Fiction Editing

  • Recent edits and current availability

    Recent developmental edits and current availability.
    Recent developmental edits and current availability

    I’ve recently been too busy with editing to get the next blog posts written. So I thought I’d write something shorter instead on the genres I’ve recently edited.

    Right now I’m working on a developmental analysis of a memoir.

    While I usually work on fiction, I have worked on memoir (often called creative non-fiction) before. These manuscripts can vary in terms of topic and style, but one of the most memorable I ever worked on transported me back to the 1960s counter culture and underground of Seattle and San Francisco/Berkeley.

    For the weeks I worked on the memoir, I felt like I walked the streets with the author and her young friends. Because the writer also included musical references, I will never hear Dionne Warwick’s Say A Little Prayer without thinking of those long ago summer days.

    Memoirs can be some of the most memorable manuscripts precisely because they are based in reality and personal experience.

    Some memoirs deal with darker topics, where the writer is working out their past and bringing attention to serious issues.

    As for fiction, so far this year I’ve worked on:

    • Three science fiction novels
    • Historical novels – in three different centuries
    • A WWII espionage novel
    • A stand-alone romantic novel from a writer I’ve worked with before (on a trilogy)
    • A literary novel set a few decades ago
    • A thriller

    Most of these projects have been either full developmental edits or manuscript critiques. One was an opening chapters developmental edit, and another was an analysis of an extensive novel outline.

    Novels I’ve worked on in the months prior to these included:

    • A cosy mystery
    • Another historical novel
    • And a thriller

    Sometimes I’ve worked on two rounds of developmental editing for the same manuscript. Some clients like three rounds. These are always indie authors who want to ensure their manuscript issues have been ironed out. Sometimes with the developmental editing clients, the final round is a report only. Basically a final check.

    Because I often work on multiple rounds – if that’s what the client wants – I try and keep my prices within an affordable range. Payments can be spread over two rounds.

    My next booking (as of 15th September 2023) is for November. I also have a client who has indicated they will likely contact me at some point about a second book they’re working on.

    This means that currently I am free from October to the end of the first week in November.

    This timescale allows for

    • a full developmental edit, or
    • up to two manuscript critiques

    Opening chapters developmental edits cover the first 15,000 words (or 10K, etc) and don’t take as long. Those projects can be slotted in sooner.

    So if you want detailed developmental feedback on a manuscript (memoir or fiction), feel free to contact me at karen@indiecateditorial.com. We can discuss your project and your intentions (self-publishing or submitting to an agent). If we seem like a good fit I can offer you a range of editing and pricing options.

    Please note that I specialise in developmental editing and do not offer copyediting or proofreading services. I do give some line editing advice, but only as part of a developmental edit.

    Feel free to check out my services page below.

    Editing services page

    Otherwise, you can check out some of my recent blog posts:

    Narrative devices in Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life

    How editorial feedback changed Interview with the Vampire

    How editorial feedback improved The Great Gatsby

    When publishers drop the ball

    Developmental self-editing checklist

  • When publishers drop the ball

    When publishers drop the ball.
    When publishers drop the ball

    I recently read a domestic noir thriller in which a woman found herself with a new neighbour. The neighbour from hell. A woman out for revenge who wreaks havoc on the main character and her group of friends. I’m not going to name the book or the author because this blog is not meant to target them. Instead, I wanted to examine some of the issues in the novel that should have been picked up by a developmental editor. Because this is one example of what happens when publishers drop the ball and don’t do their job.

    Since this novel had a mainstream publishing house, I’m assuming she had some level of editorial feedback regarding the story. But I also know, from reading a recent summary of a writing event, that editors and agents are finding themselves stretched. Inevitably, this will impact what happens to the books they promote.

    The book in question has a good premise. It was also obvious to me that it might be the kind of book that would appeal to the likes of reading groups. This would definitely be in the author’s favour.

    The problems were located in a number of areas:

