Tag Archives: revision

I Feel Attacked

Saw this a while back, after having some conversations with a writer friend from my local group. “Dave,” he said, “one thing I noticed was consistency in spelling. Which things are capitalized and which are not. That sort of thing.”

Guess what’s #1 on Ellen Brock’s list?


Seriously, though, if you’re self-publishing or working on a manuscript to submit to traditional publishing, here are a lot of pitfalls to avoid.

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

It seems inevitable. You work on something for days, weeks, even months. You reach the point where you’re satisfied that this is a good, finished product. You click “Publish” or “Submit” or some equivalent…

…and immediately you notice mistakes. 


“Oh no… how did I miss that?!”
I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and completed a manuscript of a novel inspired by current events. Then I deployed to the Mid-East for almost four months, with grand intentions of re-reading and revising the draft (as well as finishing my fantasy novel, and starting a futuristic military novel). 

You know what they say about the best laid plans, and this was no exception.

In late May or early June I got the email from the nanowrimo account warning me that I would lose my reward of two free hard copies from CreateSpace if I didn’t use them by the end of June. I refocused my attention on the manuscript and got it ready for public release. I sent the materials into CreateSpace and started working on reformatting the document for the Kindle edition. 

Then I found the issues I wish I noticed sooner: two supporting characters whose plot threads could have been expanded and better resolved. Later feedback revealed an erroneous technical detail about hospital equipment that a little more research might have resolved. And while I got good in-person reviews from a couple first readers, I also learned they had a hard time connecting to the main characters–feeling what the characters felt, sensing their reactions to the various crises in the plot. 

So while I chalk this up as a win, I also have to recognize where I could have done better. 

1. Critique is essential. Bad on me for skipping it, since I wrote a book about this. Other readers see the weaknesses and mistakes I cannot. If I wasn’t going to pay the money for a professional editor, I should have taken the time to solicit some alpha readers’ input. 

2. There are five senses. It’s basic advice but a great reminder. A lot of the description in the novel provided sufficient detail for sight and somewhat for sound. But there are missed moments where taste, touch, and smell could have shined.

3. Plot like a roller coaster. Let the drama rise and fall to create pauses and build tension between rushes of excitement. Perhaps in the interest of trying to create good hooks, my characters go through a never-ending rush of drama, from one crisis to the next. I’m not saying everything should be happy go-lucky, but I could’ve included a few beats of humor or serenity in the midst of the chaos.

4. Good writing outshines wordplay trickery. I went with two characters with the same name as a way of driving home the point that we’re all pretty similar. In retrospect, the confusion that causes for readers doesn’t seem to be worth any supposed payoff. (Critique would have caught this… to her credit, my wife told me this was a problem and I foolishly went along with my grand plan instead.)

5. There’s no rush if you’re self-publishing. I let myself be fooled by the “deadline” of the nanowrimo reward. But that reward only saved me maybe five dollars. On the one hand, it spurred me to finish the project and get it out into the open, which I might not have otherwise done. On the other hand, it created a false sense of urgency that blinded me to some of the areas where I could have written a much better novel. Better to get it right than to regret missed opportunities. Like many things in life, victory in the battle to become a writer goes sometimes not to the swift

Lessons (hopefully) learned. I will do better next time. 

Best Indentions

I should be posting a link to a published novel on CreateSpace right now…

Instead, I’m uploading a revised copy of the manuscript, after which I’ll have to wait (again) for the review process to complete.

Warning signs are usually placed for good reasons...
Warning signs are usually placed for good reasons…

Being this close to putting a novel on the market is exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Like a cold pool on a hot summer day, I just want to dive in and get the initial discomfort over with.

But the very first lesson in my Elements of Critique e-book is about proper format and appearance.

And when I saw a missing paragraph indent on the very first page of the novel, despite a couple thorough reviews, I knew I needed to take another look for more issues.

I fixed three: the original offending indent, a quotation mark all by its lonesome, and an overlooked * * * * * I often use between scenes in my manuscripts.

None of those would have been the end of the world. But I know how easily I become critical of self-published but poorly edited works. I know how distracting a missing punctuation mark or misspelled word can be.

If you’re going to do something, they say, take the time to do it right. No one will care that I had the best intentions to release a proper draft. All they’ll see is the result of my effort. So I need to make sure that the final product is correct.

Plus, when I pause to consider how different this process would be a decade or two ago, I have no reason to complain. Within a day, I’ll have a corrected proof copy ready for me to approve, and the book will be available. I don’t have to wait weeks for a letter from a publishing house, then wait a few more to send back the updated draft, then wait still more for a rough copy…

Yep, I have nothing to complain about.

The book is titled “Not to the Swift,” from a verse in Ecclesiastes that reminds us the victory in a race is not always to the fastest, nor is triumph in battle always to the strongest.

The “race” to publish quality work takes time too, which is frustrating.

But I’ll be happier with the end result, and more importantly, so will the readers.

So… deep breath, sip of coffee, back into the cover selection process…

Details Details

Nothing draws a reader of out the story like a glaring error.

(Did you catch that one? I bet some of you cringed at the sight of it.)

Despite my comments about Cinema Sins and other such critics that love to tear apart every film or TV show released, there’s a valuable lesson from seeing one of their reviews.

They point out glaring errors. These might not be glaring to you or me, but to someone it’s obvious that Katniss was holding the bow in her left hand, and suddenly it was in her right. Or Hawkeye had only one arrow left, and then he had four in the next scene.

They catch mistakes in movies where it was daytime when the main character arrived at a building, then suddenly it’s nighttime when the characters are near a window, then it’s day outside again when they leave.

Man, that’s a long meeting!

The reason I bring this up is because the same can be true in our writing… especially with the rise of self-publishing and a decline in use of services like professional editing.

When I write, sometimes there are facts I need to research, something I’m worried would expose my limited knowledge on a subject. More often, there are details I haven’t sorted out yet. Or there are names, places and descriptions I jotted down weeks ago (let’s be honest, months ago) which I don’t remember right now.

I normally deal with this, if I remember exactly where to look, by double-checking the applicable part earlier in the draft. Or I take advantage of being a “planner” writer–I keep lengthy spreadsheets and scattered files documenting all future plans and essential plot details.

I don’t know how “pantsers” do it (that is, those who write by the seat of their pants, no significant planning involved).

But that fact-checking kills momentum, and when I’m writing in the moment, I want to keep it going as long as possible.

So I leave notes. But I’ve ignored those in the past, so I leave notes in ALLCAPS, and yes, in bold, underlined italics… maybe even turned RED.

See? I’m not kidding.

I’ll type:

“a cool autumn day — IS IT REALLY AUTUMN??”

“Jo revealed her Gracebrand — is that what I gave her?”

“Lyllithe saw no sign of the Mudborn — check name”

I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve even sent out critique pieces with these included.

But the fact is, these details matter. People notice. Lazy writing throws off readers, who then throw out books (or give bad reviews online).

Since we all have to go back and edit anyway, might as well take the time to get the little things right.

What fact-checking / detail-noticing plan works best for you? Let me know in a comment.