If you must self-edit

Harper BlissToday we’ve invited Harper Bliss (the naughtiest member of the LadyLit family) to share her self-editing process. Mainly because erotica must be the worst edited genre out there, and also because, these days, people seem to think they can write down their favourite sexual fantasies, upload a poorly formatted word document, slap a picture of a half-naked woman on the cover, and wait for the money to roll in. (Maybe they’ll make a few bucks, but it’s hardly the basis for a sustainable career in writing.)

Amazon is flooded by atrocious erotic e-books crawling with spelling and grammar mistakes, giving self-publishing in general a really bad name. The main reason to not use a professional editor is, of course, money. Today’s post is not meant to promote self-editing, but, hey, we all know it happens. So, if you’re going to do it, at least try and do it right.

We’ve asked Harper to break down her self-editing process from first draft to submitting a manuscript.

1. First, I write. That’s the easy part. Usually when I’m writing, I don’t edit. I try to get the story out without looking back. Of course, I write stories of no longer than 10.000 words so there are usually no big continuity issues to deal with. After I’ve finished the first, very rough draft, I go over it and eliminate the most glaring mistakes.

2. I wait. I don’t mean I sit around twiddling my thumbs. I just focus on something else than the story. I usually start another story or have a previous one to work on. I try to give it a week before going back to the first draft, but whatever’s long enough to get your mind off it is fine.

3. This is where the real work begins. I go over the story and basically edit and re-write it until I can live with it. Here’s a very good checklist on editing drafted by the mighty Selena Kitt. It’s meant for editors of stories on Literotica, but I believe everyone can benefit from it. After a while, you’ll find these things will become part of your routine and you’ll automatically implement them.

4. The next step is reading my story out loud. This is excellent for catching forgotten words and spelling and grammar mistakes. Of course, reading erotica out loud can be a bit daunting, which is why I use Scrivener’s built-in speech tool. The voice is a metallic computer voice, but it works fine. I check if the words flow well and keep my ears open for clunky sentences.

5. By this time I usually get very chuffed about my story, only to have my hopes dashed in the next step. I read it away from the computer. I used to print my story and scribble in the margins, but now I just send it to my iPad and read it on the Kindle app. It allows me to make notes I can actually still read afterwards. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you’re away from your computer screen.

6. At last, it’s time to share the magic. It’s not for everyone to see yet, though. This is where the ‘first reader’ comes into play. This can be your wife, your best friend, your badminton partner, whoever really, as long as they can give you an honest opinion (and speak your language.) However, this is not the time for harsh criticism yet. Your first reader is someone you have a personal relationship with and they will usually sugarcoat things for you a little. Don’t worry though, that’s why we have beta-readers.

7. Before sending the story  to my beta-readers, I accept or reject the changes my first reader suggested and then send the story to my Kindle. I like to read it on different devices, but if you only have one, paper will do. Making notes on the Kindle is not easy though (not on mine, anyway), so I keep a notebook and jot down what I want to change.

8. Beta-readers. The life-blood of self-publishing. I’ve been working on a lengthy ode singing the praises of these wonderful creatures who invest their time (always a precious thing) in reading our stories. I worship my beta-readers, but, because of the nature of our relationship, I have to keep my distance. I’m the first to admit it’s not easy to find good beta-readers (and I’m always looking for more), but they are out there. On forums, Yahoo groups, blogs… the internet is your friend. (Here’s a very informative blog post on finding beta-readers.) Find them, befriend them and be nice to them for the rest of your life.

9. The last step is accepting or rejecting my beta-readers’s comments. Ideally, this would be your process before either submitting your manuscript to your publisher or sending it to your professional editor. Either way, if you must self-edit, do yourself, and especially your readers, a big favour by not writing something on Monday and publishing it on Tuesday. And NEVER publish something that has not been read by at least one person who is not your mother, spouse or another extended family member. Never.

Happy editing!

PS Only a few hours left to get all of Harper Bliss’ books for the rock bottom price of $0.99!

The tools of our trade

I’ll be wearing my writer’s hat today, while disclosing which apps are completely indispensable to me. They’re not all free, but more than worth their money.

1. Scrivener

My absolute number one piece of software. Without wanting to sound too dramatic (but I know I will), Scrivener changed my life. Word or Write or any other word processing programme, is not built for writing—Scrivener is. Long gone are those horrendous days of endlessly scrolling through a fifty-page Word document looking for that scene I wanted to paste right after a new one I just added.

Scrivener is perfect for complex documents, which most multiple draft novels are. Every scene gets its own document that you can drag and drop where you like. It may sound like a small feat, but let me tell you, the effect is enormous. Even the most messy, erratic writers (ahum) can find their way through their manuscript with Scrivener, because it’s so straightforward and easy to use.