    • rotating points of view that were not always clearly marked, leaving me a bit confused as to who I was following, and on consulting Goodreads I found out I wasn’t the only one
    • a main character who clearly felt she was drugged at some point, but never attempted to get herself tested
    • a main character who felt someone was breaking into her house regularly, yet she never got the locks changed
    • likewise, the MC did not attempt to leave any kind of surveillance device to catch the intruder on camera
    • when she finally gets a pair of bolts for her door, she finds she doesn’t have the right drill bit, so the bolts are not put on. Her house is still open to the intruder (who makes use of this) because there is no other attempt to keep the neighbour out
    • the MC’s best friend visits and is spooked by the antagonist, feels she’s seen the woman before, and promises to investigate when she returns to London. Then she never contacts the MC again. The MC texts her over and over, but doesn’t bother to call her work place to see if she’s okay, or even travel to London to find out. The woman is dead, but it’s a while before it’s revealed
    • the MC worked out the antagonist’s game (though not the motives), yet doesn’t turn the tables on her. Had she done so, it could have led to a pivot against the antagonist, where the MC briefly gains the upper hand and the antagonist is forced to up their game. This in turn would push up the stakes
    • once the MC realises the antagonist has killed her friend, and tried to kill someone else, she still takes pity on the antagonist at a key moment, thinking she’s just lonely, at which point the antagonist knocks her over the head and almost burns her to death. I had pretty much lost all sympathy for the protagonist at this point and thought she deserved whatever fate was coming to her
    • the MC’s character arc was extremely unsatisfying
    • the ending is also extremely unsatisfying
    • the MC’s friends are also (for reasons that are not entirely clear) targets for revenge, but since they don’t consult with each other, the shaky plot wagon rolls on

    In fact, there were more problems than those listed above. The main character was extremely passive and even ended up thinking she somehow deserved the neighbour’s revenge. This was clearly not true. Meanwhile the neighbour’s motives were a complete let down.

    Many reviewers on Goodreads were in agreement. They also pointed out that the book was longer than it needed to be, there were boring bits, and none of the characters were likeable.

    I did indeed feel that there was no one to like, other than the dog.

    Yet the publisher had majorly hyped the book on the cover, making claims it could not live up to. Something that some of the reviewers also pointed out.

    A decent developmental editor could have flagged these issues, encouraging the writer to develop a better motive for revenge on the part of the antagonist, cut out the unnecessary scenes and chapters, better flag up who the viewpoint character is at any one time, and address the passivity and general cluelessness of the MC.

    None of this would have meant completely changing the book either. It would have led to a tighter plot, with faster pacing, and a more credible protagonist and antagonist.

    No one in their right mind would notice their house was regularly being entered without changing the locks. Especially if they know the neighbour once had their keys.

    The novel’s plot rested on a lack of psychological credibility and character cluelessness. The antagonist is not an especially clever person, so it was hard to see how she managed to know so much about what everyone was getting up to – which she could later reveal out of revenge.

    The plot rested on weak decisions, massive holes, and a rotating viewpoint that possibly helped divert attention from the problems at times. There were genuinely gripping points in the book, which is why it was ultimately a let down. None of it was necessary. This was a debut novel and the writer would have benefited from a developmental editor who could have walked them through the weaknesses so they could have eliminated them one by one.

    Having said that, some readers have given the novel four or five stars. But it was the one to three star reviewers who really summed up my own observations.

    As to the exact nature of the edit that would have improved things – even a manuscript critique would have listed the issues and pointed out what to do about them. A developmental edit would have included margin comments next to the relevant parts of the novel.

    The writer’s book was certainly good enough to get a publisher. But the publisher didn’t do the necessary work. And that wasn’t fair to the author, the book or its readers. But if editors are stretched, it’s not surprising that this can happen.


    Are you an author looking for feedback on your novel? Are you concerned about plot holes, lack of character credibility, confusing viewpoints, or a weak ending? You can check out my services page below. I offer opening chapters edits for those who want a chunk of their novel edited for an affordable price. Otherwise, you can opt for a manuscript critique or a full developmental edit.

    Developmental Fiction Editing Services – IndieCat Editorial

  • Too much period language in a historical novel?

    Blog image for 'Too much period language in a historical novel?'
    Too much period language in a historical novel?

    Too much period language in a historical novel?

    I was recently in the mood to read some historical fiction and decided to pick an indie novel. The blurb sounded fun and I looked forward to spending hours and hours in another period. As per usual, I started with a Kindle sample.

    And that’s as far as I got.

    In fact, I didn’t even get to the end of the sample.

    I gave up.

    So, what was the problem? To be honest, there were numerous problems. Some are simply related to the lack of a good editor – or any editor. Because I suspect this book never saw an editor.

    But that was not the biggest issue.

    No, the biggest issue was the language. Or rather, the saturated archaic language meant to evoke the period.

    The problems with syntax, grammar, and shifting tenses only added to the difficult prose.

    So, let’s talk about using period language in historical fiction. What can possibly go wrong? And should you use it? And is there such a thing as too much period language in a historical novel?

    An unfamiliar language

    The biggest issue is that modern readers are simply not familiar with this language. A writer might feel impatient at the unwillingness of modern readers to wade through overtly archaic language. But bear with me…

    For people of a particular period – say, Shakespeare’s time – the language used back then would be clear and transparent. It would not be confusing. It would be their own way of speaking – depending on class and education obviously.

