Hey folks, your host Christina Kaye is here again today bringing you episode 7 of Write your Best book.
I am really excited about today’s episode folks!
We’re going to discuss how to self-edit your manuscript with one of my very favorite literary agents Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberly Cameron Associates.
I actually met Liz in person at a conference several years ago called Killer Nashville. It was like a conference for writers who wrote suspense, thriller, horror, mysteries, things like that. It was a really fun event.
She was actually the first agent I ever cold pitched in person.
I was so nervous when I approached her, you guys! I’d never met her, let alone talked to any real-life literary agent before, but she was so down to earth and approachable.
When my nerves started to get the best of me she smiled and put her hand on my shoulder and told me to relax and pretend I was talking to an old friend and that really helped.
In the end, she requested my full manuscript and it was the first of about 6, I believe, full requests that I got that day. So I really used her to break it in and learn how to do it. She was my guinea pig!
You never forget your first cold pitch people!
Over the past couple of years I have reached out to Liz a few times for this or that and she has always been very gracious, very approachable very helpful.
So, I am super pumped to have her as the very first literary agent on our show.
Now as I mentioned, today we are talking about how to self-edit your manuscript.
But before we begin, I want to make one thing really clear. In no way am I insinuating that you can or should edit your novel without help from a professional ESPECIALLY if you are going to self publish your book. There’s only so much you can do when it comes to self-editing. There’s been studies done that prove that our brains just don’t work that way, and there’s plenty more research out there to suggest that no one can fully edit their own work and catch every single mistake and issue. It’s called brain-mapping. Your brain sees what SHOULD be there, not what is there. So if you are missing a word, your brain is going to fill it in.
That’s just a fact folks.
I can hear you right now shouting at the radio or your phone “Yeah, I can edit my own work, watch me!” Yes. Yeah, you can edit your own work but do not expect it to be ready for publication; until and unless you have a trained, experienced editor to do at least a proofread of your manuscript.
So why can’t you edit your own book? There are a few reasons:
1: You’re too emotionally invested in your own work
You’ve spent countless days, weeks, months or even longer writing your novel and there is no way that we can set aside our emotions well enough to be COMPLETELY unbiased about our own work.
2. Have you ever heard the phrase you can’t see the forest from the trees? Well, it’s like that. Think of those optical illusions you know one of those things from the 90s, where you stare at a bunch of seemingly random dots until you see the image that you want to see.
Well, that’s how your brain works with self-editing. Your brain, as I said earlier, literally fills in the words that should be there, not the words that are there.
Here is a statistic for those of you who love numbers. According to industry standards, even professional editors will miss 5-15% of writing mistakes in the projects they work on. There is no way that you can catch all of your own mistakes if even a trained professional will miss a few.
3. Bad editing leads to bad reviews and low sales. It’s true! I can’t tell you how many bad reviews I have seen on Amazon and Goodreads that site poor editing as the main complaint they had of the book they were reviewing.
I feel for these authors, I really do. Part of me understands the desire to just get the book up there for everyone to see it. Besides, you have worked your tail-end off forever trying to get this book done. But the part of me that’s been doing this for over a decade now knows that it is best to slow down, edit it yourself thoroughly, maybe even use some beta-readers, like we talked about in an earlier episode, then hire a professional editor BEFORE you publish on Amazon or anywhere else.
Okay, since I am sure you have heard enough ranting from me by now, let’s bring in Elizabeth Kracht, author of the Author’s Checklist. she’s a literary agent as I said earlier with Kimberly Cameron and Associates and a freelance editor. She often participates in writers conferences nationally like the one that I met her at and internationally as well.
She lives in Tebron, California.
So we are here today with Elizabeth Kracht from Kimberly Cameron and Associates and welcome to the show. Thank you. Would you like us to call you Elizabeth or Liz? It’s up to you.
EK: Either way is fine.
CK: Ok, I never want to call anyone something they don’t want to be called! So we are going to talk today as I have told my listeners and as you are aware, on self-editing. How to self-edit your manuscript. Why don’t you start first though by telling us more about yourself? We all know you are a successful literary agent, but beyond that you do quite a bit to help authors with their manuscripts, right?
EK: I do, yes I have been an agent with Kimberly Cameron and Associates for almost ten years now I think. And one thing that people may not know about me is that I always wanted to come from the writer’s side. So I actually always wanted to be a published writer. You know I think that we all have maybe had that dream when we were kids you know, “I want to be a writer!” but you realize that you don’t have the breadth of life experience to do that so it’s kind of cart before the horse but when I became an agent I noticed that there was this huge gap between what an author thinks is publish-ready and what agents or an editor does. And because I came from the writer’s side I really wanted to do what I could to help writers to bridge that gap and so I began taking notes on the things that would garner rejections, many of which were actually kind of template mistakes or template things that authors were doing that are easily fixed.
