Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stage 2 - The Proof Reader

It was December 2011, I was 10,000 plus words into this 'adventure' (that's what it had become, and I was loving it), and the 'adventure' was changing me.

I'm not one of life's more emotional people so I was a little surprised that when writing I found myself actually getting emotional; I don't mean anger and frustration because that didn't happen, I mean my eyes actually started leaking at times. Definitely NOT the 'me' that people knew. My reaction to this startling side effect was also quite strange, I felt 'free'. Most bizarre and I can't explain in words (I've not been a writer long enough to have the extended vocabulary!).

Anyway, onwards. Like I said, I had 10,000 plus words in a Word doc and it felt pretty good. I'd read and re-read those words so many times, and they still made me feel pretty good inside. It was about this time that the dream of actually publishing the future finished article really started to take hold. Remember, up to this point I hadn't written more than an essay at school some thirty five years ago, actually I lie, it was a history project about Rommel, probably 25 A4 pages with pictures.

I wouldn't class myself as a perfectionist by a long chalk but IF I was going to put my book in the public domain I wanted to make sure it wouldn't embarrass myself, or the growing band of family and friends that were getting behind me. It was time to seek professional advice! Great in theory, not so clever in practice, I had no idea what came next. I did some research (Google is my friend!) just to find out what I should do next and came across terms like 'Proofreader', 'Beta reader' 'Publisher', 'Editor', 'Format Friend' (Ok, that one is made up but the amount of 'advice' that has been published about how manuscripts should be formatted including spacing, font choice, font size, indents and so on is just unbelievable, and most of it contradicts the others!). Reading up on where each of these skill sets fit in the process I decided I needed a 'Proofreader' - back to Google! 'Proof Readers in New Zealand' in the search bar - wham, shed loads, damn it.
My advice here is when you reach this stage DO YOUR RESEARCH properly. Check out a selection of proofreaders, talk to them, get some samples of their work, get references and talk money. The phrase involving 'Peanuts and monkeys' applies. That's my advice anyway. However, in the interests of a scientific experiment (or possibly because I knew no better, you decide) I closed my eye's and stuck my finger on the screen, proofreader selected! This structured and precise selection process led to Proofreadnz, I did follow up with a phone call to my newly appointed professional, so it wasn't complete fluke!. I got VERY lucky, very lucky indeed. Judi is Proofreadnz, a very small independent proofread/epublishing service.

As you can probably guess from the title of my novel, Russia is quite central to the story, it was pure coincidence that Judi (An American living in NZ) had Grandparents that actually lived in Russia during the same period that was being covered in the novel. Spooky huh. We spent a long time on the phone, discussed a great deal about my inexperience and my ambition's, and by the time I hung up I had a much clearer idea of what was involved to move my 'dream' forward. Judi had allayed many of my fears of the road ahead, but also provided me with some fresh ones; I remember her exact words "writing the book is ONLY 10% of the work". If I had known then what I know now I probably wouldn't have sniggered under my breath!

We had agreed on an estimate of the number of the words that I expected the finished novel to contain, give or take five thousand. We agreed a price to take it all the way to e-book published and we agreed the method; I'd send her blocks of ten or twelve thousand words, with an instalment of the agreed charges, she'd work them, we'd discussed and then returned once we were both satisfied, and then we'd repeat the process. I could use a whole 10,000 words just to tell you how invaluable a resource she was in the coming months (but I won't) although it's an understatement to say that I was VERY lucky to have happened across Proofreadnz.

Judi and I became good friends over the next 20 plus months and I learned (and continue to learn) a lot from her. By 'proof reading in instalments' I was also able to improve my own writing. I'd get the section back with all sorts of red column comments and suggestions. If I didn't agree with, or I wanted clarification of her comments we'd have lengthy phone conversations and work it out. I think in the beginning I was expecting to send away a stream of rushed words and for her to send me back a polished edition, it didn't work like that at all! She made it very clear that she was there to make sure my writing made sense from a punctuation, grammar and spelling perspective, the writing 'style' was up to me. Like I said, I learned a lot. The first section that was returned had more 'red' on the side than a plate of fries at a kids party. By the time the last section was returned it was probably down to one or two - progress indeed. Don't knock it, these were important motivational milestones for me.

It is also important to get some colleagues or friends to read your manuscript as it improves. By the time you get towards the end of your writing you have read and reread it so many times you couldn't spot a missing page because your brain will just fill in the gaps, I promise you. So, get fresh eyes involved. It's great to get positive feedback as well but keep it in perspective: Friends and family won't want to hurt your feelings no matter how many times you ask them to be honest. These can also be your 'Beta Readers', ordinary people, students or people you trust that read the completed book, the story, and provide feedback. They can tell you the good bits and bad bits in their opinion, but they also act as extra 'proof readers'. It's up to you what you do with any suggestions they may have because IT'S YOUR BOOK, you are the Author so you decide on what changes, if any, to make.

I don't want to get ahead of myself. There's plenty of things that you need to be doing whilst writing your book and bouncing it between your proof reader, Beta Readers and rewriting, all geared toward the ultimate rush - getting your novel published!

In my next blog post I'll take you through what I was doing, the lessons I learned, and what I will do differently for the next book- Now go find your proofreader!

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