I’m pleased to welcome author/editor Alicia Rasley back to the blog, continuing her article about preparing her backlist titles for e-pub. Take it away Alicia…
Editing With Myself Part OneTwo
Last week I blogged about the initial tasks involved in preparing old backlist books for republication. I have to keep reminding myself this isn’t as hard as writing the books in the first place! But no doubt about it, the next two tasks were the most mindbending: Choosing a cover, and editing the content.
Hey, turns out covers are copyrighted! And to the artist! Who knew! So I couldn’t use the original covers from the print books, however convenient those little thumbnails adorning the websites for all those used bookstores selling for ridiculous amounts all the old copies. (Trust me. I love my own work, but even I wouldn’t pay $87 for a paperback.) So I had to commission new covers. I am relentlessly un-visual, so this was difficult, especially when I couldn’t afford actual new paintings and had to go with un-copyrighted art available on the web. (There is much, fortunately, and relatively inexpensive.)
While I found this quite difficult, I meant my covers as a big “take that” to all those art directors who decided that my heroine was blond instead of brunet, and who put my 52nd Light hero into a 16th Dragoons uniform. Choosing my own cover designer meant I got to choose my own background pictures, and I could finally see what my characters looked like.
Choosing the art was only the beginning. I also had to select a font for the author name and title, and decide the all-important existential question: Which should be more prominent, the title or the name? My name isn’t exactly a household word, but then again, my titles aren’t likely to make someone pull out the credit card either. After massive amounts of research (looking at the covers on my bookshelves), I decided to go with title on top, name at the bottom. I learned from my indie-pubbing list that the title and the name should be different, either in font (italic and Roman) or in size, so that the eye is caught (what a grotesque term!) and moves back and forth between them. Okay. Whatever. Title italics, name Roman.
This was, for an editor, the most interesting task. Of course, the books had all been edited by the editors at the first publisher. But there was still editing to do. For one thing, I had to fix all the mistakes I’d gotten mail about when they were first published. (Yes, there were actually readers who took the time to write to me to point out that my characters walked out into the “gathering ducks” (I’d meant “the gathering dusk”) and that I’d referred to the painter “Renoir” (I’d meant, I hope, Rembrandt) who was not yet born when the book took place. No, I didn’t keep the mail. Yes, I still remembered every complaint.
But this was also the chance to fix story problems that have always bugged me in retrospect. For example, in A Royal Escapade (I changed the title, btw; one of the benefits of re-publishing is I don’t have to use the titles imposed by publishers unless I want to—there was one publisher, I recall, who insisted that my titles all be three words and six syllables), I’d always regretted having the heroine in Chapter One tell the whole backstory, complete with a flashback to her childhood. (This might not have been so bad, but in Chapter Four, she tells all this again to the hero, using much the same terminology. Boring!) So I trimmed the opening considerably to streamline the beginning of the plot. No more long introductory introspection for my heroine!
Another issue was the change in narrative approach in the last couple decades. When I’d written the earliest of these books, romances and especially Regency romances were often presented in a rather distanced omniscient viewpoint. The more modern approach is a tight focus on one character at a time. That is, the reader is put “in” one character rather than in an omniscient persona “above” the characters. Neither is particularly good or bad, but readers are supposedly expecting a more intimate experience now. Well, this was actually the kind of dilemma that art restorers face when they are presented with, say, the Sistine Chapel ceiling and told to “update it.” Some might say that the patina of the ages (the grime, the fading) is part of the artistic experience, and that it’s inauthentic to brighten up an old painting. Similarly, the omniscient viewpoint is an artifact of the ages, a sign of the antiquity of the creation. I decided there was validity in that, in maintaining the integrity of a book written in 1982 in honest imitation of Austen and Heyer. So while I did “fix” a few egregious aspects of that period of romances (the hero, bless his heart, was sort of a slut, and I did diminish his priapism a bit), I kept the narrative pretty much as written, omniscient and all. (I was glad, though surprised, to find that even at the age of 24, I wrote pretty good sentences. Or maybe I should be sorry that apparently my style hasn’t improved much in three decades!)
So was I as ruthless editing myself as I am rumored to be editing others? Probably not. (Then again, these books had already been edited, and I remember some pretty ruthless editors got their bloody marks all over the pages—yes, they edited in hard copy then, with red pencils.) But I was tough on myself about dashes. It’s dispiriting to learn that my terrible dashaholism is a longstanding vice. I swear, my characters never finished a thought or a line of dialogue without—. I take it that the earlier I didn’t think commas and periods were quite good enough to punctuate my prose. So I took out about 90% of the dashes.
But then, there were all those semicolons, currently verboten in fiction, or so some of my fellow editors tell me. You know what? I still love semicolons. And every single one of them was used correctly. So there. I didn’t change any of them, so yes, sometimes I still have three semicolons per page (just as in Jane Austen’s work). If you love semicolons as I do, well, below are a few books just for you.
So did I do a good job editing myself? I don’t know. I don’t think I (the writer) needed much editing from me (the editor). Hmm. That’s what all writers say to editors, isn’t it?
Anyway, every writer is an editor, right? We all, before we send our work out to the world, edit it and copy edit it and proofread it, with varying levels of success. What’s always been difficult for me is finding the distance from my own work that would allow me to see problems and mistakes. In this way, it’s much easier to achieve distance editing old books I don’t even remember writing (it wasn’t drugs that fogged my memory, but the toddlers I was trying to write around).
So would I do it all over again? Yes. (In fact, I’ve got a few more backlist books to go.) I’m enough of a control freak that handing my book over to be published by those old publishers was painful (the advances, of course, helped ease the sting a bit). At least now I know that every mistake, every typo, every semicolon is mine, all mine. There is an enormous liberation in knowing there’s no one to blame but myself!
Let’s hear it for semicolons! Give me an S! Give me an E! (Come on, some of you must share my semicolon lust!)
Alicia Rasley is a Rita-award winning author and nationally known teacher of writing workshops. She teaches composition and tutors students in two state universities. She grew up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia but now lives in the midwestern flat land. Her book The Year She Fell has been a Kindle fiction bestseller.
Her blog is at: www.edittorrent.blogspot.com, and her website is www.rasley.com. Her writing book, The Power of Point of View, is still available from Writer’s Digest Books. All her books can be found on her Kindle page. Stop by and click the “like” button or add a comment about one of the books—this really helps authors spread the word!
The Wilder Heart, a Regency novella
The Year She Fell
The Reluctant Lady, a Regency novel
Royal Renegade, a Regency novel
Poetic Justice, a Regency novel
The Story Within Plotting Guide
The Power of Point of View