Going Pro Versus Going It Alone

Adventures in editing.

As I begin editing Breaking Bread, I can’t help but think about how I fumbled through the process with Book One: Three Empty Frames. As a first time, unpublished author, I didn’t feel I had the luxury of hiring a professional editor. Professional editing can get expensive. Depending on the length of your document and the level of editing you choose, it can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars. And though I knew an editor could take a good manuscript and make it great, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t so naive as to think I could do this alone. I had to get objective feedback before I published the book. Sure I loved the story, the couple of friends I let read it were enthusiastic about it too. But kind words from a few people close to me were not going to be enough. I needed beta readers: non-professional readers who will carefully read your manuscript with an eye to finding plot holes, disruptions in continuity, grammar and spelling mistakes and possibly highlighting aspects of the story that might be unbelievable.

When choosing beta readers, make sure they aren’t just going to tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. You NEED constructive criticism. That’s why your mom and dad, husband or wife, or beloved aunt are not the best choices. So what now? Are you in a book club? Ask your group to beta read for you. How about an online writer’s group? Other writers are usually willing to help you out. Ask your blogging friends here on WordPress to read for you. Just be sure to choose people who will give you an honest opinion and some thoughtful feedback. Make sure to attach a copyright warning to anything you send out, too.

And for heaven’s sake don’t be thin skinned! Take the feedback and learn from it.

At the time I had completed Three Empty Frames, I belonged to a book club and asked some of the other members to read for me. Even though the group has since broken up, I can still count on the same folks to read my unpublished work. I also recruited my friend Brett, who is an English teacher to read it. I know I said don’t ask your friends, however, I know the teacher in him won’t let me put a foot wrong. If you have kids in school, perhaps you could approach their English teachers for help. But maybe wait until summer…

These days, I do use a professional editor. Formerly of Simon and Schuster in New York, my editor Kevin (now good friend) quit the rat race and works for himself. Often, he comes over with his wife and baby and hangs out with me in the pool. I ply him with beer and pick his brain. I have him cleaning up my first two books, the ones I published without professional help. Why do that? Because when I publish Breaking Bread, one of the older books might be part of a deal to market the new novel. I want it to be the best it can possibly be. The point in telling you all of this is that in handing Kevin my older work, his feedback assured me that I and my beta team had done a good job. The manuscript was ‘very clean’ in his words.

So for you first time writers, if you are meticulous with your process, AND if you find people with sharp eyes to spot your mistakes, give you good insights, and offer constructive criticism, you may be able to forgo the services of a professional editor.

Survived By a Daughter (Here Lies a Soldier part 7)

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.

The fire, which had offered such comfort from the damp and cold of the deteriorating afternoon, now felt oppressively warm.  David pulled the collar of his shirt, swallowing hard.  He must have read it wrong.  For a second time, he squinted at the scrap of paper Meredith had handed him. An obituary — his great grandmother’s. He reached into the pocket of his shirt for his glasses and read the words again. “Survived by a daughter, Gladys and a son, Hayden…” he murmured.

“Cousin?” Meredith asked gently.

“That can’t be right,” he said, handing the clipping back to her. “Could it be a mistake?”

“Do you really think there’s another Ada Henry Jennings that lived and died at that exact same time, in that exact same place? Besides, why would it be in my Gran’s scrapbook, if it wasn’t your great-grandmother?” she asked. She re-read the clipping for herself. “1918…The influenza?”

He nodded. “Leaving behind a baby —or two, apparently— to grow up without either parent.” He frowned. “According to Dad, the great-greats took Hayden in. They raised him as their own.  But I really don’t know much about his childhood. I was hoping perhaps your Gran’s collection would shed some light on it. But now…”

“We have another mystery on our hands.”

He removed his glasses and set them on the table. Then, after taking a healthy swallow of his tea, he said, “You know what this means, don’t you?”

She nodded. “You might have a great-aunt, second cousins. Relatives closer than me.”

“And,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This… Gladys would have been born before…”

“William and Ada were married,” she finished for him. “How positively scandalous.” She laughed softly. “It happened, you know, even back then.”

“It would have been so hard for them, though.”

“Of course,” she replied. “David, your grandfather, Hayden, never mentioned that he had a sister?”

“He died when I was little. And he didn’t share much with my father.” He paused, took a deep breath. “My father didn’t like talking about it, but I have the impression that he and my grandfather had a… difficult…. relationship.” He sipped again and returned the cup to the table in front of him. “They weren’t on speaking terms when Grandfather died. Dad left home when he was seventeen, joined the army, went to college on the GI Bill and never looked back.”

“But your father never said anything? That he had aunt somewhere?”

David stared at his hands. “No.  He mustn’t have known.  He would have told me.  His mother gave him what little memorabilia Grandfather had saved.  He made sure to pass it on to me.”

“Family was important to him, despite his … difficult relationship with his father?”

“Perhaps, because of it. He always wished for a large family. Mom had a tough pregnancy. They couldn’t have more children after me… He was a good father…” He lifted his hands, let them drop. “I think he really wanted some kind of connection to his own ancestors.  That’s why I started compiling the family history. For my father. I was trying to finish it before my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. It would have been my gift to them.”  He paused, then said quietly, “If they had made it.”

Meredith didn’t say anything. David had told her the story the first time they had met. How his parents had been driving south like they did every winter to their house in Florida. Thomas Jennings had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel and drifted into the path of an oncoming truck. He and his wife Ellen had been killed instantly.

“Anyway,” David sighed. “I can’t understand why there was no mention of this Gladys in William’s letters.”

“And why did they wait to get married?”

David’s eyes widened. “You’re right. Why didn’t they marry as soon as they learned Ada was pregnant? Surely, it would have saved them both a little humiliation.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing in the letters? Something you might have overlooked or not recognized for what it was?”

“We’ll have to look again.” He turned in his seat to face her. “Suddenly, I’m no longer so tired.”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Well, I am. I’m the one who had … um, very little sleep last night.”

“Oh, right. Forgot about that.” He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe we finished that conversation.”

She stood and reached for their teacups. “Just leave it, David. I don’t want to talk about my abysmal love life and my weakness for charming, intellectual assholes.” She continued over her shoulder, “Let’s start dinner and make it an early night. I promise we can spend the entire day working on it, tomorrow. But for now, let’s talk about something else.”

“Fine,” he said following her into the kitchen. “What else would you like to talk about?”

“Well, since we’re on the subject,” she said, grinning wickedly. “You can tell me about your abysmal love life, instead.”

He laughed. “Now, I’m going to need something stronger!”

***

Thanks to some wonderful suggestions in the comments of my post on writing different timelines, I now have the ideas as to how to proceed.  Special thanks to Meritings, Jack Binding and JS Malpas!