So just sort of keeping taking notes, as a way to maybe in the future help authors bridge the gap toward their dream, you know, getting published. So anyway that’s what birthed the book, the Author’s Checklist that I am putting out. I just really have a soft spot for authors, I know where they want to go and I know I can clearly see the gap between where they want to go and where editors and agents are. And It feels like I was compelled to want to help authors kind of reach across.
CK: As I said earlier in the segment before you came on, that I think of you as one of the most approachable and friendly people in the industry that I’ve had the privilege of meeting. So you do a good job with helping, and you have been very approachable and friendly, so I do thank you for that. And I do want everyone to know that that is very true.
EK: Thank you so much. And I do also do editing and coaching work, too, so I think that’s something that you mentioned, and yes I do freelance work with people to help authors also kind of bridge that gap as well.
CK: Good, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to mention that, I’m glad that you did, because you do provide that as a valuable service to authors as well. So, we will put your information, Liz, in the show notes in case authors want to work with you. We will put your information, your email, whatever you want to include, okay?
EK: Okay, that sounds great.
CK: Okay well as we mentioned today’s topic is self-editing your manuscript so let’s go ahead and dive into that. I know for me personally, I like to edit each chapter after I finish it before moving on to the next. And then I do a full edit, self-edit after I finish. Do you recommend that authors edit as they write or wait until they finish the manuscript? Or do like I do and do both?
EK: I think it really depends on the author cause I think that everyone has a very different approach to how they like to write and what works for them so I think that the most important thing is really to get the story down, actually. And most of the manuscripts that come into my office, most of the submission you know, I have been in the industry long enough that I can gauge how far away they are from being ready and it’s usually about 4 drafts from being ready so for me, kind of like the line edits or the kind of the fixing of the chapter before the whole story is down feels a little premature I guess. But at the same time we are all really different. It’s sort of like when you are at home and your house is a mess and you can’t think you have got to clean it up before you move on. So I think that everybody has a different approach and what’s most important for me and noticing what I have noticed in the industry is objectivity is really making sure that you can step back and increasing your ability to step back and look at your work objectively so that you are getting all of the story mechanics down correctly and all of the elements kind of coming together in a more smooth fashion. But, I mean I think it is okay to kind of approach it whatever way works for you.
CK: So what are your thoughts then when you hear authors say that they want to publish without using an editor? And I’m talking more about the indie authors who are self-publihsing who don’t have the benefit of an agent for whatever reason. How essential are editors, in your opinion, to the publishing process?
EK: For self-published authors, it’s really essential. I mean it is essential enough to the point that you can get an agent or an editor, you know where they can find a publisher. But I think maybe the bar is even higher for self-published authors because they’re doing it all alone! I mean I know that there are exceptions probably out there of one man bands that are amazing. But, for the most part, it is very difficult for authors to be objective about their work, and so the more that they can get- and it’s a process as well. And considering that most manuscripts areprobably 4 drafts away from being ready when they hit my office email inbox, you know if I was an author I would go through probably 4 drafts with an editor because it is a little bit like developing an self-clearing process that refines as it goes along. If I was self-publishing I would absolutely work with someone that is qualified that has worked with published authors before just to get the manuscript to it’s best point possible before publishing. When you’re in the middle of the creative process its very hard to take a step back and see that maybe your character is not reading right. Or maybe a writing tip that you have written over and over again. And maybe somebody that is not so attached to your work can see that very easily, as you know, probably, as an editor.
CK: As an editor, we know this, maybe some authors don’t, there are really are, and I get asked this question a lot, there are actually 2 main types- you can break editing down into several different categories, but mainly there are 2 types of editing. You’ve got content, which is also sometimes called structural, developmental; and then you’ve got the line editing or the copy editing. When it comes to the content, or developmental or structural editing mistakes that you see, what are the most common ones that you see when you are doing your editing? Or even reviewing manuscripts as an agent?
