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Writing's Own Dirty Little Four Letter Word: EDIT

I wouldn't consider myself an "expert" at anything.  I have children, but that doesn't make me an expert on parenting, quite the opposite actually, the more kids I have, the less it appears I know. I love to watch DIY shows, but I'm never going to be able to convert wood pallets into the Taj Mahal. And although I have authored blogs and published a few essays, I most certainly am NOT an expert on writing, editing, publishing or any, and everything that entails.  So, when it comes to navigating the often lonely and cut-throat business end of writing, I have looked to those who have gone before me for advice, encouragement, a reality check, my sanity. 
 
There is far more involved in the process of getting your work from written stage into the hands of readers than one might think. So many moving parts all intertwined like the cogs of a clock. Each one has its purpose, its own job that when properly aligned and assembled can create a masterpiece.  Once wound or provided with the right energy the masterpiece comes to life, and without notice of the intricacies at work the hands begin to move with measured fluidity, and you are no longer aware of what hides behind its façade. 
 
Every step of the journey your masterpiece will take is wholly dependent upon you seeing it to fruition.  You have finished writing, you now have 80,000 printed words staring back at you, and you find yourself saying "Now what?" Allow me to introduce to you the bain of every author's existence, writing's own dirty little four letter word...EDIT.  This one simple word elicits so many different reactions from writers, and I pray that if there is one lesson you take away from my babble, let it be this, I strongly suggest having your work edited by a professional. 
 
There is a myriad of ways to find the right editor for you.  Since the advent of the internet, it has never been easier.  A straight-up Google search of "Editor's for hire" will net approximately 16 million results.  The self-publishing company you have chosen to work with should also provide the option for editing services at an additional fee.  Editors do not come cheap but finding the right one is worth its weight in gold.  Publishing on your own provides you a freedom that most authors with agents don't have.  It affords you the opportunity to for lack of a better word "interview" potential editors. 
 
Editors are in their own rite master storytellers.  A great editor will spin an intricate web of proper grammar, brilliant wordplay, and correct punctuation.  You may hand them 80,000 words, and when they're through, they give 70,000 back to you for corrections and rewrites because they have mastered the art of "less is more unless less is less but more is always just more." Submitting your work to an editor means putting an incredible amount of faith in them to guard it, polish it, stay true to your idiosyncrasies, respect your story and the manner in which you tell it, and make it better. 
 
The best relationships between author and editor are symbiotic.  Contentious at times, harmonious at others but ultimately striking a precarious balance that allows each to shine in their respective roles.  After all, you have just handed over your life's work to a stranger, who is as giddy with a red pen as a toddler with a Sharpie and a freshly painted wall.  But the right editor can sometimes mean the difference between ten sales and 10,000 sales.   And I've said it before, I'll say it a thousand times more, for the love of all that's chocolate, caffeinated and holy USE A CONTRACT!  You need to protect yourself, and your work and the easiest way to do that is with a contract.  I would be suspicious of any editor that isn't willing to sign one as a contract protects them as well.  Most editors may have a standard contract that they won't work without.  Do your research, and if at all possible, have an attorney review the contract with you before you sign. 
 
When you take this on all by yourself, it can be very daunting.  For that reason, I have been looking for someone to interview who has experienced the entire process from conception to publishing to marketing and sales with expertise in both independent publishing and having an agent.  I reached out to a writer's group I'm a member of, and I received a message from an author named Colin Palmer. 

Colin is an Australian author who now resides in Ukraine and has three novels to his credit:
 
"Billy: Going where darkness fears to tread…"

"Vivienne: Just an ordinary suburban housewife… no more."

"Steven: Crazy on You" 
 
As opposed to the traditional Q&A, I asked him just to write, to impart his wisdom and experience on us through his preferred modality, storytelling.  He provided me with a 3,300-word essay that we will share over the course of the next few weeks.  I find his story to be relatable, humorous, self-assured, and above all else determined and resilient.   He takes us on his journey from the moment he first fell in love with being a writer to present day, and he shows us just how unpredictable and ever changing the world of publishing can be.  I hope you enjoy his story as much as I do.  So, without further adieu I give you...

 
Colin Palmer: LIFE AS A WRITER Part One:
 
My name is Colin Palmer, and I am a writer!
 
