Despite being the single highest cost of self-publishing so far, the copyedit will be the one expense I will never regret.
That would have been the list if this article was entitled “A single most important thing I’ve learned”. But it’s not, so there are ten more below. Which I guess makes it eleven…never mind! Anyway, after getting eight quotes and four samples from Australian and American editors, I chose Lu Sexton of A Story to Tell to copyedit Shizzle, Inc and I’m blown away with the results. To be honest, I had a lot of reservations about paying for editing. After all I’ve already had a structural edit; I’ve revised the draft no less than a hundred times myself; I speaka English real good. Handing over cash for a promise of making your draft better is scary, even if that promise comes with a professional reputation and an exceptional sample edit.
In the end it was probably that sample that did it. Lu didn’t just pick up grammatical errors and turns of phrase, she made a few clever suggestions for heightening the drama and comedy without losing my protagonist’s voice. I had the balls to ask if the rest of the manuscript would get a similar treatment and got a polite answer that yes, it would. And it did. I got back not just an improved manuscript, but a lesson in writing, customised just for me. Here’s the list of lessons I promised, in no particular order:
1. Confusing turns of phrase, such as “my destiny was to be discovered”. Isa thinks she is meant to be discovered, but Lu thought it reads as if Isa is about to find out what her destiny is meant to be. I couldn’t agree more.
2. People jump off bridges, not from them. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous.
3. How often my characters “waived” their hands and got their feelings “crushed”.
4. Continuity and circumstances not matching what characters are doing. It’s lunchtime, but Isa is not hungry. Dress is matte in one sentence and shimmery in the next.
5. Explaining things too much. Once the character is in a lobby, you can call it “it” and not have to remind the reader that we are still talking about the lobby. They will get it.
6. Character’s voices not matching their choice of words. The posh evil antagonist slipping into slang, or dim Isa using formal speech.
7. Impossible combinations of actions, such as “I managed to close my mouth and said”.
8. Rhythm. Amazing how cutting a few words or moving sentences around improved the flow. For example, when describing a person, its awkward to move from face to shoes and back to face. Unless of course it suits your character, which in my case it didn’t.
9. Using more contemporary references. It’s hard to pretend to be a girl half your age. Twenty-year olds would compare massive speakers to those that can be found at a Skrillex concert, not Rolling Stones.
10. I have writing tics. Several of them. Everything was “something-looking”. Metaphors are great, but there are more interesting ways to describe them.
Most of the suggestions were not just track changes, they were accompanied by comments explaining the reason for change. Not only that, I got a separate style sheet, to help my proof reader. I didn’t know those existed!
I could go on, but this is starting to get embarrassing. Plus, as we know, numbered lists attract more attention, and what is better than a nice fat top ten? So keep on writing, and start a savings account for the copyedit. You won’t regret it.