No doubt, Scrivener has plenty of other features, but the orderliness it creates in your writing is the most important to me. Simply put, it just makes it the easiest it can be and eliminates the grievance of dealing with long blocks of text.

What’s more is, that with a few clicks, you can produce impeccable e-books in both mobi and epub-format, thus catering to most devices.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Scrivener and I even believe that, as a serious self-publisher, you can’t really afford to ignore it (unless you like messy drafts and find romance in waiting for Word to boot up.)

Scrivener is available from Literature and Latte for $45. You can try it for free for 30 days and they have both a Mac and Windows version.

2. Dropbox (or any other online back-up system)

True story. I had just finished the first draft of a manuscript when I spilled juice on my Mac, crashing its hard drive. There’s no need to tell you this was the worst day of my writing career. I had slaved and sweated over that manuscript (and I also loved my Mac dearly) and now it was gone. Well, of course it wasn’t really gone, because that’s the moral of this story. I had it back-upped all over the ‘cloud’. What makes Dropbox so ideal though is its seamless integration with Scrivener.

When you create a backup in Scrivener you can choose ‘backup to’ and I have this set to my Dropbox folder, so every time I backup (which I do religiously and way too often, only there is no such thing as too often when it comes to backups) my Scrivener document, it automatically uploads to my Dropbox account online. An account I can access from anywhere/any device I want.

In the end, a technician managed to save my hard drive and I didn’t lose any data, but if I hadn’t had my backups readily available via Dropbox I would have lost a lot of time getting my manuscript ready for its deadline with my editor.

I don’t just rely on one backup service though. I think as a writer my documents are too important not to be paranoid. My main ‘backup of a backup’ is CX which automatically backs up any chosen folder to the ‘cloud’, i.e. you don’t have to do anything, not even click a button.

At the risk of sounding incredibly pedantic: be smart and back up!

Dropbox (2G) and CX (10G) both have free versions.

3. Evernote

I’m not on of those writers who constantly carries around notebooks (even though I have masses of them because people sure do like to give me notebooks). For starters, I can barely read my own handwriting, and, secondly, this is the year 2012. We have smart phones now and tablets and 3G and wifi… and, honestly, when it comes to quickly jotting down ideas, notebooks are being outsmarted by apps.

My favourite app for taking notes is Evernote. When I’m watching American Idol and Jennifer Lopez says something inspiring (it has happened, I swear, or maybe it was just a particularly inspiring dress she was wearing), I type it into the Evernote app on my iPad. It will sync automatically so next time when I’m sitting in front of my computer and check the last synced notes I will be reminded of the comment about J.Lo’s dress and ‘try to do something with it.’

Admittedly, this was a poor example, but imagine this. You’re out walking and an irrestible idea pops into your head. You may have a pen but no paper or vice versa, but what you do have is a smart phone. You open the Evernote app, write it down, and your precious idea is saved for eternity (or until you decide it’s crap and delete it). Now you can go about your business without fretting over possibly forgetting this stroke of genius—and have that extra drink or two.

I have notes for promotional ideas, resource links, to-do lists, checklists, possible titles, everything really… I can search through the notes, I can tag and sort them… and I can no longer live without them.

Evernote is free software.

4. Anti-Social
For most writers, time is the biggest issue. There always seem more important things to do than finishing a manuscript, e.g. raising children or going to work. Then, when you do finally get some time in front of your computer, there’s that damned internet distracting you. Especially Facebook, which needs to be checked right now, and Twitter, because, who knows, maybe your favourite celebrity just tweeted a picture of their cat.

I’m perfectly willing to admit that, when it comes to creativity, the internet is my biggest enemy. Yes, it’s a source of inspiration and without the internet, frankly, I’d be nowhere and Ladylit wouldn’t exist, but oh my, have I wasted hours and hours of time on it. That’s why, before every writing session, I allow myself time to check all the necessary procrastination outlets (KDP sales dashboard, anyone?) and then I start up Anti-Social.

Anti-Social shuts you off from social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, and you can add as many other websites you’re not allowed to waste time on during writing either. The only way around it, is rebooting your computer and really, that’s just silly. You do still have access to other, more helpful sites like Wikipedia or a thesaurus, so it’s very much about killing temptation.

Anti-Social costs $15, which is cheap if you consider the extra words per day you can churn out when you use it. It’s currently only available for Mac, but I’m sure there are Windows equivalents out there.

This is my top 4 of indispensable writing/productivity apps. Please feel free to share yours in the comments.