    They would not notice anything strange or elaborate about their way of writing and speaking. It would be the norm.

    It would be as clear and transparent as a pane of glass.

    But, to our modern ears, it sounds like a different form of English… With a higher number of obsolete or strange words. Some words would be recognisable but possibly spelled differently. Or they might now appear in a slightly different form.

    If people from Shakespeare’s time were to teleport to the present and listen to us talk, we too would be hard to understand. Yes, people can acclimatise to speech and new words. But it’s hard work.

    And a novel isn’t meant to be hard work. At least, not when it’s a genre novel.

    But the point I was making above about period language being normal and easily understood within its time is important. When you use modern language, you might think it doesn’t sound right. But using the reader’s language, with some period words sprinkled here and there, is the easiest way to convey the period. (Along with actual descriptions of locations, events, mores, and so on.)

    Because to the people of Shakespeare’s time, their language was normal. It wasn’t a novelty or colourful or rich.

    Therefore, it doesn’t work to replicate the language of that time. Because we can never experience it as anything other than outsiders. Readers are like time travellers. They travel back and they immerse themselves in the period. But if they don’t have the natural language of the period, it’s going to be difficult. They will always be that modern person trying to fit in and never quite succeeding.

    To experience the period more accurately, it’s best to remove as many linguistic barriers as possible.

    Other ways to convey period language

    You don’t need to drop all period language. It’s a matter of density. Overuse makes the story harder to read and a modern writer is never going to write as fluently as a writer from the original period.

    In fact, a modern writer can make a big old mess of period language precisely because they are not and never will be fluent in the language. They don’t use it every day, speak it to their family, think in it, write in it, and hear it from their neighbours.

    A modern writer can unwittingly fall into pastiche or parody.

    It’s far better to read a lot of material from the period and listen to the rhythm of the language. Choose some words to use, but try to make your prose as transparent as possible. You should aim to give a flavour of the period.

    To go beyond that means alienating readers who might otherwise have bought your work.

    The language is the medium through which a story is delivered. So, the question is this – what should the writer’s priority be? Telling the story and introducing the reader to the characters? Or injecting a strong sense of the period through the language? You might try both and do a good job, but it’s a difficult balance.

    Get a good line editor

    If you’re going to attempt to write in the language of the period, you cannot skimp on a good line editor.

    Why?

    Because if you set up one difficult hurdle for the reader – obscure language – you can’t afford to have additional problems with grammar, punctuation, tenses, etc.

    All books will have some errors in them. The fewer the better. However, the more errors there are, the more times readers trip up.

    Here are just some of the problems you don’t want to be mixing in with overtly archaic language:

    • One long and convoluted sentence after another – this not only drags the pace, but it taxes the modern attention span
    • Grammatically incorrect sentences that force the reader to back up and read them again as they try to unpick the meaning (made worse by too much archaic language)
    • Meandering tenses

    I would also suggest being careful with overly long paragraphs. Especially if you have rather a lot of them. They can drag the pace down. They can also be more taxing on the eye, requiring visual scanning across one long line after another. Again, throw in too many strange words on top of this and a modern reader might balk.

    Having said all that, some readers do like a lot of period language – especially if they have some knowledge of the period to start with. But it’s worth considering the downsides and offset some of the cons by ensuring your book is edited well.

    Do you have a historical novel in need of a critique?

    One of my developmental editing services is an opening chapters edit. Contact me for a quote since you can opt for a custom word count. This developmental edit is detailed. It includes an editorial letter, plus track commenting in the margins of your manuscript. I read your manuscript several times, which allows me to dig deeper into the writing, characterisation, and plot. I’m also available for follow-up email feedback. You can email me at karen@indiecateditorial.com.

    Other IndieCat Blog posts

    Historical fiction as a time machine

    Review of historical epic, A Place of Greater Safety

    Social media blockers

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters

  • 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    So, you want to publish your novel yourself. Here are 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    Reason #1: Your novel is perfect as it is

    Yeah, umm… probably not. Next…

    Reason #2: Your mother loved it. LOVED it

    Is your mother an editor? If she is, does she have the objectivity to be honest with you? Or might she worry that being honest will wreck your relationship?!

    Reason #3: Your best friend promised to give you feedback

    There’s nothing wrong with getting a friend to read your book. BUT, if they’re doing it as a favour, you have to wait until they’re ready. When they made that promise, they never factored in the length of the book, how long it would take them, or their own confidence in their critical skills.

