi hi!

So as a person coming from the other end of the spectrum (I have, since childhood, always struggled to write up to a word count. Almost never below) I can tell you a bit about methodology and see if that helps!

For comparison for my current WIP:

Draft 1: 150k
Draft 2: 125k
Draft 3: 95K!!!! <- WTF?
Current Draft (most likely the final before shopping it out): estimated 100-110k

It is also hardcore SF. But having said that, either traditional SF or Fantasy should fall in the 90-120k range is generally considered the sweet spot (this isn't to start a "discussion" about word counts. Again, this is just the reference I am working off of.)

And let me be clear. For a long time in this current draft, I was expecting another something in the 96k range and was thinking it was too little. Somehow my characters clamored for 2 more chapters so that bumped the predicted count up.

OK! So the first thing I did was take a hard look at my book and decided where the story ACTUALLY starts. Not the prologue, world building stuff. I mean where the events of the story actually start. (my take on worldbuilding is the iceberg. You might have 90tons but you're only showing them the top 10. Doesn't mean that they don't feel the 90tons if they run into it)

Case in point: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ACTUALLY starts when the owls come delivering Harry's letter to Hogwart's. Everything else before that? Honest to goodness, probably unnecessary. We learn plenty about Harry's history when he first meets Ron. That business with the snakes? Could easily have been written somewhere else in the book since it doesn't become relevant until like... Book 2. So when does Harry's story ACTUALLY start? When the owls try to deliver his admissions letter and his uncle tries to stop him. And that was chapter 3!

For my WIP, this meant that I cut out a lot of origin stuff from my Draft 1 to Draft 2! Out that went! Along with a good 10k worth of words!

Other things I do: cut out a lot of description and details. Now I don't know how your manuscript reads, but if I were looking to cut words, I would print the book out and flip through the thing. Check out how much space is on each page. The more densely packed the pages are, the more description / action you have. And I personally find that a lot of that can be converted into dialogue which can give the same information in a much less wordy format. That will also help make it easier for the reader! Description is HARD for readers. And I know myself to be one of the worst. I will skip entire CHAPTERS of books (Victor Hugo anyone?) in order to get on with the rest of the story. So print it out, take a hard look at it and see where you can cut some description. Especially anything repetitive. (descriptions of skies, trees, wind, birds etc etc.) And the deeper one gets into a book, the less work you the writer has to do to keep the world real. If you say, Elf A is walking through a forest Omega, you don't have to keep talking about trees unless one of them turns out to be some super wise oak that starts making fun of Elf A and or tries to join his adventuring party. (That's kind of funny. I might have to use that)

Speaking of cutting! Try to reduce travel time (you mentioned this is a quest like story). What I mean is instead of writing incident A and then how it goes to B, try just making A clear and then LOOK! We're at B!

Example: LOTR Movies.

Helmsdeep. We all know Helmsdeep right? That gargantuan 2 hour subplot thrown into the middle of the Two Tower's movie? Yea. In the actual text (an already monstrous 1000 page book) Helmsdeep warranted LESS THAN A PAGE of actual text. It was, they prepared a battle! and then LOOK AT THE RESULTS! (there was a battle, I promise, says Tolkien)

Also this cutting of time thing is a trick I picked up from animation (my other life). Liken it to the differences between Disney and Warner Bros Cartoons. Mickey Mouse vs Bugs Bunny.

Mickey Mouse: MM sees an apple, walks to the table, picks up the apple, brings apple to mouth, bites apple, rubs his stomach in delight, then says "Mm-Mm-Yum!"

Bugs Bunny: BB sees apple, MOTION BLUR, BB is holding apple AND eating it at the same time, then says "What's up, Doc?"

If you look at the number of processes between MM and BB, you can tell that BB gives you the SAME INFORMATION with a lot less of the middle stuff. Finding where you can do that for your own characters will also help cut actions/descriptions which will in turn cut out words.

And always try to keep things simple. Boil it down to the essentials. Reduce things like adverbs whenever possible. Try not to use extras like "very" and "really". They add too much space and too little meaning.

So yea! These are the list of things I would do if I were staring at something that's way too long and I know I needed to cut words out. Heck, I do this all the time as it is.

Anyways. That's my 2cents. And as always, it's worth less than 2cents.
 

Lafayette

Man of Artistic Fingers
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Phoenix, Arizona
Hi hi hi!

So as a person coming from the other end of the spectrum

OK! So the first thing I did was take a hard look at my book and decided where the story ACTUALLY starts. I mean where the events of the story actually start. (my take on worldbuilding is the iceberg. You might have 90tons but you're only showing them the top 10. Doesn't mean that they don't feel the 90tons if they run into it)

For my WIP, this meant that I cut out a lot of origin stuff from my Draft 1 to Draft 2! Out that went! Along with a good 10k worth of words!

Other things I do: cut out a lot of description and details. Check out how much space is on each page. The more densely packed the pages are, the more description / action you have. And I personally find that a lot of that can be converted into dialogue which can give the same information in a much less wordy format. That will also help make it easier for the reader! Especially anything repetitive. (descriptions of skies, trees, wind, birds etc etc.) If you say, Elf A is walking through a forest Omega, you don't have to keep talking about trees unless one of them turns out to be some super wise oak that starts making fun of Elf A and or tries to join his adventuring party. (That's kind of funny. I might have to use that)

Speaking of cutting! Try to reduce travel time (you mentioned this is a quest like story). What I mean is instead of writing incident A and then how it goes to B, try just making A clear and then LOOK! We're at B!

Example: LOTR Movies.

Helmsdeep. We all know Helmsdeep right? It was, they prepared a battle! and then LOOK AT THE RESULTS!
And always try to keep things simple. Boil it down to the essentials. Reduce things like adverbs whenever possible. Try not to use extras like "very" and "really". They add too much space and too little meaning.

So yea! These are the list of things I would do if I were staring at something that's way too long and I know I needed to cut words out. Heck, I do this all the time as it is.

That's my 2cents.
You have a good number of ideas. My plan is for me to go half way on some of your suggestions. For instance cutting down on some of the description. You are right turning it into dialog does shorten it and makes clearer for the reader. I've done some of this already. What you've told me is an encouragement to continue. I don't want to go all the way. That may make it lack style and become too dry. The other thing you're right about is repetition. I'm guilty.

Thank you for your 2 cents worth. I will study and think about your 2 cents and everyone's else some more.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
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blah - flags. So many flags.
There is no word limit for ebooks that I know of and if there is you are still well within it, I'm sure. And guidelines are just that - I sold my last book at 60k words.

But you don't want to overpad regardless. Your plan sounds good and hopefully if you knock around here a bit you'll find some betas :)
 
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Lafayette

Man of Artistic Fingers
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Location
Phoenix, Arizona
I find Hemingway Editor really useful, with it's highlighting of adverbs and hard-to-read sentences. I don't 'correct' everything it suggests of course. Though it's not really worth using until you've got content-edits out of the way - there's no point perfecting the prose of a scene you might end up deleting.

if you can offer value, you're more likely to find someone who offers lots of value to your own work - and content editing others will also help improve your own writing.
The Hemingway Editor I will use. And I will continue to try and find someone I can swap with.
 
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