Tuesday 17 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Fred Nolan

Our next Guest Author is Fred Nolan, who gave me a really in depth look at his editing process. 

Fred Nolan is a speculative fiction writer from Texas. He has published short stories, technical construction articles and one novel, (Alexei and the Second Empress, with Emery Press Books). He lives near McKinney with his wife, children and old retriever.

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

I’ve only ever answered one call for a pitch, and it was rejected, so I might not be the right one to answer this. I sense that, these days, the more you can write and polish before having the agent or publisher look at it, the better.

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

I could never send a first draft, mine are too sloppy and overwrought. And as far as the number of drafts go, “several” is an understatement.

For novels, what I normally do is finish the first draft and immediately start working on known issues. For example, if I moved the main character’s home from the beach to the mountains, I’d start making changes and deletions with key word searches, for example sand, waves, and seagulls.

When the known issues are done, I let the book age. Unless you have a deadline, you shouldn’t look at it for at least a month. Three months is probably best. The idea is to let the writer’s natural defensiveness wear off, and, in time, be able to read the book like a reader.

After it ages, I do my first major read-through to get a feel for what I have, and look for major cuts. There’s no use in revising a paragraph until it shines if I’m just going to cut it.

The second read-through is for gathering a to-do list. I’ll identify crutch words, patterns in punctuation, look for issues with chronology, voice and so on. If changes occur to me I’ll make them on the spot, but this is more for finding global issues. Here’s a notable example: with my book’s early drafts, I leaned very heavily on conjunctions. That’s a pretty deep hole to climb out of, when you have to fix your sentences down to the DNA.

During this phase, if I find, for instance, six major things that need work, I’ll go through one at a time, six times in all, fixing only one issue at a time. Of course, there aren’t six things, there are usually one or two dozen.

By this point you’ll have a true mess on your hands. The book is still a first draft, but with a bunch of craters where you’ve made large cuts, and removed all your crutch words. This is, by all means, the worst of all the drafts. Time to polish.

What I do is go through a sentence at a time, modifying the book like an optometrist: “Better A? Better B?  Better A or C?” After any change at all I go back and start reading from the last paragraph break. This is back-crushing work, and you fall out of love with the book pretty quickly this way. But that is a feature, not a bug. Once you’re tired of the book, it’s easier to cut paragraphs, move things around, put characters through more trauma, and so on.

By now I’m easily a month into revisions, if not two months, and not including the month I let the book age. Once I think the book is ready for beta readers I sign myself up first. I’ll read in a non-modifiable format at least twice, and try to get through the book without changing a thing. That never works, so those two readings become at least three.

The last reading is out loud. There is nothing quite like hearing a work you believe to be finished.

For those not in a hurry can I suggest letting it age for three months a second time? If you do that, you’ll still find things you that need changing. I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

I’ve never had a publisher suggest major changes, knock on wood. It bears mention, I’d rather a publisher suggest major changes than simply reject the submission. I believe that happened once with a short story submission.

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher? 

If I limit my answer to novels, I’ve only published with Emery Press Books. Wendy’s edits were much less invasive than mine. I will say, she found misspelled words in three different languages (English, French and German) and she had some historical perspective on Imperial Russia that I didn’t have. But generally her remarks tended more toward proofreading and layout, and less toward developmental editing.

 How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? 

Once. I answer this question more fully below, but I try not to bicker with a publisher about edits.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? 

With eight published works—one novel and seven short stories—I don’t think I’ve ever refused an edit. Negotiated, yes. Refused, no. I am the one being paid therefore the editor is my customer. We’ve all heard the saying that the customer is always right, and I suppose I’m old school in that regard. I believe my most aggressively-edited story was my most recent (Junk Mint, with The Gateway Review). The best advice I can offer is smile and nod.

When I say negotiated one specific example comes to mind. Wendy preferred a more conventional approach to numbers: numerals for ten and up, spelled-out words for anything less than ten. But I hate it when I see prose that reads: “By the age of nine, John owned 10 dogs.” I asked her to reconsider for all numbers to be spelled out, within reason, i.e. “By the age of nine, John owned ten dogs.” She agreed, but if she hadn’t I would not have insisted.

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

I’m glad you followed up with this question. Yes, I do, every time. When someone else changes my work, it is agony.

Even more than that, I cannot stand one-star reviews, lukewarm praise, poor book sales and promotional videos with no views. It’s always said that writers need to have thick skin but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re the ones with the souls made of glass; you don’t want a salty old ship captain writing books, you want to leave writing to the poets. 

So be professional, be cordial, try to answer every email within two days. Do your research: make sure you know the editor’s name, manuscript wish list, preferred pronouns and form of address. That professionalism should extend to the editing phase, too, but by all means hold on to your passion. In short, don’t listen if someone tells you to develop thick skin. That is the opposite of what you should do.

Interesting. Thank you for taking part.

For more details about Fred's works, you can visit his website. 

These are the final days of the tsars and Alexei Shafirov, an infirm skeptic, is bedridden after a fall. Throughout the long recovery his loved ones speak to him of fables, uprisings and a royal family under house detention. At the heart of their stories is Alexei Romanov, the heir apparent. Like him, the Romanov boy is a hemophiliac, near the center of a decades-old political cabal. Both children are prone to mischief, self-indulgence and illness. But some insist their connection runs deeper than that.

Alexei and the Second Empress is an account of the end of Imperial Russian, told in equal measures fairy tale and cruel realism. It is a story of opulence, folklore, addiction and secrets. And the most profound of those may not come to light without a price.

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