Monday, April 8, 2013

Guest Post by YA Author Melissa Haag: How to Become an EPIC Editor

What's one of the most important aspects of writing? Editing! Last week, Stephanie Karpinske talked about how integral it is for authors have a public platform in place before they query their manuscripts. This week, YA author of Touch and Hopeless Melissa Haag is going to spill some amazing tips about how YOU can edit/proof your own novel in order to make it worthy of the New York Times Bestseller List! Check out the awesomeness of her advice. 

Melissa: Since I have a short attention span (Squirrel!), I’ll keep my topic, How to Proof Your Super Cool Awesome Book That Everyone Will Want To Read, brief.
First, I’d like to point out that I’m being featured on Indie Monday for a reason…  I’m not a professional!  So read and consume my thoughts at your own risk while keeping in mind:  Ideas and imagination I have in abundance, techniques are something I’m learning, along with controlled humor.
One of the most important techniques is EDITING.  Oh sure, some will disagree with me.  That’s okay.
These are the steps that I’ve followed with good success:
Step 1:  Avoid it.
You’ve written your masterpiece at the expense of housework, sleep… heck, on some days, even bathing.  You’ve put in enough time, right?  Besides, it’s pretty much done.  Editing will only take an hour or two…  It’s okay, walk away.  *Jedi mind trick wave*
Three weeks later, you’re still playing catch up with laundry thinking, ‘I forgot I owned this shirt’ when it comes out of a basket of clean laundry.  It’s okay!  You need to focus on those tasks you’ve neglected.  Go do another load of laundry, there’s always more.  Make a cup of microwave lava cake and feed it to the kids when it doesn’t taste good… it’s chocolate, they’ll eat it even if it does bounce like silly putty. 
Step 2:  Pretend it doesn’t exist.
When asked if you have a finished copy by your awesome sister-in-law who reads everything you write, lie!  Sure, I have one for you.
Two weeks later, she’ll ask where it is… so be ready to deny any and all memory of the conversation.
Step 3:  SIT. DOWN. NOW.
Five weeks have passed since you’ve completed your masterpiece.  You’ve avoided it like a ninja, you’ve lied like a con, now it’s time to lock yourself in your room (bring food!) and get to work.
*Hand in crowd waves*
Me: Yes, you in back… Do you have a question?
Random-person-in-the-crowd-who-I’ve-never-before-seen-in-my-life:  So there’s no point in Step 1 and 2, right?
Me: There’s absolutely a point.  If you try to edit right away, you will read what you THINK, not what you SEE.  You need to let the story go for a while so you can read it with fresh eyes… and, you need to bathe.
So, you’re in your room/office/locked space hunkered down with a crust of bread and a glass of water.  Now what?
-       Print out the document. - I know this sounds really bad for the trees but reading your words in a different medium helps.  Oh, and be sure to print with page numbers!  If that stack of 200+ pages is knocked to the floor, you DON’T want to have to guess at the order.

-       Go to the last page.  That’s right, don’t start on page one!  Turn all the way to the back of the book.

-       Start with the last paragraph.  Read it.  Look for spelling errors, wrong words (principle vs. principal, there vs. their, she vs. he – gender changes mid-story are confusing), missing words, etc.  Mark it up.

-       Then move on to the paragraph before that.  You will make progress one sentence, one paragraph, at a time without being pulled into the imaginary world you’ve created, and still be able to keep an eye on the flow of the story – just backwards.

-       Take breaks. – But don’t unlock the door - the kids (pets, husband, parents, telemarketers, etc.) will get you!
-       Eat your crust of bread in your room (you’re in lockdown), get up and stretch as best you can, look out the window, if you have one, and… SQUIRREL!  No, seriously, yell at the squirrel eating the bird seed you put out for the cardinals.
-       Take whatever break you can find without entangling yourself in a task that will distract you from your purpose; to finish proofing.  Keep in mind, you will spend as much (if not more) time proofing as you did writing.
-       Finish it. – Update your electronic copy with the changes and make sure to re-read each sentence you touch (you might be adding more errors… it’s been known to happen).
Step 4:  Give copies to your test group.
-       Your test group will find things you missed.  Thank them for it!  Be sure to update your document again with their findings and then… re-read!
If you follow these steps, you should have something with enough polish (hopefully) that a dedicated book blogger willing enough to give an Indie a chance won’t want to spoon their eyes out after reading the first page.
I guess I lied when I said I’d be brief.  Hopefully my ramblings help someone.
Thanks for reading!
About the Author 

Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children.  An avid reader, she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.

Touch, released in January 2013, is her first published novel.  Hope(less), the first book in the Judgement of the Six series released in March 2013, is her second published work.

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Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!