Tag Archives: Editing

The Top Five Reasons Why You Need an Editor

by Lillian Csernica on May 12, 2015

Last week somebody out there in Twitter Land had a free copy promotion going on.  I followed the link.  The book looked interesting, a collection of short stories that promised suspense and paranormal chills.  So I downloaded it to my Kindle.  One evening, after the work of the day was done and the kids were asleep, I settled down in happy anticipation.

I was disappointed.

Typos.  Punctuation errors.  Grammatical errors.  Awkward sentence structure.  Stilted dialogue.

These were not the errors of just one author.  These mistakes were present in three different stories by three different authors.  None of the stories in that collection was fit to be published.  How do I know?  Who am I to judge?  I’ve worked as a slush reader for a fiction magazine.  I’ve been reviewing fiction for over twenty years.  I’ve published a novel via traditional publishing, aka the hard way.  I’ve also published over thirty short stories.  I have the experience and the credentials to know the difference between the work of a professional writer and somebody who still has a lot to learn.

As long as there are wannabes, dilettantes, and tyros in the world, there will be some form of vanity press.  Unfortunately, the wonders of the Digital Age have made available to people at every level of writing skill the opportunity to “publish” their writing.  I have to say this.  Just because you can churn out something that looks like a short story, or is long enough to be classified as a novel, that does not make you a writer.

I see far too many people swanking around these days referring to themselves as “authors.”  Having a book to sell has become a fad.  There was a time when going to a seance was the thing to do.  Then Houdini started busting the fakes and the con artists.  Remember when everybody had a Pet Rock?  That was just silly.  Billy Ray Cyrus had his one hit wonder days with “Achy Breaky Heart” and all over the country people were line-dancing to that song.  Now anybody and everybody can slap together their own version of Tolkien Lite, put a cover on it, and fling it out into the electronic marketplace.

This makes me angry, and I’ll tell you why.  Far too many people want to be “authors.”  They don’t want to write.  They don’t even understand the difference.  They do not respect the art and craft of writing.  They do not respect the writers who have spent their lives doing their best to improve their work, to polish their style, to honor the unspoken contract with the reader that says, “You pick up my book and I will give you a story worth reading.”

Having said all that, allow me to offer these thoughts on why an editor is an essential part of a writer’s life.

1. You don’t think you need one.

If you really believe you don’t need an editor, then I hope for your sake that you have some variety of OCD that has made you go over your manuscript with a microscope.  Even then, because of your familiarity with the story and the words, your brain may commit what’s called “closure” and prevent you from spotting an error.

2.  Unless you have an English teacher for a beta reader, odds are good your writer friends don’t know much more than you do.

The best writing teacher I’ve ever had knows all the technical terms for all the nuts and bolts of grammar.  Thanks to him, I know the difference between an “adjectival phrase” and a “predicate phrase.”  I know about the inner essence of sentences.  And I still don’t know much.  If I hadn’t kept that teacher’s handouts, most of what he taught me about the inner workings of what people call “microwriting” would have fallen out of my memory.  My point here is that not many people make it their purpose in life to understand exactly how the English language is supposed to work.

If you’re in a writer’s group or a critique group where all the other people are at the same level of skill and accomplishment, how are you and the rest of the group going to grow as writers?  If you don’t know what you don’t know and nobody there is a qualified authority, you may be able to do each other some good with regard to plot, character, setting, etc., but you aren’t going to bring your manuscript up to the best, most marketable standards.  There are people who know how to do that.  Those people are called editors.

3.  “Fresh eyes” are essential for spotting any mistakes.

Time and effort have proven that I write five drafts before I have what I consider a complete story.  That’s true whether it’s a short story or a novel.  By the time I’ve finished the fifth draft, I’ve caught most of the obvious errors and I’ve cut as much as I know the story does not need.  By this point the story is so familiar to me that I’m sick of looking at it.  Now is the time to hand the manuscript to somebody who has never read it.  If you want to be really drastic, give the story to somebody who does not like that particular type of story.  Me, I don’t read Westerns.  They do nothing for me.  Since I am not likely to be caught up in the story, I will be paying greater attention to the word choices, the grammar, the punctuation, and any typos that pop up.  If one of my writer friends wanted me to beta read a Western manuscript, it would be an uphill battle to draw me into the story and make me feel sympathy for the main characters.  If the writer succeeds in doing so, that really counts for something.

4.  I don’t care how much experience you have, there will be a misspelling or typo lurking in there somewhere.

Believe me when I tell you there are few things more painful that seeing your work in print and THEN spotting the typo, the renegade comma, or the missing word that totally screws up the meaning of that sentence.

