This is a difficult post for me to make, as admitting anything less than perfection with my baby — ahem, my novel — is contrary to all of my instincts as an author. As an author, I spent four years (probably more like two, considering I birthed a screamy creature somewhere in the middle there) molding the clay that is Fight. I made character sheets, researched names and locations and what trees are prevalent in Virginia. (You’d think I’d know that, living in Virginia and all.) I initially embarked on a helter skelter write-at-will journey that dragged me fifty pages in with continual straying from the plot, so I started over by composing a twenty page outline detailing the major bullet points of each chapter. I agonized over whether I would have a third person POV in addition to my two first person narrators. I wrote chapters and scenes in third person and they didn’t jibe with the rest of the book, so I scrapped them. I rewrote everything in present tense. Yes, the entire novel. I went back and changed it page by page upon realizing that this style “popped” more and pulled you, my reader, into the lives of characters who were suddenly very real to me. My husband was an innocent hostage in our nightly discussions of them. “You’ll never believe what Conley did today.” “Emma’s dad is such a jerk.” “Do you think I should get a nose ring again? It’d be weird now, right?”
I put my book in a drawer for a year. I pulled it back out. I loved it sometimes, I hated it others. Depending on the day, I was both the next most promising author and the worst writer in the world. I cried, I laughed, I felt crazy. I went crazy. I gained clarity and self-respect while somehow living in pajamas. The only breaks taken were to eat or step outside and blink up into a bright sun with unnecessary confusion as to why my sore eyes felt like they might fall out of my head.
I edited my book several times. One round of edits was for plot inconsistencies, another was to make my male narrator more believable by shortening his sentences and lessening his wordy descriptions of Emma to “she’s hot.” One round was for typos, one round was to ensure that Fight was exciting enough. My husband did these edits, too. For each significant edit, there were at least five small ones: character consistencies, making sure something specific was wrapped up, grammar, timelines, you name it. In the very end, when the clay had formed into what I believed to be my true work of art, I still considered a professional editor. Thousand-dollar price tags made me balk. We told ourselves we had it covered, that we’d read it so many times, surely we’d caught mostly everything.
Well, we did … and we didn’t. Plot holes? Nonexistent. Character development? You betcha. Engaging? Keeps the reader interested and begging for more? All initial feedback I’ve gotten is highly enthusiastic to these regards (which, by the way, is an incredible feeling).
Minor typos speckling my masterpiece, as if I meant them to be there all along? Mhm.
I asked a dear friend of mine who is just as busy as I am mothering small children to edit the book, thinking that would truly cover all my bases prior to print. She’s witty, smart, and was a journalism major at her college. She was our buffer. We put the giant burden of editing a 100,000 word novel on three pairs of eyes — mine, my husband’s, and hers. Despite my unfair expectations of her, she graciously took time out of her busy days with playgroups and tantrums to help me out, and she caught things I was grateful for. She stepped up … but it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t enough, because my book is over four hundred pages. It wasn’t enough, because it wasn’t a professional edit. We needed eyes that were hired to focus on the book all day long, to read it intensely and painstakingly. With self-publishing, you are essentially on your own. We knew that. But we weren’t aware of the phenomenon that results from reading a book so many times. Your eyes read over what they expect to see; they piece sentences together. Minor typos such as “overhead” might become “overheard” with quick fingers eager to type out a story, and you read “overhead” because your brain fits it into the context of that sentence. Spell checks don’t catch these errors because they’re technically words, albeit the wrong ones.
How did I discover these errors? I accidentally ordered myself the Kindle version of my own book and read it for sheer amusement during my toddler’s nap time. To my chagrin, the pesky typos rose forth to greet me. “Hi! Hello! Remember us? Of course you don’t — we wanted to surprise you! SURPRISE!!”
How did I remedy this? My release week was not lacking in excitement, but a dark cloud of mistakes overheard (eh? See what I did there?) threw me into a panicked editing frenzy. Multiple pairs of eyes read over Fight with a fine-toothed comb, time and money was spent, typos were caught, and adjustments were made. Thankfully, it was nothing major. The new files have been uploaded, and the near-mint Fight is now available for sale. Could there be another typo in there that we missed? Absolutely, which is why I said near-mint. There are numerous typos in works published under big houses with staff editors. Typos are the gnats of the literary world. They exist on all levels, and they are experts at slipping through and buzzing around your head. They crave to be on that printed page. And they don’t stop there.
We’ve now polished my novel to that next level of professionalism that it should’ve been in the first place. It took two weeks of constant work, stress, and frustration — two weeks that were lost to valuable advertising as I laid low until the corrections were made. My advice to you, the reader, and perhaps the aspiring book writer is this: read your book and know it’s not enough. Have your family read it and know it’s not enough. Have friends read it and know that it still won’t be enough. Hire a professional editor. Publish your book. Read the proof with a highlighter. When you find typos, and you will, correct them immediately. They do reflect upon you.
This is all a learning experience for me. With my next novel — which is 85% rough-written at this time (!) — I will use betas to be my fresh eyes. Sure beats putting my book in a drawer for a year to gain perspective! My team will include a professional editor, and when all eyes have roved over my book and returned it to me, I will read my proof while curled up in my cozy writing chair with a multicolored pack of highlighters. I will prevail, because I have now leveled up with my knowledge. I can’t give up. I’ve found what I love doing, and that’s a remarkable thing. Also, my characters just won’t let me. They’re clawing to get out of my head and tell the world their story. They will escape. And it will be beautiful.