Another day, another guest post, this time by Richard Ayre, who is here to tell us about his writing experiences, and how important editing is. Thanks, Richard!
Editing. The most important thing you can do.
Long, long ago, in a pit village far, far away, I wrote a story. It was called ‘Point of Contact’ and I thought it was quite good. It was a sci-fi thriller about the mysterious deaths of a number of people who were being burned alive. When it was finished I confidently sent it off to the first publisher I came across (Hodder and Stoughton) and waited for the accolades and money to roll in. When it was rejected I sent it off to the next one, sure that they would eagerly wrestle it from my sweaty palms. Of course, they didn’t. And neither did the next one. Or the next. (Insert as many ‘nexts’ here as you want. I’ve forgotten now.)
Undefeated, I started working on another manuscript, a horror novel entitled ‘Minstrel’s Bargain.’ This was much better. It had gore aplenty, some good character development, and it was set in the world of rock music. I had listened to the advice of writing about what you know, and I knew a lot about rock music back then (the early 90s.) So it was about a music magazine reporter who finds out that the lead singer with a major new band is actually a demon who steals people’s souls. Once more I sent it off, not quite as confident this time but still sure that my future was to be a slightly more successful version of James Herbert.
However, the early 90s were not the time to be writing gory horror stories. That bus had left, and of course Minstrel’s Bargain got nowhere, just like its older brother Point of Contact.
By this time, I was the father of a young daughter, with another soon to appear, and sadly, like a lot of people, I came to the realisation that I was not going to be a millionaire writer. The manuscripts went to live in the loft. And there they stayed for more than twenty years. It was only much later, with the advent of eBooks and POD that I looked at them again.
And this is the rub. It’s no wonder they were rejected. They were awful. Point of Contact in particular showed me, in no uncertain terms, the true meaning of the word ‘cringe.’ In fact, reading it again felt like I had tattooed that word on a rollerball glove and was sitting punching myself repeatedly in the face with it. Minstrel’s Bargain wasn’t as bad but it was far, far away from being perfect. It still is, even though it has been published now. I have recently re-edited it again because I’m not happy with it and I plan to re-release it. I’m even working on a sequel to it which I’m really enjoying.
Anyway, all this meandering is a roundabout way of saying how important editing is. In the words of the Tramp from Minstrel’s Bargain; it is the most important thing. Yes, we all know the rags to riches story of Fifty Shades, and I suppose we have all shook our heads and scoffed at some of the dialogue, wondering how that happened. Some writers get lucky. But for the rest of us, getting that story as tight as possible means we have a chance if someone (an agent, a publisher, Stephen Spielberg) reads it. It may only be a slim chance. It may be a chance as slim as Slimmy Slimson, the slimmest man in the world getting through to the finals of ‘Fattest bloke on the telly,’ but it’s a chance. Point of Contact has been revised and revised again. To the point that it is now unrecognisable as the steaming pile of dog poo I first confidently threw into the face of those poor publishers all those years ago. Extended story, new characters and even a love element are in there now. Result!
It needs to be tight. Because the edit is your story. It is the edit that creates the mystery in a whodunit. It is the edit that makes a reader flip pages faster than their brains can keep up with in a thriller. It is the edit that makes someone terrified to read what happens next in a horror novel, and it is the edit that makes someone laugh out loud with delight in a romantic comedy. It does not matter what the genre is. The edit is the one thing you should make sure is right. You can always change a cover. You can always change your blurb. But it makes life very difficult when you find you have to re-edit once you’ve got your book out there. I know this from experience.
So please, make sure you edit your work. Then edit it again. Then, when you’re sure it’s edited completely, edit it again. Make sure it is as tight as you can make it. Put it away for a couple of weeks, then get it out and edit it again!
My books have been anything but best sellers. And to be honest, I’m not writing now because I believe it will make me rich. I know it won’t. I write because I enjoy it. I write because if I didn’t write I would have let myself down. I see other books doing really well and I try not to get jealous, because I am (really and honestly) extremely happy for anyone who gets results. I try, but sometimes I look at these books and think; really? Is this what a successful book looks like? Then I look at my own work and wonder. Are these the best I can make them? Should I change them to fit the current trends? But of course I don’t. Because I write for me, not some ephemeral, untouchable ‘target audience.’ I am by nature a cynical person, but where my books are concerned I have a terrible, fatalistic optimism. I still think they will eventually be ‘successful’ whatever that means.
But I would hate it if success called and people started to say; ‘How the hell did this book make it? Have you read it? The writing is awful. My main concern, regardless of how many of my books actually sell, is that the reader enjoys them. That they are immersed so deeply in the story that they become part of it. And how does this happen? Do I need to repeat it? That’s right. It’s the edit. If it’s done well, people actually forget they’re reading a story, and they become involved in it. The one thing I, personally, would like to be remembered for, the one thing I would like readers to say about my work is this; I know his books never sold well, but by God, they were really well edited.
Make it as good as it can possibly be. Because if the call comes, if that glorious day arrives, you want to be able to hand over a work of art. You want to be able to hand over a masterpiece.
Richard Ayre hails from Northumberland and now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. Point of Contact is his second novel. His first, Minstrel’s Bargain is a tale that mixes ancient evil and heavy metal music. Set in 1980’s Tyneside it is the first of a planned trilogy featuring the demon Minstrel. He has also written several short stories for books and magazines. Richard teaches History as a day job and in his spare time he enjoys riding around the Northumbrian countryside on his motorbike, Tanya.
You can find out more and contact Richard at http://richardayre1.wix.com/richard-ayre-author