5.  There is always room for improvement.

I don’t ask my beta readers for help until I’ve take the manuscript as far as I can possibly go.  Before I give it to them, I do my best to make sure the manuscript is so clean it sparkles.  There’s no point in getting a second opinion on mistakes you know you’ve made.  If you’re hiring an editor, there’s no point in spending money just to be told what you already know.  Make sure your writing is as good as you can possibly make it, then get that second opinion.  As hard as you’ve worked, there will still be other word choices, other possible plot twists, other ways to write a given character’s dialogue.

These are strong statements, I know.  What do you think?  Do you agree?  Do you think I’m full of hot air?  Do you believe there’s no difference between an author and a writer?  Tell me how you you feel about all this.


Filed under editing, Fiction, Goals, publication, Writing

Doing the Happy Dance

by Lillian Csernica on August 18, 2014

I am delighted to share with you the latest milestone in my writing career.

As of 2:17 a.m. this morning, I have completed this edit of my current novel!

What does this mean?

I made several improvements in the story.
I expanded the role of one character and reduced the role of another.
I fixed the errors in my Japanese words and phrases.
I cut one hundred and fifty-two pages from the manuscript.

The time has not yet come to send the book to my agent.  I have another sixty-six pages to cut.  That will be easier now that the plot has come into clearer focus.  I need to double check a few fine points of Tokugawa period clothing.  I also want to verify my fictional locations on a map of Satsuma (now Kagoshima) so my travel times and overall timetable are still correct given some of the changes in the story.

Even so, I did it!  I got all the way through the edit!  I had hoped to be done by the end of July.  I am eighteen days past that deadline, which all things considered isn’t that bad.  Now for the fun part.  While I finish the clean up work on this manuscript, I’d better get to work on the second book of the trilogy!  Fortune favors the prepared mind.  I want to be ready just in case Lady Luck offers me a three book contract!



Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, marriage, romance, Writing

Dare to Rip Out the Seams

by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2014


I’m about fifty pages away from completing this edit of my historical Japanese romance novel.  I say “this edit,” because once I’m done I’ll be printing out the ms and letting it sit for about a week and then going through it again with the red pen.  If my beta readers will do me the kindness, I’ll have them go over the ms and tell me if I’ve improved the weak spots.  Then I will go through the ms and get a sense of whether or not the drastic changes I made to this draft really work.

New writers tend to get scared by the editing process.  It’s almost as if they’re afraid they’ve got only so  many words inside them and they just can’t make any more.  Nonsense.  There are always more words where the first batch came from.  Yes, sometimes it’s hard to coax the “better” words out.  When I wrote my very first novel, I hit a patch about three-fourths of the way through the process where my writing was terrible.  I knew it was terrible.  I had no idea how to find my way onward to improve the plot thread.  That lasted for about three weeks.  Then something made the light go on in my Idea Factory and the book started to work again.  The important point here is that during those three weeks of hell, I just kept writing.

That’s one way to cope with a problem in the narrative.  Another method is to just go wild and brainstorm possibilities.  Thunder and lightning!  Dramatic reversals!  Oh my God, I never saw THAT coming!  I mean it.  Go nuts.  Get past the insecurity and the anxiety and the frustration and the fatigue and just rip it all apart.

My best friend has been telling me that I’ve been missing an opportunity with a character that has worked her way up to joining the Main Cast.  I should really find a way to work her into the climax, because given how she’s managed to take up her share of story time, she really should be part of the grand finale.  I didn’t want to hear this.  The ms was already too long.  I was tired.  I did not want to push myself to do the work that would result in doing justice to this character and her contribution to the plot.

Bitch, moan, whine, complain.

This is the moment that separates the wannabes from the serious writers.  Was I going to let myself get away with a half-assed job?  The character wasn’t all that important.  There were at least two spots where one of the bad guys could easily have killed her.  She’s my heroine’s key antagonist, so fine, let the bad guys turn her into koi chow!


Was I going to do right by all the time I’ve already invested in this project?  Was I going to show respect for the time and effort my beta readers had donated?  Was I going to do my absolute best to tell the best story I possibly could?  There were no trumpets.  There wasn’t a big thunderstorm with lightning.  I just got to thinking about how and where I could fit this character into the grand finale.  And sure enough, I found the exact place.  And then I found the exact place where I could do the set-up that would put her in that perfect position.  I now have the potential for genuine edge of the seat suspense as this character does her damnedest to kill my heroine when my heroine is just about to reach what she’s been after through the whole story.