I've been writing fiction for almost all my life, that's over fifty years, and you'd think I'd be good at it by now! Being good in the writing world is simply not enough - you have to be great to stand out and not just with your prose but with your public persona, your marketing, perseverance and patience and knowing things that nobody can teach you like observation skills of the world around you and the ability to translate what you see into words that caress the reader with magic.  I digress, let's start at the beginning shall we, which is the natural progression, the order of life! When I was about eight years old, I wrote a short essay at school, like we all have to do when we are school children.  THAT essay, a story, I think the quintessential "What I Did on My Summer Holiday" type of deal, became the catalyst of a writing life.  It wasn't writing the story but the response from the teacher and some of the students when I read it aloud.  I even remember hearing gasps because my story was a fiction take of my holiday which had actually been quite boring.  I made it exciting with ghosts and goblins, and I remember the scary suspense as the words materialized in front of my very eyes.  Later on some few years but while still at school, it was the act of creating that became the thrill, not the response from the reader (except me).  To this time, I chase that thrill nearly every single day.  I was doing something right all this time and forever onward too - I was reading, reading a lot, everything and anything I could get my hands on.  My favorites were Western paperbacks, but I used to read every newspaper and magazine I could.  And I was also writing.  I didn't know it at the time or for a good many years later either but I'd written a rough synopsis for a novel which would go on to become my first, but it took me over forty years to complete.  I DID start a novel, a different one when I was a teenager which many years later would become my second.  Why so long?  Work, life, normalcy. My work encompassed a lot of travel both domestic and international, and I got to see and observe things the ordinary nine-to-five worker would never see, except perhaps on holiday.  I had to write a lot too, reports and briefings for local and international audiences including politicians, people in business, and senior military personnel which gave me broad exposure to many different levels of society and cultures.  I was absorbing it all, every day making little notes in a notebook about something interesting but never actually writing about any of them.  Then my life changed in a big way.  My job, my personal life, everything seemed to go down the toilet all at the same time when in reality it happened over a period of about six years.  In that dark place, I had to find something positive, something to hold onto and keep me going . . . I found that notebook, and with that notebook was a floppy disc.  The floppy disc had eventuated because it was "new" technology of the time and while at work one day, I had transferred all my jottings, short stories, and novel synopsis onto it.  I bought a desktop computer and began - writing, reading, discovering the internet (so painfully slow in those days) but turning my life around.  That took four years and then I got discovered, but more about that later! During my work years and the regular traveling, I always carried a book with me to read, sometimes two or three if the baggage allowance was flexible.  My preference was Stephen King, Dean Koontz, on occasion John Grisham plus a myriad of others too numerous to mention including my boyhood favorite Westerns. The point is I never stopped reading for pleasure, and it was a pleasure because even the bad books (apologies to James Patterson, I kept trying to read your books, but they just didn't do it for me!) were teaching me something.  Arguably, I would say that I learned more from the bad than the good! I managed to finish the first novel even with the distractions of the internet at my fingertips plus I re-edited many of my short stories.  I submitted two short stories into competitions run by separate magazines and managed to win one and receive an honorary mention in the second (accompanied by a personal note informing me that I was the judges favourite, but they couldn't give me first prize because it included printing the winning story in the magazine, however my story, good as it was, was simply too "dark" and unsuitable for publication in their family magazine!)  About the same time, having researched the necessary on the trusty internet, I finally scored an Agent after so many refusals that I'd lost count.  Those days, the 1990's, all the major publishers only accepted submissions referred from an Agent, no direct submissions were taken from unpublished authors.  My Agent offered many excuses over the coming months about why she wasn't submitting my manuscripts to publishers, but mostly they were to do with the quality of editing.  So I did a Creative Writing Course as she recommended.  What a waste of a week, complete and utter frustration from an instructor older than God and with ideas from the same vintage.  His catchphrase was  "write what you know," and when I asked how it was possible for the science fiction genre to exist if authors only wrote what they knew, he would laugh and say it wasn't real writing.  He also required all students to write in a particular way, his way and his way only - anything else was deemed unacceptable.  I failed the course because I refused to toe the line but I did learn some valuable lessons.  I took on board things about sentence structure, plotting, and the most needed editing and I began applying them to my existing stories.  Plotting never worked for me.  I tried, many times and not once was I successful in following the plot.  The character/s and the story itself took precedence over any plot I had laid out, and I had little to no control over where they went.  It was then that I learned another lesson never to be forgotten - writing is an ART, not a SCIENCE, and there is no formula for success. It's all up to the individual and what works for them.  On the internet, I had taken to amending funny emails before sending them on to friends and family.  My quirky and rather sarcastic sense of humor meant some of my amendments should have been subject to censorship (bad words or inflections, not nudity or the like) and besides, I was careful about who I forwarded those emails on to.  But one day, I got an email back from a very well know International Publishing Company, inquiring the identity of the person who had sent the attached email, one of mine of course.  I mulled it over for a full day, thinking I was in trouble with copyright or censorship laws before finally responding and admitting it was mine.  As I said earlier, I got discovered!

To be continued...

Please feel free to post questions or comments for either Colin or me or the wonderful host of this blog, children's author Melissa Bixby, and we will respond as quickly as possible!


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