When I released Shadow’s Talent in June 2014, I did it with my own edits and those from a few helpful readers. I was determined to release the book that year, knowing it could be quite some time until I could afford a good editor. Being a little hard up wasn’t going to stop me. Two months ago, I decided to use some cash set aside to finally get the book the edit it needed. I hired freelance editor Emily Nemchick, after her post on a writing forum about her services impressed me.

Emily offered to look at my first 1000 words for free, to show me what she was like as an editor. While I appreciate that some editors simply don’t have time to write free samples for clients who might not hire them, it impressed me that Emily did this. And her edits were brilliant. I’ll put my hands up, I had never consciously realised that ‘taught’ and ‘taut’ were homophones. I’ve got a great big list of them that I check when I edit my own manuscript, and I just never came up with that one.

I hired Emily to edit the entire manuscript. She gave me a specific timescale and got it back to me two days earlier than planned. The version of Shadow’s Talent that’s now on sale at all my outlets is the version I wish I could have uploaded and launched fifteen months ago.

Let’s clear the record up here: if you’re reading this and you bought the version that still had mistakes in, despite my best efforts, then I’m sorry. Contact me through here and I’ll happily send you a free copy of the redux version of the ebook you paid for.

I never wanted to release the book unedited, but at the time I simply never saw my financial situation improving as quickly as it has. I’ve always been of the opinion that if a self published author’s story and characters are good, and they have a decent concept of the writing craft, then it’s worth forgiving a few errors if they simply can’t afford an editor. I have never left a negative review for spelling or grammar mistakes and never will – it’s better to contact that author privately about it, as one person did for me. But never mind all that. Those days for me have passed.

More importantly, here’s what I’ve learned from the last three days of going through that edited script:

Waiting to get your manuscript back is a bit like waiting to get killed

There’s a great line in The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow about how people on the run from mafia hitmen often imagine themselves getting whacked over and over again, and then when it finally happens they feel relieved because it’s not usually half as bad as anything they imagined. Waiting to get Shadow’s Talent back was the writer’s equivalent.

The red ink wasn’t even half as pervasive as I’d imagined. Some of Emily’s edits were tidy-ups rather than mistakes as well. Honestly, I’m surprised I got the book as clean as I did. I don’t quite feel like awarding myself a gold star, but at least I know that if I repeat my self-edit process in the future, my editor’s job won’t be hell on paper. Getting ST edited was actually a good confidence builder.

The editor is always right

Some people who’ve had bad experiences with editing services will disagree with that statement. Fair enough. But I’ve just had a really good one, and I know because that phrase applies.

Emily highlighted certain sentences, sometimes making suggestions and other times leaving it up to me – a system we agreed on before she started work. I changed everything she highlighted, and accepted all her edits once I’d read them as well. Even the ones where I sat there thinking ‘Really?’ The answer was always ‘Yeah really.’ It’s not just a matter of saying ‘Why pay for an editor just to disregard her suggestions?’ I’ve tried to spot my own mistakes for so long that I know I can no longer see them. Listening to an editor separates the men from the boys. I admit, I think I left one sentence the same, and that’s probably one too many.

It’s worth waiting a little bit longer to release the book next time

There. I admitted it.

Your editor can act as a reviewer, even if you paid for proofreading rather than a developmental edit

This did occur to me: nobody can edit a book like this without also being a reader, and a reader can offer an opinion. I was never expecting a review on Amazon or any other site, but I did hope Emily would like the book and offer me something about it, if only because I’ve always imagined it’s easier for an editor to work on a story they feel engaged by. Here’s what Emily wrote me when she sent me my script back:

‘You should be incredibly proud of creating such a detailed, nuanced and spellbinding novel and I wish you every success in publishing it.’

Score one for my ego then! Always useful when you’re a writer.

I decided to ask Emily about what’s always been my biggest concern with ST: the pacing. Especially in the first half. When I look at what I now have with Ghost of the Navigator, I sometimes wonder how I ever wrote Shadow’s Talent with such a drawn out first half….okay, I know the answer to how and why I wrote it the way I did, but be that as it may, I always wondered if some people would just stop reading it because I didn’t get to the surprises or climax quickly enough. Here’s what Emily said:

‘The pacing of the novel was quite dense, but never slow or dull. I found the fact that you took your time and didn’t try to rush the plot to give the novel greater depth and a sense of realism, like I was truly experiencing Shadow’s life and not just reading a story about him. If someone is looking for a fast-paced action thriller, this might not live up to expectations, but anyone who likes to get buried in a story and invested in its hero should have no complaints.
In my opinion part of what makes this novel so compelling is that you don’t award the reader instant but empty gratification as so many authors do – you build the slow sort of suspense which means every page can be savoured for its own value and the eventual revelations of the mysteries can be anticipated eagerly throughout without tempting a reader to skip over sections to get to the ‘good bits’. I’d compare it to a full roast dinner with all the trimmings as opposed to a quick but tasty snack.’
Honestly, nothing describes what I aimed for when I developed the writing style behind ST better than that does. When a friend of mine read an early draft of it, he gave me a lot of advice that contributed to me going back and honing the craft, and I feel like I finally understand what he was trying to get me to do, because it was this. It’s seriously cool when not only have you found someone who gets what you’re up to, but she just edited the whole book!

I was seriously considering gutting Shadow’s Talent and relaunching a new version. After getting that, I’ve decided to leave it. Even the chapters. Twelve chapters in a book that’s 150,000 words long is a little bit mean, not to mention unconventional. I probably won’t get a bestseller out of this book, and maybe not even this series, but everything I’ve learned from working with Emily has told me ‘This is where I am and this is what I have.’ So let’s not tear it down with a wrecking ball just yet.