How to edit quality pulp speed writing begins with a question: is it even possible to have quality “pulp speed writing” as Dean Wesley Smith so eloquently dubbed it? My previous post was picked up by the writing news aggregator blog, The Passive Voice (if you’re a writer, you should follow it because it’s full of up-to-the-minute information.) I saw a number of comments arguing that the writing couldn’t be any good if it was so quickly done, and I also had a number of people ask, more politely, what my editing process was and how it fitted into the time frame of rapid writing.
In How to Write at Least Four Novels in a Year I shared how to get the words down. That doesn’t mean they’re worthwhile words, as some pointed out. I never claimed they were. I’ve also maintained that it’s hard to work with something that isn’t on the page, and that a certain amount of practice a la Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘ten thousand hours to mastery’ rule is necessary to to produce quality on a regular basis.
Personally, I do try my best to make sure my four or five novels a year are quality for their genre. My books are some of the top-rated police procedurals on Amazon and Goodreads, and have won numerous awards, as well as spawned their own Kindle World.
I hope these tools help some other writers. That’s my sole purpose in sharing, and as my mom used to say, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”
It all comes back to what your goals are as a writer. My goal is to make my living with my writing, and that inherently ups the ante. But I have continued to have a high quality standard for my pulp speed. Here’s how I do it and keep up the pace too.
- Daily: I reread the previous day’s writing when I go in to write, and I edit for smoothness and readability. This, ultimately, results in a decent first draft by the end, though structurally it may be weak.
- Once done, I take a week off from the book and start the next one. I let the story sit, depending on how long I have scheduled for my edit. This allows the story to clear my mind as I move on to the next one, and that becomes my new focus.
- When I have the new book going and established, I print out a draft of the previous book. Then, once I’ve got new book’s daily 2000 words done, I start reading my “old” manuscript with red pen in hand. I identify ugly spots, dangling clues, awkward points, overall pacing, etc.
- If the book isn’t hanging together, I abandon it temporarily and send it out for a structural edit with a top-end editor I am lucky enough to have on my team. She’s amazing and has really taught me much of what I know about mystery writing. (I’d put her name in, but she’s not accepting any new clients right now. Still, there are tons of good editors out there. Look at K-Boards or the ads in Writer’s Digest) How do I know if it is hanging together? I automatically had my first ten books structurally edited. Now that I’ve done so many, I know when I need that level of help.
- If the book is hanging together, I begin an initial pass-through with my printed out, red-penned manuscript in front of me. There’s just no substitute for reading the pages and marking them up. I often read aloud at this stage and catch a ton of awkwardness and word repeats that way.
- I only do editing AFTER each day’s fresh writing. There have been times, (especially when writing creative nonfiction/memoir where the writing quality is a whole notch higher) I just focus on that manuscript and work on it exclusively, abandoning my fresh word count, for a chosen period of, say, two weeks. (In case you think I only do pulp-speed genre writing, not so. I’m doing a memoir I’ve been working on for seven years. I may be working on it seven more.)
- What about research? I do books that are set in the “real world” and are often involving things I don’t know much about. Upcoming Bone Hook, for instance, has a plot centered on reef conservation and fish poaching in Hawaii, a topic I was ignorant of. I handle research this way: I locate an expert on the subject that will be covered in the book. I ask them to help me by meeting in person or by phone/email, and letting me pump them for information, followed by reading the manuscript after my initial first editing pass. This gives me a solid “good enough” grounding to provide working knowledge, without spending weeks or months researching.
- So, after my own first pass, the book goes out to my “expert” readers. For Bone Hook, these readers are a marine biologist who also worked for Department of Land and Natural Resources, a retired police captain for procedural stuff, my structural editor, and a trusted beta reader who is an award-winning novelist.
While the book is gone to them, I am, of course, writing diligently on the next one.
- When I get it back from all of these experts, I do another full pass with all the changes suggested at the structural/fact-finding level. This usually takes me about two weeks, while of course, writing each day’s 2000 words on the new book.
- Then it goes to copyeditor. I have a pro for this, too, a woman who still works for the Big Six publishers as a contractor. She has the book for three weeks, and combs it back and forth for much more than typos. She’s found missed clues, changes of car models, misspelled Hawaiian words, and more. I pay her a lot, and she’s worth it.
- I get it back and input all or most of her changes. Then, and only then, I send the book out to a volunteer team of fan readers who proofread the manuscript for typos.
I basically spend about six weeks editing, with many, many pairs of eyes on my manuscript. The steps the book goes through very much echo what goes on at a publishing house, with staffers who work(ed) for publishers now working for me as contractors.
My personal goal for my books has always been that they be indistinguishable from a traditionally published book of similar genre. I also seek to improve the overall quality of my writing: I read, study, subscribe to trade journals, take retreats, go to conferences, push myself out into other genres, styles and points of view in order to grow creatively.
Am I ever tempted to skip a step? Absolutely. Life as an indie writer is a marathon of frequent book production, as anyone making a living in the current marketplace will tell you. I tried to skip several steps and go straight to typo hunters on my romances, and I regretted it and ultimately reissued the books. At times I’m also am tempted to do without my “expert” readers. It’s a hassle finding them, challenging to ask them to help, hard to find time to meet and talk, wait for their input, work to assimilate it, etc.
But I’ve become known for being a reliable writer, someone whose books you can read and learn something from. I’m no Patricia Cornwell, but try to be “in the ballpark” on most things, not just making stuff up. Once a standard is established, you just can’t unring that bell, and start shooting off made-up shit.
Thus, we come to another rule of thumb: begin the way you mean to go on. Decide how scrupulous you will be with your quality, and once you figure that out, stick with it. Readers come to trust you and your name for a certain kind of experience, whether it’s for an exciting but not very credible thrill ride, a detailed, insider-knowledge journey, or a combination, like I write. And once readers trust you….you’re given a gift.
Their precious time and dime.
Don’t waste that trust.
Surprise readers with quality and value, and they become loyal fans for life. That’s my goal: to satisfy my readers, four or five times a year, with a quality good time that was worth more than what they paid for it.
So far, so good. What about you? How important is editing in your writing?