Don’t Be a Stubborn (or Lazy) Author: Edit Your Manuscript

I once had a client who hired me to edit a handful of short stories he had written. Some of them needed only minor copy editing, but quite a few of them were a train wreck. So, as an editor, I did my job. I rearranged paragraphs where needed, I restructured or re-worded awkward sentences, I deleted statements of the obvious, added motives where there were none. I sent the first of these heavily edited short stories back to him, and told him to look it over. His response? Indignant fury. How dare I throw his story out of order, add my own words in, and take out his! I was obviously plotting to remove his voice from the story and steal it for myself.

While this particular client had a rather extreme case of “they-all-want-to-get-their-grubby-hands-on-my-awesome-story” paranoia, he also obviously failed to see the value of editing and revision. This is true of many newbie or first-time authors, especially those who are self-publishing. Some have a very difficult time with any criticism of their writing, and I’ve come across many authors who think every page they write is worth its word count in ounces of gold.

Regardless of whether you are an English teacher, a motorcycle lawyer, an underwater welder or a secretary, having your book edited is crucial. That is, if you want people other than your mom to buy it.

Some of the Worst Self-Published Books and What You Can Learn From Them

The following list is a combination from Michael N. Marcus’s book, Stinkers: America’s Worst Self-Published Books, as well as from a blog review by Dave Reuss, and a couple I added myself.

Midnight Sins by Lora Leigh

While Ms. Leigh certainly has her share of loyal readers, even those who like her books and said they loved the story still gave it a low score. Some of the reviews have captions like “Please give me my money back,” “I don’t even know where to start…” and “Was the editor drunk?”

Antigua: Land of Fairies, Wizards and Heroes by Larry and Denise Brown Ellis

You can tell from the title that this book has no originality. You don’t need to read a review to deduce that much. In addition to this glaring fact, what some other reviewers added was “Do not encourage this author’s behavior,” and “Is this a joke?” Also, the author(s) use exclamation points for every other sentence. If you don’t know that exclamation points should be used very, very, VERY rarely — even in young reader novels — you are in serious need of some fiction writing classes.

Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children! by Mrs. Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson

The cover of this book is enough to make the point here and really needs no further commentary to understand that this is an atrocity on paper. Just when you think “Ew …seriously?” covers it, you find out the inside is written in ALL CAPS. Who does that?!

You’ve Been Warned by James Patterson

This one is here primarily to prove that you can be an accomplished author and still write a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good book. While famous authors certainly can make a lot of money by stepping over the publishing house middle-man to self-publish a novel, if it’s a badly written one, fans will still be pissed off.

One of the most basic problems with this novel lies with the female protagonist. Protagonists who aren’t good people — or maybe too good? — are fine, but the reader still has to be able to connect, identify or sympathize with him or her. The female protagonist in this novel felt much more like the character you want to constantly punch in the face.

I Killed the Black Dahlia (The Telephone) by A.T. Johnson

An interesting fictional twist based on a non-fiction murder case, but was filled with typos, errors and character mix-ups. A very quick way to kill what might have been a decent book, as well as many potential sales it could have had.

So, what’s the lesson in all of this? Use spellcheck. That, and, if you don’t want to end up as another title and author on a list like this, you absolutely have to edit and revise your manuscript. Get a few people to read it before publishing it. Allow them to be brutally critical. If they all tell you, “This chapter doesn’t make sense” or “Your dialogue sucks” or “I want to throw your main character in front of a bus,” you’ve got some major revisions to make.


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