EK: You know it is all, like I said before, probably 99% of what I see come into my inbox is developmental editing is necessary. And so, they’re not at the line-editing stage. For me, line editing comes toward the end, when all the writing ticks have been worked out and all of the structural elements have been solved, and pieces moved around that were served in a better section, that sort of thing. So just to give an example, when I read a manuscript that has been line-edited, and then an author has gone back into that manuscript and written, I can see a difference in what’s in front of me. I can tell, “oh, okay, this is all edited, this is not ”. Cause suddenly there are writing problems, writing ticks, or issues in the writing right there. But in terms of the things that kind of come across my desk, you know, I will see anything from alternating points of view to alternating timelines that are out of sync; I’ll see chapters that are really varied in length and two-page chapters and then a 25-page chapter and neither of them are really working quite the way they need to be; I’ll see manuscripts that are not starting in the right place, like they are not starting where the inciting incident is, the author might be trying to show the character build-up first, or they may be trying to kind of showing the routine of the character first, where they would be better served kind of moving the inciting incident up. I’ve seen you know just general formatting problems, just all sorts of things. Every manuscript is really different, and yet a lot of them suffer the same problems too, you know?
CK: I agree. Especially with the starting in the right place. We talk about that a lot with our clients and even on the podcast we have talked about you have got to start- you know I think everybody feels that desire where they think they have to give us the pretty setting of where she is sitting in the park or whatever- or she’s gotta give us the- how she’s on her way to pick up her kid from soccer practice. That’s just not a good way to start and so I agree with you that bring the inciting incident in sooner, bring us something!
EK: Yea, and there are a number of things that when I start to read a manuscript, just as a submission, I begin immediately asking questions. Do I like this character? Is this character sympathetic to me? Even if they’re a character, you know you know hate to love, are they, you know are the other characters set up in that chapter? What’s the setting like? Do I feel grounded in the story, do I have a sense of where the story is going? Is the inciting incident in here? You know so there is any number- do I like the voice of the character, is the voice over the top? And what is the writing looking like? Do we have a lot of adverbs in here? Are there typos? So you know we are asking right from the start of those first ten pages, you know a number of questions within our own minds. You know, about the status of this first chapter or these couple of pages are.
CK: Ok we are going to take a break really quickly and talk to you about a word processing software I discovered a few years ago. It’s called Scrivener. Many of my clients also use this software, but some of you may not be as familiar. When you’re ready to start writing your book, you essentially have three options: Word, Google Docs and Scrivener. Let me tell you a little bit more about why I personally love Scrivener. It has some amazing features built in that are essential for authors. For example, it remembers where you stopped. Every time you open Scrivener it takes you to where you left off. Pretty cool, right? Also, you can see all the parts of your novel at a glance. The finder feature gives you an overview of your entire manuscript and the structure of your work. Have an idea, but not quite sure that you are ready to add it to your manuscript? Scrivener lets you create the note and store it away for later use. Next, you can import research documents, web pages, links, photos, right into your project so even when you take your laptop on the road you have everything you need. You can also import any writing you already started in another program and you can export your final document to .doc, .pdf, .rtf, or .txt. There are so many features guys! I have only scratched the surface, and Scrivener is about to launch version 3.0 which I am sure will come with even more amazing features. Are you ready for the best part? If you head over to the website now and download Scrivner, the amazing folks at Literature and Latte have agreed to offer my listeners and EXCLUSIVE 20% discount. Simply go to http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener and enter the promo code “BestBook”. That’s all one word BestBook. I’ll also include the link and discount info in the show notes. Now lets get back to Liz.
CK: You mentioned adverbs and as far as line edits, so talk to us from an editing point of view, some common mistakes that you see in authors whether or not they used an editor. Just some common, the most common mistakes that you see as far as grammar and adverb usage, whatever you see mostly.
EK: For me it is mostly the problem is developmental, most of the manuscripts that come in. And so as I work with authors, along the way what I do is- most of these things are fixable- so what I do when I notice line editing is user editing, problems with the prose or where the prose could be sharpened, what I will do is I will give those points in the editorial letter so we can kind of fix them as we go along. But in general we see a lot of adverb use, in terms of cleaning up prose we see a lot of adverb use, filter words are another big thing. I have a whole list of those in my book and those are easily Google-able.
CK: Give us a few examples of filter words
EK: They’re usually kind of associated to the senses. So, “I saw her walk across the room” instead of “she walked across the room”. They basically add a level of filter between the reader and the action that is taking place. And so when you take them out and you restructure that sentence, it’s just more of an immediate experience. So if you are in the point of view of a first-person narrator, and she is telling you what she is seeing or what she is feeling or what she is thinking, it’s sort of redundant because we are already in her point of view. So she doesn’t need to tell us that she is feeling, thinking, seeing, she could just say what’s happening in front of her. So filter words, intensifiers, modifiers, things that are, like you know the word “really” or “very” or “good” you know things like that that don’t actually serve the prose at all. We have a lot of those, you know, dialogue tags are another thing that we suggest that authors try to reduce if they can. But also in terms of improving prose, I always suggest that authors ready poetry. Poets are so interesting because they are working with so few words but they learn and know how to pick the most evocative words and the most beautiful words.