This change, the tweaking of a few lines of dialogue here, the addition of maybe two scenes there, will make a serious difference in the overall quality of my story.

If you want to be a serious writer, resign yourself right now to the long haul.  Good work takes time.  Great work takes even longer.  Hang in there, believe in yourself, believe in your story.  And if you get stuck, remember Chandler’s Law: When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.


Filed under Depression, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, love, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

Buried in Paperwork

by Lillian Csernica on June 6, 2014


Now and then I get lucky and my state of mind aligns with my current work needs in a way that helps both.  Right now I really want to get rid of everything unnecessary in my life.  All the clutter, all the clothes, all the accessories, all the STUFF that owns me more than I own it.  That’s a helpful mindset when I look at a manuscript and see everything that does not need to be there.  At the moment, I have a 575 page novel on my desk, along with a 45 page/12,200 word novella.  Both must be edited for length then polished for quality.  I am indeed buried in paperwork.

Editing is a lot like sculpting.  The more you take away, the more the shape emerges from the granite, clay, metal, etc.  The more words you take away, as long as they’re the right words, the better the story emerges.  The stronger the story, the clearer the theme, and the more vibrant the characters.

Opinion varies on how much editing is enough editing.  When do you know?  How can you tell you’re done?  “Good enough” isn’t good enough, right?  So how do you really know when the article or story or novel is ready for the marketplace?

Here’s one opinion:  How to Edit Your Book in Four Steps

I think that system makes a lot of sense.  Step #4 is going to take a big chunk of time, but there’s no other way to be really sure the writing flows smoothly.

This is a more detailed approach:  Line Editing in 10 Easy Steps

Very useful.  I think I’ll be printing out a copy of this and keeping it by my desk.  This is serious nuts and bolts HELP.

What to do when your manuscript is way too long?

Some days I get so caught up in the microwriting I can’t step back and see the big picture.  Given that I have to cut at least 100 pages from my novel, I need to know a reliable method for chopping out great big chunks of the book without damaging the story.  Follow that link to some great advice by thriller author Jodie Renner.

Once I have the manuscript trimmed to the proper word limit, it’s time to do the polishing.  How do you make sure every chapter, scene, paragraph, and sentence is worth keeping?

Candy-Bar Scenes


I will say it is possible to get carried away with the editing process.  Every writer is different.  Every set of work habits is custom-tailored to the mind, style, and real life of each writer.  With respect to the author of this piece, I believe his methods are way too complicated.

How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication


Time to go apply some of what these links have taught me.  Wish me luck!



Leave a comment

Filed under chocolate, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, romance, science fiction, Writing

When does the editing end???

by Lillian Csernica on March 5, 2013

While I’m in the process of editing my novel, my short story inventory is out to market.  I am fortunate in that the rejections I get tend to include personal comments on what the editor(s) liked and what part(s) of the story did not work.  Then comes the hard part.  Do I rush off to rewrite the story?  Or do I keep the faith and try again with another market?

Heinlein said, “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”

So I had a story come back last week from a team of editors.  One of them liked the story enough to make specific fix-it comments.  The main editorial voice of the rejection slip encouraged me to rework the story and possibly resubmit it.  But I like this particular story.  Parts of it are really precious to me.


Well, boys and girls?  What do you do when you’re too attached to part of your writing and that part of your writing is getting in the way of making a sale?

You murder your darlings.  That’s right.  Cut out those bits NOW.

I cut that story down from five thousand words to thirty-three thousand.  That’s six, count ’em, SIX, pages.  How did I do it?  I eliminated one character, dumped some material that slowed down the opening, got the story moving faster, and put the necessary exposition back in a more dramatic context.

I couldn’t have done that if my ego meant more to me than being a better writer, more than taking advantage of the opportunity being offered by the editor who liked my story enough to speak up in favor of it provided I made the necessary changes.  That story, at its new length with a much-improved title, is on its way back to those editors.  Cross your fingers for me.  Hope I did what they thought I should do the way they thought I should do it.  The one big danger of a rewrite request is the possibility of messing up something the editor liked.

So when does the editing end?  Maybe once the short story is sold.  With a novel, once you’ve made the sale and your ms is in the hands of that editor, a whole new cycle of editing begins.

Right now I’ve got another short story sitting here.  The last three rejection slips add up to a pattern of editorial feedback.  Time to get out the red pen and murder my darlings.


Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing