This week professional literary editor and creative writing teacher Harry Dewulf returns to RSP to talk about the advantages of working with an editor before writing your book, why he disagrees with Yoda on one philosophical point, and the most important thing skill authors must develop to find success with readers.
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Emma Darwin’s Blog Post – “Narrative Drive: ‘What Matters Is That The Ship Is Always Trying To Get Somewhere’”
Harry Dewulf has been a professional freelance editor since 2008, focusing on high-level content editing, or “literary editing,” for indie authors. Harry first appeared on Episode #12 back in 2013 to discuss the different types of editing services available to authors and what things to consider when hiring an editor.
In 2015, he launched a Udemy course on writing fiction called “Read Worthy Fiction,” and he now has a YouTube channel where he answers questions about writing sent to him via Twitter. (You can Tweet questions to Harry using the hashtag #AskDewulf to get answers to your own burning questions.)
Early Diagnosis Editing
“You are throwing away a lot of time by not getting a professional opinion on your writing, on your technique, before you spend months writing your 80- to 100,000 words.”
Most writers don’t start looking for an editor until they’ve finished their first book, but that can be a mistake, Harry says. The first book is where an author learns the most about themselves as writers and usually is the most expensive book to edit. Typically, Harry will read a 30,000-word sample from an author to identify narrative technique problems, teach the author how to correct these problems, and then have them go back through the manuscript to make these corrections. But what if authors could save time by avoiding some of these mistakes to begin with?
That’s where Harry’s new “Early Diagnosis” editing package comes in. He realized that if he could identify some of these problems for an author before they started writing the book and teach them how to handle these problems or avoid them altogether, then he could save authors lots of time and money in developing both their story and their narrative skills.
To that end, he offers his “Early Diagnosis” editing service at the concept stage, which includes a questionnaire designed to get authors thinking about their story concept in the right way, in terms of an act of communication and entertainment between the writer and the reader, so that they can articulate their story concept in the kind of terms that are going to make sense to develop it into an idea. Once they have that, Harry can provide feedback on where to take it next, possible difficulties that may arise, the overall orientation of the story, whether the writer will need to concentrate more on world-building or character relationships, etc.
Harry stresses that authors need to be able to discuss their story idea in a sentence: “This is a story about….” If you can’t complete that sentence, he says, then you’re missing one of two important elements. You need a character and that character needs a motive. If you have those two things, the story will build itself from that.
This approach, he says, is designed to provide writers with as much guidance as possible to get them over their first hurdles in writing their book.
The Rosy Future of Publishing
One of the biggest surprises, Harry says, is the vast majority of new writers who come to him unaware of the self-publishing world. It is still a very new industry, one that is still in the early stages.
Harry happily reports he’s seeing more and more indie authors price their books higher than the standard $2.99. He encourages authors, once they have a decent backlist, to be thinking about a base price that reflects the worth of their product. The lowest price a new full-length novel by an established indie author should be is $5.99, which is still much lower than how traditional publishers are pricing their digital books.
The use of street teams or advanced reader teams by authors is a gigantic advantage over traditional publishing, and Harry predicts traditional publishers are going to have to come up with some sort of equivalent of their own in order to compete with indies. Reader expectations are changing, and they expect accessibility and communication with their favorite authors…not to mention advanced reader teams are an incredibly accurate way to determine what the market wants — because readers will simply tell you what they want. This makes it easy for independent authors to respond to feedback from their readers.
Harry also notes the increasing irrelevance of using an ISBN in terms of earning capacity. ISBNs have become unessential and seem to bear no effect on an author’s earnings.
Advice to New Authors:
“I think that no matter what else you do, if you dedicate a significant amount of your effort to telling a good story and telling it effectively and providing the reader with an experience that they are going to enjoy and that they are not going to easily forget and that’s going to do all the classic entertainment things like leave them wanting more and make them want to talk about it, that is always going to give you a bigger chance of success than anything you could do with your sales, promotion, and marketing.”
- Practice. Yoda says: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Harry says: “He’s wrong. It’s: There is no do. When it comes to creating art, there is only practice. That’s all there is. Every single book that you write is practice for the next one. Every single narrative technique you try out, you’re trying it out in order to learn it. That’s how we learn things. The way we learn any complex technique is by trying it out and discovering how it works as a result of trying it out. And in fact, the more wrong it goes when we try it out, the more we learn.”
- Read a dozen craft books. In doing so, Harry says, you will discover the commonalities between them and learn the vocabulary that will help you articulate your problems and improve your writing.
- Check out Harry’s Udemy course “Read Worthy Fiction.” He has a limited number of free coupons for anyone interested in providing feedback on the course…just Tweet Harry @densewords to request a coupon. Supplies are limited.
What kind of an editor do you use, and at what point in the process of writing a book do you bring them on?
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