CK: Oh wow I love that point! That’s a good point.
EK: Yea. So word choice is another thing, cause I do see a lot of writers writing that’s very… It’s sort of works, it’s utilitarian in a way, like it tells the story but it doesn’t spark exactly? And so I kind of think that- and what’s so unique is the way that poets kind of work with words to bring out those feelings and those emotions and also for authors really to rely on their own creativity because each one of us are really unique in how we perceive the world around us and things. And to kind of tap into those things and use them in your story telling, I guess.
CK: Okay, great! As an editor and as an agent, what are things all authors should pay more attention to when self-editingt heir manuscript to improve their novels and their chances of finding success either with an agent or through self-publishing.
EK: What I would suggest for authors is to work on looking at their project more objectively. And that means by looking at the end of the individual parts that make up the project, whether it is pacing, dialogue, plot, the prose itself, to really start picking apart the individual pieces of their project and this is exactly kind of what my book is about. Where it’s kind of listed and headings so that people can actually look at all the things of characterization that they should be considering when developing their primary characters and their secondary characters. Or looking at dialogue and by itself and looking at dialogue tags and things that they need to consider when writing out their dialogue. So my feeling is that it is really the objectivity that needs to be kind of developed. The looking at the individual pieces of each project and then working on their revision kind of individually in separate ways like that if they can. Another way that they might, that authors might be able to kind of approach it is that when they are working on dialogue or when they wanna improve their dialogue, to pick up their five favorite books and just look at the dialogue alone. You know a lot of times we get swept into a book and we don’t look at it from a technical perspective, and I think that if they can step back and look at it from a more technical perspective, that will help with the invividual pieces. I know some projects get rejected just based on dialogue alone. And if that’s all that you are getting rejected on, then working on it- yeah- none of these things are hard to fix, but you have to know what the problems are. What the potential for problems are and then you know work on those things individually. You know I think a lot of people get caught up in the line edits sometimes or they get swept up in that chapter and they forgot that they are working on dialogue or on sharpening the prose and so it’s very easy to do, once you get in your revising and editing, it’s very easy to kind of just not separate and sweep through a couple of chapters and realize “oh, I forgot I was working on dialogue” you know, so.
CK: Agreed, that is a good point and everything that you’ve told us has been very helpful. I think the listeners are going to resonate with a lot of this stuff, but is there anything we maybe didn’t go over; any last piece of parting advice that you might have for authors who want to get their manuscript polished and ready to either send to you or polished and ready to publish on their own?
EK: The last piece of advice I guess would be to approach the writing industry like with a beginners mind, basically. As though, you know when I was working on my book I did a lot of research and on different parts of my book and I think of some level, authors and writers we are all kind of nerds on some level and I found myself geeking out on the weirdest things like you know ampersands or prologues or (22:50 inaudible) when you actually look at the history of something like a prologue which is universally cut almost. Every one of them are almost universally cut in the writing industry; you realize, these are literary devices that actually served a purpose at one point. So the more you actually enjoy going down a rabbit hole of prologues or forwards or ampersands or semicolons you know or whatever it is, you really learn a lot and you add to your writers toolkit. You know you are adding to your ability to tell your story even better by knowing more about the industry and the different literary devices that are out there. So I would suggest that authors really just kind of approach it with writing with a beginners mind. There are so many things that are available on Google through a simple search, whether it’s show versus tell or you know developing better characters, things like that it’s really worth the time to kind of go down those roads once in a while. I really enjoyed that when I was working on my book. And then the other thing that I would suggest for authors is to be grateful for the feedback that they get from the industry. The industry is really small. Be grateful for that consensus feedback that comes back that tells you something about your work and be flexible. You know this industry is very small so you never know. We met in Nashville and look at how many years later look we are here doing a podcast together and working together on some level. So you just never know how things are going to come back around. And there are some really good examples of that in the industry. So I think it’s really important that authors be kind of open and flexible and also believe in magic cause you never know how it’s going to hit .
CK: Oh, I like that!
EK: It may not happen the way you think it’s going to be, in this very linear “I’m going to get an agent”. It may happen that you meet someone at a conference or you meet someone somewhere in an elevator, whatever, you just have to do it. You don’t know how it’s going to happen and it can happen in a seemingly backwards way for you. Just to kind of keep the faith and keep believing in magic and keep at it.
CK: What a great way to round out the podcast, I love that! Believe in the magic and keep the faith! So well thank you Elizabeth so much for joining us today! It has been a pleasure to have you on, and I think we have all learned, even myself, learned a little bit- learned a lot more today so thanks again for coming on the show!
EK: Thank you so much!