Last Monday Kate and I went to the first meeting of a new writing group at Just Imagine in Chelmsford. The guest speaker was the talented and bubbly Liz Kessler who has published a whopping eight books. Liz has about her the appearance of an 'ordinary person doing ordinary things' and her laid-back demeanour could lead you to assume that writing is a haphazard occupation that fits in with a seaside St Ives lifestyle. Not so.
Liz is a dedicated, professional writer who takes her job seriously. There can be no doubt that she is talented but talent alone does not a successful author make. Liz spoke to the group about the road to publication and the commitment she gives to her writing career. She has days when she finds it difficult to write but cajoles herself by goal setting and rewards (chocolate featured quite heavily in this!). Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Liz's writing life is the amount of editing she does.
Liz said that her books have three stages:
Planning is a very intricate process for Liz as she writes very detailed chapter plans so that she knows exactly how the story will work. This can be quite lengthy as the pieces are jiggled around until she finally has the book shaped into a workable format.
Next comes the writing which is the quickest of the three steps - sometimes only taking two months to complete. (This is where the detailed chapter planning really comes into its own.)
Finally, editing. Liz says that her books are crafted more from editing than writing - and editing makes them stronger. She will usually carry out two full edits herself before sending the manuscript to two or three friends. And by 'friends', Liz means people who will give constructive feedback that may help shape the book. Liz thinks that these opinions are very useful in the editing process as sometimes she may get too close to the book and the comments she receives may help her decide she needs to change something. At other times she decides to keep the story as it is. Ultimately it is her decision but Liz claims that it is vitally important to get this feedback - and not rely on hubby or mum who will probably tell you it's wonderful!
Eventually the manuscript is sent to her agent who may come back with some more changes. And then on to the publisher who will have more changes still. Liz said that when her first book was accepted she was told that there were a few minor tweaks she would need to do and was shocked to discover that the 'minor tweaks' amounted to seventeen pages of changes/rewrites from the publisher!
The most valuable piece of advice that Liz gave was that after a couple of read throughs of your manuscript you will probably be fed up with it and ready to move on to something else. You will be tempted to send it to an agent, believing that you have made it as good as you can. Do not send it! Liz said that you must examine your manuscript and listen to feedback to make it the best it can possibly be - probably meaning many edits and/or rewrites. The goal is publication - not rejection.
So work hard on your editing and even if your manuscript doesn't get accepted for publication, you will know that you gave it the best possible chance.