Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Write your best story. Great advice, but the sentiment is vague.

What is your best story?

The market (both traditional and indie) is flooded right now by writers who believe they have written their greatest achievement until their next story gets put down on paper. Some authors have reached their goal. Others have not, and they are the ones creating a vast problem.

Many authors have no idea what their best story can be because they haven’t studied the craft of storytelling. Increasingly the level for excellence has been lowered while the availability for publication has increased.

Yes, this business is a subjective one. An editor looks at a story and decides it doesn’t have what it takes. Another reviews the same manuscript, and he feel it’s the author’s breakout novel. Independent writers, so proud of their prose that they believe it can rise above the millions of other published works, place it in the market. Some readers love it. Others hate it.

How in the world is an author supposed to craft their best story in such an industry where beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder?

I used a key word in that leading question. Did you see it?
Right in the middle is the word craft.

Craft is vital to storytelling. Putting a story onto paper is only the beginning. The first draft, maybe even the second draft of a story does not mean it is a finished work of art. Much like a sculptor, the author needs to chisel away words, scenes, entire chapters. In the same way a painter does, an author needs to color the prose with conflict, emotion, and vibrant pictures. These are aided by voice, by grammar, by the proper (and sometimes improper) placement of punctuation, and by style.

I’m afraid that in today’s world of publishing (in both traditional and indie), crap instead of craft is the key word. Individuals who long to be authors aren’t satisfied with rejection, even when the rejections are specific enough to help a writer begin to craft a story into a masterpiece. They do not want to take the time it takes to learn how to craft a story. They lean upon the “subjective” nature of the work. “Well, not everyone is going to like it.”

Couple the authors inattention to craft with editors (both in-house and freelance) who haven’t studied the craft of storytelling, the art of punctuation, and the refinement of grammar, and the industry has a very big problem. Horrible novels are flooding the marketplace, tainting the industry—especially the Christian publishing industry, which has had to fight this stigma from the beginning.

The beginning of the solution lies in self-editing. To do so, though, an author must learn the craft of storytelling, the art of punctuation, the refinement of grammar and using it to tell the best story ever. He or she must also learn to discern good advice from bad, to lay aside his or her bias toward a manuscript and begin to realize whose subjectivity is the best to lean upon.

Happy editing.


  1. Good thought, Fay. We need patience which is hard in this microwave world...

  2. I always feel nervous commenting on an editing post because my own grammar sometimes fails me, but I wanted to add my agreement as a reader. Last week, I read one of my favorite author's latest novel. The story was good, but the mistakes and sloppy editing distracted, catapulting me out of the story for a nano-second. Make that several nano-seconds, as there were multiple infractions.

    And that's the point really. We, as authors, need to write well because we want our readers to be immersed in the story. We must eliminate anything that hinders that immersion.

    Thanks for the reminder, Fay!

  3. Marji: As you are one of the best author/editors I know, I appreciate your comments.

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  5. Excellent article. I feel my hand has been slapped and that's a good thing when it provokes and prods toward improvement. Who would advertise a "crappy"or shoddy craft project for sale? You can do that, but surrounded by well-crafted projects, it won't sell. In fact, you'll drive buyers away from your site. So why do this with underdeveloped writing? Thanks, for a good word. I sure hope my punctuation is correct...

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  7. Betty: Good word, but I feel the problem goes even deeper. What happens when readers get their hands on a poorly written book? They've been dubbed by the author, but the sentiment extends to the industry as a whole. Publishing a poorly written book hurts everyone, not only the writer, and writers needs to be especially aware of what this does to the industry as a whole. Industry isn't just the traditional publisher. It includes freelance editors who pretend to know the craft as well as authors both traditionally and indie published. The time when publishers were the "vetters" of the industry are gone. Responsible writing his important to everyone--including the reader.

  8. I was at a writers critique group once & one of the women handed out her pages with the caveat "I'm not good with grammar so there are some mistakes."

    "Some" was an understatement. And to me, a writer saying she isn't good at grammar is like a doctor saying he isn't good with medicine. You're a writer. It's your responsibility to study the craft & get good at it.

    You also shouldn't bring unedited work to a critique group & expect everyone to read around all the mistakes you were too lazy to fix.

    In my opinion.

  9. I agree. As Christian authors, we should strive for excellence. Our stories are fully expressed only when words are carefully chosen, properly placed, and correctly punctuated. A manuscript is not a baby to be coddled or excused, and I appreciate constructive criticism that forces me to be objective. Your posts provide specific tools with which I can craft a better story. Thank you.

  10. As I jump into my 13th year of trying to learn this craft, I can say I have absorbed a lot of information...and still feel like I have a long way to go. Hope it pays off someday. But the journey has been good. My goal has always been to come to the place where I can tell the story I see in my head on actual paper and have it turn out the same. Getting closer.