by Holly West
Sometimes, writing a mystery feels like juggling. You start with one or two balls, casually tossing them in the air and catching them with relatively little trouble. By act two, you've added a couple more, then, by the end of act three, you're juggling so many you feel sure you'll drop one. And the truth is, you probably will. That's what editors are for--to help you find those dropped balls.
Over the last few weeks, I invited several of my author friends to write guest posts for my Wednesday spot. The reason was two-fold: first, I really wanted to hear from some new voices (i.e. voices that weren't mine) and thought my audience would, too. Second, I recently "pre-hired" a freelance editor to edit my new novel, hence giving myself a self-imposed but solid deadline.
Honestly, I don't know why I didn't think of doing that before. This book is important for me (well, I suppose they all are) in that it will be my first non-historical mystery and the first book I'll give to my agent to shop. I've known all along that I'd have it edited professionally before I turned it over to said agent. The question has always been when.
You've heard me whine more than once about how long it's taken me to finish this damned book. I've written a book (MISTRESS OF LIES) on deadline before and even though I complained constantly about having to do it, I got it done on time (ish). It occurred to me that I could treat this current book as if it were under contract, even if it's not. Hire the editor and set a firm deadline by which it had to be finished. Sure, I was taking a chance, but it's provided just the motivation I need. I'm on track to finish the novel well before my deadline so that I'll have a few weeks to revise and polish before it goes to my editor. Just like when I wrote a MISTRESS OF LIES.
Back to what I was saying about juggling. I'm at about 60k and heading into act three. There's a yellow legal pad next to me and every day I start with a list called "Balls in the Air." I write down the plants that need pay offs, the red herrings that need explanation (or not) and basically, the issues that still need to be resolved for a satisfactory ending. I know I'm going to drop one (or three) of those balls but I try not to let that knowledge bother me. By the time this book is out in the world those loose ends will have been found and tied.
While I was writing my first novel, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, I never intended to hire an editor. I thought I'd polish it myself and then when it sold I'd have an editor with the publishing house. Clearly, I was nothing if not rosy-eyed and optimistic back then. After a year or more of rejection, I thought maybe I'd self-publish and I hired an editor. She had experience at a couple of the big houses and said that while she understood why I might want to self-publish, she thought the book could get a traditional offer. In the end, of course, I didn't self-publish, but that professionally edited manuscript was the one that scored me my deal.
Do I need to have my current manuscript edited before I send it to my agent? Maybe not. I have more experience now and I'm confident I could polish it up real purty myself. But the fact is, if I decided to self-publish this or future titles, I'd never send them out into the world without having them professionally edited and copyedited. How does having an agent make that any different? Shouldn't I put my best foot forward from the very start? I expect my agent will have feedback regardless, but I'd rather give her the best possible work I can from the get go.
It does make me think about just how much of the responsibility in the publishing process is piled onto authors, even those who don't plan to self-publish. It wasn't always like this, was it? At the recent California Crime Writers Conference a fellow author whose under contract told me he had his work professionally edited before he sent it to his editor at the publishing house. He went on to mention two other high profile authors who do the same thing.
It wasn't as though he was trying to convince me that all writers need to do this or that writers who don't are shirking their responsibility in some way. We were just having casual a chat about writing and publishing and these were offhand comments. I thought it was interesting, nonetheless.
I really want to hear what y'all think about this subject. I know you have opinions so let 'em rip.