Sunday, 14 February 2016

Editing With Judith Barrow


This week my guest is author friend, Judith Barrow, who appeared on my blog last July. Originally from Lancashire, since 1978, she has lived in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, where she is also a creative writing tutor. Her novels have been published by Honno Press.  

Welcome back, Judith. Now, it's over to you. 
Thanks, Jan. When it comes to editing I suppose I can say I’ve been on both sides of the fence; I’ve Indie published and been traditionally published. The experiences couldn’t have been more different for me.


I’ve written a trilogy of sagas; the story of a family and their lives between 1944 and 1969, set between a Northern town and a village in Wales. As both a trilogy and stand- alone books they were complex novels to write in that I needed to make sure the characters’ basic backgrounds and their places within the familial structure didn’t change, that the settings only altered in as much decades inevitably transform towns and villages, and that, in each, I had to evoke a sense of the eras. These books have been published by Honno  

As with all traditional publishers, the author works with their editors. But there have been many hours self-editing before it gets to that point. Each time I come back to the book I read through the last section; it helps me to maintain my ‘voice’– my writing style. This goes on until I reach the end of the book.

Each time I’ve finished a book I have sent it off with a flourish, fully believing that I couldn’t improve it. Each time it has been returned with suggestions of alterations; to round out a character, develop a scene, a setting, an incident. Perhaps that sounds too dictatorial? It’s actually a more gentle process than that. Nevertheless it’s the moment when the manuscript gets thrown up into the air with cries of despair– and a knowledge that the book will never be any good. Then good sense returns and the hard work begins.  The second– third– even, sometimes, the fourth time it goes back and forth, the novel takes shape in the way both author and editor agree. Discussions, concessions, negotiations and compromises are reached equally; at least they have been for me. As long as the story is still mine, with my voice, in my writing style, I’m happy.

Because I have, in the past, had my fingers burned.  I’ll digress a little: I’ll go back to the heady day when I found an agent. http://bit.ly/1V28tgN  I was over the moon; she liked the novel, would send it off to publishers. And then, a week later, came the call. “Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards," she said. “And, in the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.”
I paid. Yes, I was that naΓ―ve! 

It came back from the commercial editor. I read it in disbelief. If I’d follow all the ‘suggestions’, it would have changed from being a saga into romantic fiction. Okay, I like a bit of romance, don’t we all? But it’s not what I write. The agent insisted I worked on the manuscript, following the edits. I tried; I really did, it didn’t work. I discovered if I terminated the contract before twelve months was up then, when, if the book was eventually published, I wouldn’t need to pay her any commission. I terminated the contract.

Writing and editing as an Indie author was completely different for me. It was difficult for me to read the manuscript objectively; the book, Silent Trauma, is fiction built on fact. And it’s a subject close to my heart. The only reason I published it myself was because I couldn’t find a publisher for it; the reason quoted was always that it left them open to being sued. In the end, I put our house in my husband’s name and Indie published it.
I did try editing it. I also asked a friend to Beta read it for me; just to see if the book was interesting yet informative. But I didn’t think it fair to ask her to edit it. I read through the manuscript a few times. I line edited– a really mind-numbing job, I thought. But essential. And I used spell check, not thinking about homophones. At this point I would have been quite glad to give the whole lot over to an exacting professional editor.  But I plodded on. I suppose, by now, you’re realising that I have neither the skill nor the patience to be an Indie author. 

Ultimately, I was fortunate to find a brilliant proof-reader: https://juliaproofreader.wordpress.com/. She went through the book with a fine toothcomb, an eagle eye. Spelling mistakes, shaky punctuation, strange syntax was weeded out and corrected. Finally, it was published.

I think I can honestly say Indie publishing is not for me–unless I can just write the book and hand it over to an editor and a proof-reader. I so admire those writers who have the confidence and the ability to not only write an excellent novel– but to hone their work to a high level of quality of presentation.
Perhaps I’m just too lazy!

Website: http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk/ and  http://judithbarrowblog.com/

Amazon links to books:
Pattern of Shadows:      Amazon .co.uk: http://amzn.to/1QhcWNa
                                        Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1WBN3bP
Changing Patterns:       Amazon .co.uk:  http://amzn.to/1SJRrFE
                              Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1VetxAJ
Living in the Shadows: Amazon .co.uk: http://amzn.to/1ZWL1op
                                        Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1nejS23
Silent Trauma:               Amazon .co.uk: http://amzn.to/1Sa04bO
                                        Amazon.com:  http://amzn.to/1Uh1Abr

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judith-a-barrow-02812b11?trk=hp-identity-name

Thank you, Judith, for such an interesting insight into your editing experiences. I do admire the fact that you had the courage to resist the agent's tweaking which would have altered your story completely. I, for one, am so pleased you kept to the story you'd written and retained the family saga, the first in the trilogy which has proved to be so popular.

Thank you for reading. Have you self -published? If so, is it harder than working with a traditional editor as Judith found? Have you used a proof reader before self-publishing, too? We'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you. :-)

You may also follow me @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.



18 comments:

  1. Hi, Jan. I had help from my fantastic writing buddies as you know. This proved invaluable, but before the final proof came through of my Redington stories, I think I had about 50 read throughs. Then with the proof, I had another, at least 20 reads and final tweaks. The end result is me 100% happy with my own work, and if there are any minor flaws, I can't see them. Not being big headed, but it is good to have the fiction how you intended. Still waiting to hear about hats, but if it comes back I'll do a DIY publication of that as well. Great interview with Judith.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by Susan. And for your comments; always good to sty true to yourself I think. Good luck with your books.

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    2. I know how much care you took over your edits, Sue, and I'm pleased you're happy with the final proof. Good luck with your 'Hats...' novel. I'm glad you enjoyed, Judith's blog post. Thank you for your comments.

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  2. Another great blog post Jan! Thanks for sharing your editing process, Judith - very interesting to read about your journey and experiences from both sides of the fence :)

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    1. Thank you, Samantha. Yes, it was interesting to hear how both experiences differed for Judith, wasn't it? Thank you for popping by to leave a comment.

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  3. Hi Samantha. Thank you for looking at our post. Editing is so important and I never trust only my reading of my work. It was an interesting subject for Jan to ask us to tackle here; I enjoyed writing it.

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  4. I'm interested to see that you worked with Julia on your book, Judith. I have read other blogs in which writers sing her praises. Thanks for sharing your varied experiences. Thanks to you as well, Jan, for hosting another worthwhile blog. Such a good series!

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments about the blog, Sue. I'm glad you enjoyed reading Judith's blog post this week. Julia obviously comes highly recommended.

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  5. Most interesting! Especially as you've read all my books, Judith - and here's the thing, I've never ever worked with an editor. It's all just little old me and two test readers - one of whom is Julia, when she does the first proofread! I'm sure I still do some things that a professional editor would tell me were wrong from a commercial point of view, but I care more about writing the book I want to write than writing for financial gain - just as well, really, ha ha! Only earlier on we were talking about my new novella she's just read - I'm worried because there's no HEA, though I think the ending is right; she agreed with me and reminded me that I don't write chick lit, and everything doesn't have to end happily!!

    I had the same experience with agents, twice - one wanted to turn a 3 x POV book into one POV (this was before multiple POVs were all the rage), and the other (a major one, who obviously knew what they could sell, I suppose!) said they could sell Kings and Queens to a publisher if it was changed so that there were echoes from history rather than it being a retelling, which, for me, would have destroyed the whole point of the book.

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    1. Thank you for commenting on the blog, Terry. It's interesting that your experience is similar to Judith's and you, too, kept to the story that reflected what you wanted to write. Good for you. It's lovely to read another recommendation for working with Julia. πŸ™‚

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    2. Thanks, Jan :) I wrote an article about my experience with the agent who read Kings and Queens, and why I decided not to submit to agents anymore - you might be interested to read it. I hope you don't mind if I put a link on your page, if you do, feel free to remove it - I only wanted to put it on for you! http://ukartsdirectory.com/terry-tylers-literary-blog-9/

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  6. I shall read it now, Terry. I'm sure it will be of interest to other readers, too, thank you.

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  7. How interesting to find out more about your experiences, Judith - and thank you so much for saying nice things about me (PS, I don't proofread with a glass of champagne in one hand, honest!) Seriously, though, I'm proud to have been a very small part of your book, which clearly meant so much to you to write.

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    1. Lovely to 'meet' you here on my blog, Julia, and to hear such good things about you from Judith and others. Thank you for popping by to leave a comment.

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  8. I don't mind making changes which improve my story, but I'm sure that would change if the edits were aimed at turning it into an entirely different kind of story.

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    1. I agree with you, Patsy. The essence of the story must be as you intended it to be. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. Hi Jan. What a lovely blog and website.And thanks Judith for sharing your experiences on editing and submitting to agents and publishers. These insights help me to consider carefully which approach I should take once I have taken my novel through its final edit. Shall revisit again, Jan!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, Judith has given us a real insight into her experiences as a published author, hasn't she? Good luck with your final edits and I look forward to 'meeting' you again on the blog. Thank you for leaving a comment. πŸ™‚

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