Meghan Pinson, founder of My Two Cents Editing, outlined a comprehensive plan for taking a novel from the first draft to a finished manuscript at the Guild’s Feb. 3 meeting in a talk entitled “Novel Revision 101: DIY and Collaborative Revision.”
“It’s fine to write a terrible first draft...lots of people do that and turn it into a beautiful novel by the tenth or fifteenth draft,” she said. But the first step is to finish your first draft. “And don’t show it to people before you’re really finished.”
Then, she advised, let it sit for at least a month or two so you can forget how the story came out of your head. You want it to feel like someone else wrote it so you’ll be objective when you begin to edit.
ResearchWhenever you’re not actually writing or revising, she suggested that you:
- Research characters, settings, or occupations
- Investigate target markets
- Make a list of books on the shelf where your book would appear
- Make a list of authors/titles/books that inspired you to write this one
- Create a reading list of books with similar elements to yours (e.g. set in Montana), then study how description, point of view, etc., is used in those
- Pull every book on writing craft that looks good to you in the bookstore or library , then skim them to find your favorites. Most books on craft tend to deliver the same advice from different angles, so find the ones that speak your language.
Some of Meghan’s favorites include:
- James Scott Bell, Plot and Structure; How to Write Dazzling Dialogue
- Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
- Robert McKee, STORY
- Raymond Obstfeld, Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes
- Linda Seger, Creating Unforgettable Characters
“When you begin revision, read your draft all the way through in as few settings as possible, making scant notes,” Meghan said. “See if you can figure out where it gets boring, and determine what’s going on there.” When you’ve done as many revisions as you can, then you’re ready to seek outside advice.
“You cannot fix everything, and no one person can ever find everything,” she said. “This is where critique groups, beta readers, and professional editors are helpful. When you’re ready for external feedback from other writers and readers, the easiest route is the most expensive one, and the toughest one is the most time intensive. In the middle are beta readers.”
Meghan says the best beta readers read widely in your genre and are drawn to your book organically. “Leave your relationships out of your writing process” by finding betas on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. You can seek betas at any point in the process and ask them to do anything from catching plot holes to finding the last typos. This is a great chance to lasso early reviews before publication, too.
Give prospective betas a brief book description, the word or page count, and your cover (if you have it), and ask for honest feedback on your unpublished novel. Ask whether they prefer copies, Word docs, or ebooks; you can use Calibre to prepare a rough, free ebook. “Give them a timeline, then double it,” Meghan said. “If you want comments back within a month, tell them they’re due in two weeks.”
One interesting thing to find out is where beta readers stopped reading. “It’s very useful to know, although it hurts. It will be way down the line from where an agent would stop reading because betas feel a sense of obligation.”
You should provide a set of questions to guide your betas’ responses. “Hopefully, you will get three to six readers, at least,” Meghan said. “If you hear the same thing from more than one reader, that’s useful information; if just one reader comments that something doesn’t make sense but no one else says that, maybe let it go.”
It’s okay to ask other writers to be beta readers if no strings are attached. “Know what you’re asking, and know what you’re giving. It’s not an equal exchange if a beginning writer is asking someone who’s on their eighth book. But anyone who volunteers, just love them! … Fresh eyes are really good. You want enthusiastic volunteers.”
Meghan’s beta reader questionnaire is available on her website; she customizes it for each book she submits to her list of 60+ readers, and has invited guild members to adapt it for their own purposes.
“Critique groups are another great way to get feedback from readers,” Meghan said. “Each group has its own approach.” Choose a group that matches your genre, if possible, and make sure to ask for the sort of feedback you want: grammatical/mechanical markup and story critique are very different.
The St. Louis Writers Guild’s critique group coordinator, Jennifer Stolzer, said she acts as a matchmaker between interested writers. A form in the members’ section of the SLWG website collects information to share with other authors in the specified genre. On the guild’s Facebook page, writers can solicit critique partners without being a member.
“Never be nervous about asking a professional editor to define terms or to help you figure out the kind of editing you need,” Meghan said. She outlined some of the common types of editing and the average costs, ranging from proofreading ($25+ per hour) to a full critique ($1,000+ per book).
Copyediting or line editing to fix grammar, punctuation, and style should be one of the last steps, but it’s often the first step people want to take, she said. Editorial assessments, story critiques, content editing, and developmental editing are different ways of collaborating with an editor to improve the content of a book, and each tends to cost $60+ per hour, but different editors charge differently -- per page, per hour, or per project.
Different types of editing take more time than others, and Meghan gave ballpark estimates for a few different services, based on a 250-word page, which is the industry standard:
- Proofreading: 10-15 pages per hour
- Copyediting – 8 pages per hour
- Line editing – 3 pages per hour
She says if anything takes your editor longer than two pages per hour and you’re not independently wealthy, you’re better backing up and studying grammar before you hire a professional editor. She can help you with that, too.
Meghan Pinson provides expert editing, engaging critique, and fearless consulting to authors of novels and nonfiction manuscripts. She launched My Two Cents Editing in 2009 as a full-time freelance copyeditor and has steadily expanded to help her clients move from first draft to faithful readerships. Now her small crew of literary specialists provides comprehensive manuscript critique and a full range of editing services: editorial assessment, developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and post-editing cleanup. She leads writing and editing workshops and collaborates with her partner at Outrider Literary to guide authors through publication along indie, traditional, and hybrid paths.
Meghan is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, the Missouri Writers Guild, the St. Louis Publishers Association, and Reedsy (where you can see her portfolio). For more information, check out www.mytwocentsediting.com