A reader recently reached out with a question. Knowing I perform professional writing and editing services through my business, she asked if she ought to send a friend my way. This friend had written a great story, but the draft was littered with spelling and grammar mistakes.
“Are there any tips I can give my friend to make the draft readable, or maybe even increase her chances of getting the book published?”
Here was my reply:
“Well, it depends on what her goals for this story are. If it’s to someday publish the book, you should warn her manuscript consultation will be somewhat expensive. I would suggest hiring an editor. For the first round, the editor will look at the work on the content and context: where are the unanswered questions and plot holes? What scenes are unclear? What characters are immemorable or flat? After receiving those notes and making changes, she’d be wise to hire a copy editor (it could be the same editor), who will comb through for sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and typo mistakes.
She should also be aware of how long the publication process takes. I’ll share my own novel’s example:
I wrote Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, and decided the book was ready to be shared with my first reader after writing draft three. I paid my first reader and friend, Margaret, to perform a read on the manuscript’s content. After Margaret made notes all over the manuscript, we had a four-hour coffee talk about the subject. I made the changes (took about 3 months of work to perform) and sent the book to an agent for consideration. One of the most significant suggestions Margaret made was to include another chapter from the character Karen’s perspective. This led to the creation of the chapter, “What is Brought Back, What Remains.”
I then submitted the manuscript to a literary agent. The agent liked the book but thought it could be stronger. There were characters she wanted “more of.” She sent me to another editor, Janice, who I paid for a second consultation. Janice made excellent notes and had great ideas. She showed me that my book was missing another two chapters. So I worked on Janice’s notes and rewrote for another nine months, creating the chapters”Needlepoint” and “Faith,” until I was certain the chapters were strong. About a year after working with Janice, my novel was submitted to Touchwood Editions, who offered me a book contract.
The publisher sent the novel to their favorite out-of-house editor, Claire. The cost to me after this point was zero as once a book contract is signed a reputable publisher takes care of all publication costs. Clair performed a content and context read and several changes were made, including re-organizing the shape of the book by moving chapters around and even removing two chapters, “As You Swing At the Edge of the World,” and “Good Girls”. This revision took two months to complete. Then it was finally time for copy edits. Claire performed the first round of copy edits: grammar, spelling, typos, awkward sentences, mixed metaphors, etc. I made those changes within two weeks.
My publisher then decided to perform the rest of the edits (3 rounds of copy edits) in-house with Editorial Director, Kate.
I went on to give the reader my recommendation:
Getting a book ready for publication is a very lengthy and sometimes costly process. In all, Always Brave, Sometimes Kind took about two years of playing with the first draft and three years of serious work on subsequent drafts, including probably more than a dozen drafts. The best possible thing your friends could do would be to ruthlessly edit the work until it’s as clean as possible. It would be a shame to pay an editor double when spellcheck could dramatically cut down on costs.
Some other parts of this process that I neglected to mention were reads of individual chapters conducted by friends in the communities the chapters reference, and the research and interviews put into learning more about such topics as addiction recovery options, the sixties scoop, worker’s rights history in Alberta, and social work. A couple rounds of proofreading edits were also performed by proofreader Renee, and final pages were read through more than a few times by myself. The publishing house also hired a sensitivity read consultant through Breathing Space Creative. That reader only had a couple notes for me, and those minor changes were immediately made.
If you are in a similar situation – that is, you have an exciting first draft manuscript and are looking for editorial or consultation assistance – my suggestion is to study the technical aspects of the craft and spend a good deal of time applying these foundational standards to your manuscript. After that, put the draft in a drawer (or save it into a hard drive) and don’t look at it for two months. Then, read through every line with new eyes. Open up a new word document and re-type every word, allowing yourself to improve upon each sentence as you go. Ask yourself, does this story still make sense?
Then, take a look at your word count. Find a way to cut it down by 20%. This part is my favourite. It’s challenging, but will make the work all the more powerful.
I don’t believe any manuscript (especially from a new writer) is ready for consult until at least the third draft. Submitting prior to that point in time is likely to cost the writer a lot more money than necessary.
Set in the cities and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.
Are you part of a book club? Please consider reading Always Brave, Sometimes Kind. The author is available for virtual readings and Q&A, and has a whole page devoted to ABSK Book Club Freebies on this website!