Where Were You When the Page Was Blank?

Authors sometimes grumble about their editors, and the question I’ve chosen as a title for this post is one I’ve often heard authors repeat.

But I’m pleased to say that I have a wonderful editor for my new novel, titled The Swan Island Connection. This novel is a sequel to the first of my sea-change mysteries, Through a Camel’s Eye, which was published in April by For Pity Sake Publishing

The editor’s name is David Burton. David, an editor with For Pity Sake, is also an award-winning playwright and theatre director, whose plays include April’s Fool, Orbit and The Landmine Is Me. He has written a memoir titled How to be Happy.As an editor, Dave possesses that rare quality, (rare in my experience), in that he takes the trouble to see into an author’s mind, think about where he or she is trying to get to, and how he might help them to arrive.

Dave read what I am now calling the Dog’s Breakfast Draft (DBD) of The Swan Island Connection and wrote a nineteen page report. When I first saw the report, I felt daunted. There must be an awful lot wrong with the manuscript, I thought, to require this many pages. But the report, while critical, is constructively so, and that makes all the difference. In tone it is far from negative, and is full of helpful ideas and suggestions. And the very fact that someone who know what he’s talking about has paid such close attention to my DBD has given it, and me, a whole new lease of life. Thank you, Dave!

The Swan Island Connection will be my eleventh novel to be published. The first was in 1984, and since then I’ve run the gamut from good editors to woeful. Amongst the good I number Jenny Lee and Lois Murphy, and amongst the woeful, who shall be nameless, the lesbian separatist who read my book about the British atomic bomb tests at Maralinga. This was not, on the face of it her subject, and she made no effort to meet me half, or even a quarter of the way. Another was the editor who used to ring me at 6 PM, just before she left the office, to discuss editorial points that required thought and concentration. At the time this editor was assigned to me, I had a four-year-old and a baby who wouldn’t sleep, plus a deadline for the manuscript. One horrible evening I shouted at her down the phone, ‘Don’t you realise it’s jungle hour!’ I’ve felt ashamed of that outburst ever since.

Then there was my New York editor whose publishing company had bought the first two of my Sandra Mahoney Quartet (mystery novels set in Canberra, where I lived for thirty years). This editor, though I respected him, and of course felt grateful that my books were going to be published in the United States, insisted that I change all my galahs to parrots, all my jumpers to sweaters, and that I massage the text in various other unsavoury ways in order to make it more attractive to an American readership.

Recalling all that, I’ll say again – thank you, Dave!

And thanks to Bill Whitehead the cartoonist for reminding me how much I like Dickens.




This blog was originally posted on Dorothy Johnston's website, on the 12th of August 2016.

A Passion for Romance Writing

One of our beloved authors, Di Thompson recently sat down with Barbie Robinson from Artcetera on FM 92.7 Canberra, for a chat to talk all things romance and her plans for future books. Listen below or buy a copy of Di's book here. [audio mp3="http://forpitysake.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Diana-Thompson.mp3"][/audio]

The Crucial Secret That Could Get You Published

Want to be a published author? Then learn how to self-edit.

This, by far, is the most common mistake that inexperienced writers make. The most common complaint from publishers, across the board, is that writers will send in their first draft. Most of the time, publishers don’t want to see your first draft.

Every writer, including Dickens, Orwell and Shakespeare, learned how to self-edit. The difference between draft one and draft two can be miraculous. But it’s about more than just dotting i’s and fixing errant commas. It’s often large, tectonic work that can re-shape your story.

The tricky thing is that a lot of writers know their first draft isn’t brilliant, but lack the skill or experience to bridge their first draft to their second. With that in mind, here are some key principles that should help.

Step Away Stephen King says at least six weeks. Others say longer. The vast majority of professional published authors I know do this. They pour their entire heart into the project, and then they put it in the drawer for a break. Attempting to edit right after you’ve finished a first draft is destined to be a disaster. You’re too close to it, and probably too exhausted. Have a break. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done the hardest part: writing the damn thing. It’ll be there for you in a few weeks.

Attacking the work with fresh eyes will be a startling discovery. First of all, there are probably going to be entire sections that you don’t remember writing. It’s a wonderful thing. This insight will allow you to see bigger problems with the work, and provide a solid foundation for the next step.

Don’t worry about spelling At least to start with. Think about self-editing as a pyramid. Things like spelling and grammar are at the top of the pyramid, the thin bit. They’re fiddly things that you don’t need to concern yourself with right now. Worry more about the base of the pyramid: story structure. Examine scene to scene, chapter to chapter, how your story moves. Does it make sense? Does it drag? Does it move?

Don’t be disheartened. There is likely to be a good chunk that needs fixing. You might end up deleting a character (or two, or three), or realising that there’s 10,000 words in the middle that’s just plain wrong. This brings me to my next point.

Be brutal Cut. Probably around ten percent, maybe more.Save your old drafts and just go for it. You can always go back. Be courageous. If the book can survive without a particular section, than cut it.

This more than just an exercise in butchery. It’s a deeply helpful lesson in writing. As you cut, you’ll be forced to justify every choice you’ve made as a writer. You’ll get to know the work a lot better, and you’ll discover new pathways that you hadn’t considered. It may sound frightening, but believe me, it’s thrilling. Often finding the slimmer, more dynamic version of your story will feel like relief to the writer. It’ll feel much closer to what you originally had in your head.

There are entire courses in self-editing, and it’s a life time practice for a writer. But in today’s publishing world, it’s possibly one of the most important skills you can exercise. Writers are being expected, more and more, to carry the weight when it comes to editing.

So get your red pen out. I promise, you’ll feel better for it.

Think you want an opinion on your manuscript from a real reader? Try out our manuscript appraisal service.