Welcome to Ask Me Editing, the publishing and writing advice column that puts the ‘IMPish sense of humour’ back in IMPoster syndrome. Let’s go solve some high stakes issues.
Q: I'm good at editing other people's work but when it comes to my own I'm too close. Is it ok to keep asking my friends to read over my stuff? Or are there strategies to be able to edit my own work?
There’s nothing wrong with having a defined group of dedicated readers, even ones who are also your friends. In certain genre communities, this is even a defined thing, sometimes called Alpha and Beta readers, depending on where they are in the process. A lot of people love reading work and offering feedback, so as long as you’re making sure they’re not feeling put-upon, then go for it! I know one romance author who sends physical copies of her drafts to her beta readers, along with packets of tea and chocolate.
In terms of editing your own work, this is still something useful to do. A really quick, absurdly simple and extremely effective method that I’ve discovered is just reading your work aloud. It quickly finds awkward and long sentences, when you can’t physically say them, and it also QUICKLY exposes bad dialogue. I’ve written dialogue so bad that it’s given me the giggles to read it aloud.
Q: Should I submit to places where it costs money to submit? What is the benefit of this over places where it doesn't cost money? How do I spot a scam? Are there even scams or am I being paranoid?
This is a bit complicated, as there are a couple of exceptions to every rule. So – generally submitting something big like a novel just for consideration for publication should never come with a fee. If it does, generally a scam. Competitions are OK to have a fee for most things, and can mean that it’s a prestigious award, or simply that it’s a smaller, indie company that relies on the fees to survive. In terms of submitting to journals and lit mags – there’s generally not so much a scam culture going, and if they charge for submissions, it is usually a business decision. However, if not a competition, I think it’s pretty dodgy practice. If you’re paying them to publish your work, then we’re in topsy-turvy land. They should be paying you!
Q: Do I need to do professional writing courses or get qualifications for my work to be taken seriously?
Short answer – nope! Very no indeed! Every couple of years (months? Days?) a new article is written that throws more stinky oil on the ‘do creative writing degrees even matter at all and are they done by stupid dumbos?’ fire. There are certainly some qualifications and degrees, especially things like US MFA’s like Iowa Writers Workshop that come along with a lot of prestige and in-built benefits. You can be sure that if you graduate Iowa, your work will be noticed by agents and publishers, and you’ll leave with a butt-ton of contacts. But – that’s one (expensive) route, suitable for a certain type of author. For every author who took that path, there are thousands of successful ones who can’t.
The way I think about degrees and qualifications and other opportunities like that is that it can’t hurt your professional chances – but the primary focus has to be about improving yourself as a writer. It works for some, and is less effective for others.
Patrick Lenton is your NEW PROFESSIONAL AGONY UNCLE. If he doesn't know it, he'll go and find out. ASK HIM ANYTHING! Send your questions to Patrick care of firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to us, and he'll respond with FREE professional advice.
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Patrick Lenton is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors.