Sunday 21 February 2016

A Break From Editing
Last week was the final post in my editing series. I would like to say a big thank you to guests Sandra Mackness, Sue McDonagh, Susanna Bavin, Samantha Bacchus and Judith Barrow for their very varied and insightful posts. From the number of readings, comments, tweets and retweets it generated, I hope you agree that it was definitely a series worth running. Thank you all for your interest and support.

This week, I'm taking a break from editing...on the blog, that is. I've spent time working on my novel and have submitted a couple of short stories on the writing front. No, I'd like to share with you a very special book I received as a present from my daughter, Jo. The book by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst is unusual in its format in that it's presented as a story within a story. It is composed of a novel, 'Ship of Theseus', by a fictional author named V. M. Straka and hand-written notes which fill the book's margins. The notes form a dialogue between two college students both searching the identity of the author and the novel's secret. Hidden within the pages of the novel are supplementary materials such as post cards, photographs, maps, news paper extracts and a telegram and these add to the intrigue. 

The 'blurb' describes it as 'One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire. A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for a stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.'

The book looks authentic with its own page stamped with dates of its borrowing history. There's even a warning for borrowers to 'KEEP THIS BOOK CLEAN'. 'Anyone finding the book pencil-marked, mutilated or unwarrantably defaced are expected to report it to the librarian.' Of course, this is not an old book, defaced with notes and scribbles but an author's experiment. As Mark Lawson in The Guardian explains, 'Abrams has come up with a novel of such structural daring that the first task of the audience is to work out a way of reading it.' 

The book itself is beautiful. Physically, it can be admired as an old looking book but it is so much more than that. The attention to detail is amazing. I haven't read the novel or the story developing between the readers, Jen and Eric, yet but already I can see that the two stories are of equal importance. So there's my dilemma, as Mark Lawson predicted. Do I read the fictional story first and try and ignore the notes in the margin? Being a people person, I'm tempted to  follow the couple's story, examine the artefacts and satisfy my curiosity before I read the novel. However, the reviews suggest that it's best to read the novel with its multi-layers and puzzles first. I'll let you know when I decide.

Have you read a novel with an unusual structure? Perhaps you've read this one? 

Have you been given an unusual book as a gift? I'd love you to leave a comment. Thanks. :-)

Thank you for reading.

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

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.  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 na├»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: 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: and

Amazon links to books:
Pattern of Shadows:      Amazon
Changing Patterns:       Amazon
Living in the Shadows: Amazon
Silent Trauma:               Amazon


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.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Editing With Samantha Bacchus
In Week 4 of my series on editing, I am very pleased to welcome author, Samantha Bacchus, to my blog. Samantha writes psychological suspense and crime novels. Last year she was longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award 2015 and acquired an agent for her writing. It's again down to the power of social media that I 'met' Samantha. We started following each other on Twitter and on our writer/author pages on Facebook. Like my other guests, Samantha is always very supportive and celebrates any successes, commiserates if things do not go well and can be relied upon to retweet and like any news or messages.   

Welcome to the blog, Samantha. Before I say 'Over to you', I just want to congratulate you on securing an agent for your novel.That's brilliant news! 
Thank you and thanks for inviting me to talk about my editing process, Jan!
I began my writing journey with short stories, and I suppose it was a case of trial and error because I didn’t get others to read my attempts. Keeping to a tight word count when aiming for publication in the Womags meant ensuring all words were needed – that each paragraph drove the story on. And the magazines that published my three stories did the editing. For my own collections of short stories, I read and re-read and used spell/grammar check – but I was writing stories that I loved and probably writing for myself really, so editing was no ‘biggy’ if you know what I mean!

It wasn’t until I began to write a novel that editing became a large part of my process. Just to get this out in the open – I’m afraid I’m one of “those writers” who edit as they go.
Noooo! I hear you say. Yup. Despite reading countless advice to ‘just write’, ‘let the story flow’, ‘don’t stop to fuss over details’ etc, etc – I do just that. I’m not saying I pour over every sentence, but after I’ve written, say, a page – I’ll read back over it and adjust things I don’t like. It WILL change again on the next ‘proper’ edit, but I can’t move on if it doesn’t feel or read right. I just can’t. It’ll bug me, haunt me, stab at my unconscious until I change it.

I’ve written two novels now. The first was written in 2014 before I had an agent. This is the novel that really I was writing for myself. Although I’d been writing in view of gaining an agent and a publishing deal, ultimately at that point I’d no one to please but myself. And that was great. Liberating.
When the final words The End were typed, I put the manuscript away (figuratively speaking as I didn’t print it out). I didn’t leave it long though before reading from start to finish in order to pick out major points, for example errors in timeline, inconsistencies in character traits, jarring narrative and rubbish dialogue. I found that reading it aloud helped. Then I went back over it, chapter by chapter and ensured the grammar was correct (as far as I knew) and that I’d given the readers enough detail of characters and place. At this point I added things in to make them more three dimensional. I did all of this on-screen – I never printed any of it. Then I thought I was done.

So I handed it over to some trusty readers. And, erm … clearly I wasn’t ‘done’! After several people from my writing group gave valuable feedback and critique (which, you know – can be hard to take) I set about tweaking. And then I sent it out to a handful of agents. The rejections soon followed. Luckily I found a freelance editor on Twitter: Kate Foster – and she gave it a thorough edit. This was the first time I’d used track changes properly! It was weird having a professional look at my manuscript but I felt I learned a lot from working with her, like ridding the script of that’s and needless waffle and ensuring my close-third person point of view was consistent. I sent the final edited version out to agents and was lucky enough to have several full manuscript requests.

While it was out, I began the second novel. I approached the editing much same way as my first. Difference being with this novel is that when I was part way through it, I secured an agent. The editing process was then different than I’d been used to. Once she’d read it and given me notes on what required changing – I set about going through from start to finish. This was the first time I’d changed big chunks of my manuscript and so I wrote out every change that I needed to make (it was a fairly long list) and crossed off as I went. This edit included changes to the characters who I’d chosen to tell my story – cutting a whole point of view, then having to fill in the gaps as the word count obviously fell. It was a totally different experience than editing on my own, and editing with Kate. It also took a few edits. Once I’d made the ‘big’ changes it went back to my agent. She went through line by line and again used track changes. Thankfully the next time it came back to me the changes were minor!

I can’t say I enjoy editing. Particularly having to do it again and again! BUT – it does make the manuscript stronger, so it’s all good in the end. Although, it’s not over – next I will be working with the editor of a publishing house – and editing it further … 

You can read about my author journey on my blog and follow me on Twitter: @sam_bacchus
My Facebook page is: Samantha Bacchus Author

Samantha, thank you so much for sharing your experiences of editing, especially how they changed once you secured your agent and worked with an editor. Good luck now as you progress to working with the editor of a publishing house and I look forward to being able to read your published novel. Exciting times! :-)

Just in time for Valentine's Day next weekend, why not download Samantha's collection of love stories, Love Potion?

The anthology is a collection of six short stories with a mixture of humour, intrigue, renewed love, second chances, first love and destined romance. They are described as quick easy reads, ideal for a coffee break.

Thank you for reading. Has your editing changed once you started working with an editor? Samantha and I would love to hear your experiences. Thank you. :-)

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