Tips for First Time Fiction Authors from an Independent Editor

We have solicited the advice of an independent book editor for this post. She has edited everything from fiction to non-fiction trade and self-published to academic works for doctoral students to online magazine editing (managing and copy). The tips are based on over 10 years of experience and are for first time authors. Let’s see what we can learn.

Treat your writing project like a luxury car. You won’t take your new Mercedes to the backyard mechanic down the street. You will take it to someone who specializes in Mercedes. People will pay full price for the luxury car that will depreciate in value but not invest in the one thing that has their own name on it: their book or writing project. The book will last but the car will not.

Research the details. Details and authenticity matter in fiction writing. I have seen some poorly researched topics that have totally killed the storytelling. One person had a character playing with Barbie in the 1930s though the doll debuted in 1959. Another person re-wrote an episode of Criminal Minds and botched it by simply choosing a few words that sounded forensic. It didn’t read smart and it was plagiarism.

It is okay to tell a simple story with complex characters. First time authors tend to do the opposite: Tell a complex story with simple characters with no dimension. People love a good story but the characters drive the story. Give them personalities that are unique to them and the story you are telling.

Treat your writing project like a loved one. People love when you spend time with them, and love when you give natural affection. Spending time writing the book and thinking that is enough is akin to spending time at a family reunion. The people you see at the reunion are relatives; the people you spend time with are family. By the time a manuscript comes to me, I can tell who has spent loving time with their project and who has done a drive-by writing job. Readers will notice the difference too.

Be credible and care about the reader. Credibility for an author is not a bunch of degrees or published works. Credibility is about caring enough to deliver a quality product that has been well-crafted and thoughtfully written to include the reader as a part of the process.

Invest in a copy editor and proofreader. Two sets of eyes are never enough. Three sets of expert eyes (yours, the copy editor, and the proofreader) make for a pretty good product. There will always be typos missed and a few misspellings in a work, that’s normal, but what is not normal is a sloppy work. Copy editors clean up the grammar and punctuation. Proofreaders catch typos, spacing and strange things like the use of inch/foot marks where there should be quotation marks as well as subtle changes in fonts.

Copy editors and proofreaders are not responsible for making your story better. They are responsible for making it look better and read better. You are the story teller, and your copy editor and proofreader are there to help you present it well and nothing more.

What are your thoughts? Weigh in on these tips in the comment section. Tell me what your experiences have been with editors.

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