Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Guest Blog: Helen Hollick "Tossed Heads and Dropped Eyes"

Today I am thrilled to welcome Helen Hollick to my blog, with a guest post about how editing can still help the self-published author.

Tossed Heads and Dropped Eyes

I have recently had the mammoth task of re-editing all eight of my novels. It’s a task I don’t particularly want to do again in a hurry – especially as four of them I am having to re-edit twice over, and one I had to cut by 40,000 words.

Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy the editing process once that first draft is finally completed. The pleasure of turning the rough lump of rock into a polished diamond is rewarding, but believe me, one novel at a time is a bit more manageable.

The first re-edit was completed for Sourcebooks Inc in America. They scanned my files which then had to be re-checked because scanning tends to corrupt some of the text: rn becomes m for one thing. My big problem was that I had quite severe cataracts, then my elderly Mum was taken ill (she passed away in hospital) and I had somehow managed to tear a muscle in my thigh – which laid me up in bed for over a month in agony. All of which did not aid the editing process.

The originals were published several years ago and had dreadful typos I gave up counting after 360 in one book: words like ‘bread-stubbled chin’ (beard-stubbled) and Anglican Thegn instead of Anglian. I assure you that is not how I wrote the manuscript, they crept in at typesetting stage (in the days before electronic formatting!)

The one I had to dramatically cut was a challenge (A Hollow Crown – which is the UK title, the cut version is the US edition, The Forever Queen .)

At first I panicked. How could I possibly cut so much? But once I got stuck in I enjoyed the experience – deleting whole chapters of what was basically “off stage” story because, well to be honest, they weren’t needed. A paragraph was quite sufficient. I must have managed the job all right, because the novel recently edged into the USA Today best seller list.

So why two edits?

In February of this year, my UK small independent publisher went belly-up, Bust. Out of Print. Again being honest, it wasn’t a very good publishing house anyway – but they had taken my UK backlist after William Heinemann had decided to drop publication. At least I was still with a mainstream imprint. But then, if the books are rarely in print for various reasons, what use is being mainstream? Then the financial crunch came; I terminated the contract and found an assisted publishing company. I figured that to go “self published” I could ensure my books remained in print and I would have control over them. It’s a decision I have not regretted: SilverWood Books have produced some beautiful UK editions for me.

The problem? Said financial belly-up of previous UK publisher meant I could not have any returned files to me. All I had were the PDF US copies or old files. All final versions were either unobtainable or unusable.

So back to the editing process.

I cannot emphasise enough – especially to self published authors – how very important the editing process is. No author can spot their own errors.
Wer you awre that redng is prfctly possble evn whn wrds ar crzly mixd up or wthut vwls? The brain sorts the muddle out, which is why tpyos get missed.
But an editor is not necessary just for punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors. The professional eye can spot the technical bloopers; point out the “tell” not “show” bits. The head hopping between characters, too much author’s voice, the jolt of an anachronism. (It really doesn’t sound right to have “like a rabbit caught in the headlights” in a book set in the 12th century)

And then there are the disembodied limbs. I had no idea there were so many in my older work, written originally about 18 years ago, but going through the files my present editor, has picked them up.

‘Them’ being dropped feet, hands, heads and eyes.

The thing is, to say aloud ‘he fixed his eyes on her face’ is okay, but when reading it in print….? Now that my editor has pointed all this out, I get an immediate picture of a man plucking his eye out and sticking it on his girlfriend’s cheek. Or the eyes ‘ran round the room’ – quick, someone catch them! And a howler in one of my books: “He tossed his head towards the fire.” I’m laughing now, but with a bit of a red face too!

We all know what is meant by “he shrugged and dropped his hands to his side,” Or “put his hand into his pocket” – but once you are aware of how crazy these all sound, they leap out at you. How to get round it? She shrugged, he gazed at her, glanced around the room, stared at her eyes.... although not all are easy to overcome. Dropped his feet to the floor, for instance. Set his feet to the floor is just as bad, put his feet on the floor? Some things you just have to let go and write it - and tell yourself you are not going to get paranoid about disembodied limbs.

She put her hand in her pocket, dropped her feet to the floor and with her head hanging locked her eyes on the door and left.

Thanks so much Helen!

If you want to know more about Helen, then here are some links:

Main Website
Muse and Views Blog

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the chance to be a guest Amanda. I think you might be back in the UK now after your holiday. Hope you had a great time - welcome home!