    In fact, once it lands in their inbox, they might well procrastinate until the cows come home.

    Likewise, beta readers often vanish, don’t bother to respond, or fail to give sufficient feedback. If you have good beta readers, they are worth a lot. But they’re not editors and once you’ve ironed out their concerns, that takes you to the next level.

    The next level involves technical issues like structure, point of view, head hopping, show versus tell, and a whole bunch of other things.

    There are so many balls to juggle when you’re writing. Did you drop any?

    Did the beta readers or your pal notice that someone exited stage right on page 83, never to be seen again, even though they kind of seemed like an important secondary character?

    Reason #4: Editing is a waste of money

    Here’s the thing, if you’ve written a novel, you’ve already put a huuuugeee amount of time into it.

    And time, as they say, is money. You could have made other choices on how to spend your time. For example, you could have set up a side hustle. But you decided to write a book instead.

    So, you have invested a lot of time, energy, thought, ambition, and hope in your work.

    Why?

    Do you hope people will buy it? This means putting it into the marketplace where it has to compete with other books. Potential readers can download a Kindle sample and check it out. If there are problems with the opening chapters, they will bail out.

    If you don’t mean to send it off to an agent or publish yourself then it’s true you don’t need an editor. There is one exception – if you want to do better next time. Then it might be worth investing in professional feedback to take your skills to the next level.

    Then again, you could save money and join a good writing group.

    Reason #5: I’m shelling out for a book cover. What more do I want?

    Bad covers can kill reader interest. Good covers still need good content.

    Imagine a reader excited by the cover art, the genre, the blurb, only to give up before they get to the end of the first chapter.

    Maybe your story fails to start, the characters are boring, or your worldbuilding is taking over the book.

    Maybe your story is just plain boring, and they want to throw the book at the wall.

    As a developmental editor, I’ve had indie authors come to me after their book has been published, so I can fix their mistakes. So, they still needed an edit after all.

    Reason #6: I’m only doing this as a hobby

    And that’s fine. Some people genuinely don’t care if anyone reads their book.

    For some people, writing a book is on their bucket list, and once it’s done, it’s over. In which case, you might well choose to skip editing.

    But if you’re hoping that book gets some readers, it’s probably best to get some input.

    Reason #7: You don’t need to spend money to publish a book these days

    It’s true you can skip editing, design your own cover, do your own marketing, and so on. You might have a free blog you can use and you have Twitter and Facebook for promotion.

    But, here’s the thing, so do loads of other people. Thousands upon thousands of them.

    Have you ever hung around the #writerslift hashtag on Twitter? So many people promoting their books in the desperate hope that they’ll grab a few more readers.

    Often they’re promoting to other writers who don’t necessarily have the time to buy or read all those books.

    You need to appeal more to readers.

    Yes, readers can also be writers. But whoever you promote to, things like cover design, genre, plot, and sample opening pages will be the deciding factor for a lot of people.

    To beat the competition, your book needs to be polished, and that includes editing.

    Reason #8: Your novel is a staggering work of genius already. Who needs an edit?

    Who indeed? Well, you, actually. No one writes a genius novel, perfectly polished, no flabby bits, plot holes, saggy middles, or weak endings. No head hopping.

    Oh wait, was the head hopping deliberate? Like a stylistic choice?

    Uh-huh.

    Reason #9: Some mate on Twitter says you don’t need an editor and they’ve never used one

    Did your mate do well with their own book? Might they have had an unfortunate encounter with an editor? Perhaps they’re still gnashing their teeth over negative feedback and now they have an axe to grind.

    Some people do display a strange amount of anger towards editors. It’s almost as if they think editors are out to get them, destroy their cherished dreams, murder their first-born child (their book).

    In reality, most editors get into this business because they love reading and they love books. They feel passionately about helping writers become better authors. They want to see their clients do well.

    Still, there’s no law that says you need an editor.

    The truth is, for indie authors, you can do what you want. You can choose where to focus your attention – marketing, cover art and design, the various levels of editing, etc.

    There’s no doubt that addressing everything comes with a price tag attached. A price you don’t have to pay when you have a traditional publisher to cover the costs for you. So, compromises may have to be made. Corners cut.

    It might come down to leaving out a round of editing or relying on beta readers to try and pick up your developmental issues.

    If you see indie publishing as a business, then you will definitely come to understand the costs of doing business.

    In business, it’s normal to hire contractors. In serious indie publishing, it’s no different. Budgeting for this is a topic for another day.

    So there you have it, 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    But if you are looking for a developmental editor, you can check out my post on the difference between a developmental edit and a manuscript critique.