Since joining goodreads.com in 2012, I have been asked several times to review books by self-published authors. I refrain from doing so often, as I am a severely critical reader, and I know this about myself. This of course, can be attributed to all my years teaching writing to high school students. That being said, I must say I admire the courage of writers to pursue self-publication. But in the reading of these self-published works, I have come to an even greater appreciation for the need of an editor’s eye. Even without a publisher, a reliable and well-practiced content editor and a seasoned copy-editor are a must for any author, self-published or not.
An editor is the most essential contributor of any good book. An editor gives you a wide overview of the many flaws outlining your story. My content editor tells me when things aren’t working for her as a reader. In the beginning years of my writing career, I was so anxious to tell my story, one fact at a time, that the entire premise fell severely short. Through her critiques, my editor taught me how to story-build. Readers want to “live” the story, and to do this, three distinct aspects must be present:
1) You must allow your characters to live out their stories. You must give them a moment to sit back and feel what is happening to them and to contemplate why. When you allow the characters to experience the unfolding events, the story tells itself without much of your own input. You just follow the character where he/she leads you. Sometimes, I don’t know where my story is going until I get there. Experience is the beauty of story-telling. Your characters should be as real to you as your own children, your siblings, your friends. Sometimes, if you write in first person as I do, you must become the character and see the events unfolding through the eyes of your creation. When you do this, your audience will also see this world you are attempting to build. And this is your greatest achievement.
2) You must develop strong characters, especially your main character. Essential characters must be well-rounded, fleshed out, real people. There are many techniques you can apply to cause this effect. Descriptions are always a good start, as long as you don’t describe every single bit of a person’s character in one paragraph. Instead, feed your audience the character’s attributes one scene at a time. Developing a distinct and consistent personality for your character is a must. In this way, your readers will know this person thoroughly. Another technique is through dialogue between characters. When two people in your novel have meaningful, heart to heart conversations (i.e. Edward and Bella in Twilight), you are going to not only build strong characters, but steal the hearts of your audience.
3)Lastly, your setting must be viewed as a character, and so you must consider many things. What is the weather doing in a particular scene? How is the lighting? My latest novel is set in a primitive village years after a devastating world war. My village has a definite personality, something my editor demanded. I built this world in several ways: through the daily routines of the women, through description, through dialogue; through action and events that characterized the traits of the people. When I finally grasped this concept, my world, my characters, my story took on a life of its own. And I was just along for the ride.
I will admit my editor isn’t always nice in her criticism. Sometimes she tears complete chapters apart until I’m in tears trying to unravel the strings of her rips and snags. But then, I put my big girl panties on and I get to work, determined to make her love my next draft. And you know what? She usually does. It’s far better to receive criticism before you’re published than to receive a bad review afterwards. I am not complaining.