Sunday, March 20, 2011

Got Some Writer Envy—Get Some Editing to Improve Your Own Writing!

Authors Yvonne Lee, Robert Raymer, and Adeline Loh at 2009 Popular Star Reader's Choice Awards 

When I first heard that Yvonne Lee, author of Madness Aboard and Vanity Drive, had some incredible sales with her first book, The Sky is Crazy:  Tales from a Trolley Dolly, I felt a twinge of jealously—it’s human nature.  I was like, wow, how did she do it?  Another writer mentioned that she’s good at online marketing, and I thought, OK, I need to do more of that.  She is also good at going after the media instead of waiting for the media come to her, which is also smart.  (They made never come!) Ok, I should do more of this too!  Then she did something that really caught my attention.  She contacted me to help edit her next book.

That’s what successful writers do; they seek out those in the position to help them.

That’s what I did, too, when I first began to write.  I hired an editor to point out all of my mistakes in the short stories that I was writing, not knowing that I was even making any mistakes!  To be honest, I was looking for validation!  Brilliant—don’t change a word!  I learned an awful lot and realized I had an awful lot to learn about writing.  Gradually I transformed these early stories, draft after draft, into a collection, Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993).   

While revisiting my old short stories for Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH, 2008), I did it again.  I approached an editor friend and convinced her to edit my stories by hiring her!  And these stories had already been published many times!  Although there were no grammar mistakes or glaring errors, she did point areas in each story that needed to be tightened.  She questioned details, word choice, and any ineffective writing that needed to be reworked.  She pointed me in the right direction, but the rest was up to me, as I overhauled the stories.

Basically, I hired a fresh pair of eyes to catch mistakes before I send it to the publisher.  Of course, the publisher will assign you an editor, but usually they’re overworked and will mostly catch minor mistakes, yet many errors (and a lot of bad, lazy writing) will still end up in print!  Pick up most books published in Malaysia (and elsewhere, too) and you’ll see what I mean. 

Did my efforts pay off?  Lovers and Strangers Revisited did win the 2009 Popular-Star Reader’s Choice Award and now the collection is getting translated into French.

Yes, I know, hiring an editor will cost money, but consider it as a writer’s business expense or as an investment into your own writing.  I did.  You’re also investing into your education as a writer by learning from the editor’s corrections and comments.  This way you’ll be more aware of your own writing and less likely to make similar mistakes.  You will, in fact, become a better writer by learning how to make your writing more effective.

So what do you look for in an editor?  Other than price, consider the editor’s experience and publishing credentials.  Can they walk the talk?  Like many editors, I offer a basic line-editing service, catching any and all grammar mistakes and related errors.  For years I taught advance grammar to English teachers as part of their English Literature and Language Studies program.  I also line-edited my creative writing students’ work and did the same for published writers, too.  Unlike your average English language academic, I offer an advance editing service that takes you into the mind of a published author (and creative writing instructor), adding personal insights into your writing, whereby your word choices, your turn of phrases, and your writing style does matter if you truly want to be successful.  So does your organization, your transitions, your point-of-view, and your underlying story logic, especially in fiction and creative non-fiction.  Is your story plausible, believable, or full of gaping holes and question marks?

After I edited two sample chapters, Yvonne Lee replied, “You're so super efficient!  I love the way you gave me details about why certain phrases didn't work. Very thorough work in such short time.  A perfect teacher . . . . Really appreciate the care and time you had given to my work :)”  Notice the smiley emoticon that she added.  That made me smile, too.  This is exactly why she is successful.  She not only knows how to come up with good ideas, write and market her work, she’s not afraid to ask for a fresh pair of editing eyes.  She even shows appreciation, and that’s rare these days!  (Believe me, I’ve spoken to other editors!)  

Yvonne even made these comments after I caught her making some silly mistakes and couple of glaring non-grammatical errors that we all tend to make when writing in a hurry.  She wasn’t angry or embarrassed.  Maybe a little embarrassed . . . . I know I was when my editor friend caught my mistakes!  Bear in mind, I was paying her to catch those mistakes so they don’t end up in print!  

Far too many writers, on the other hand, get defensive and lash out at you!  "How dare you insinuate that my writing needs to be improved!  It’s perfect as it is!  Don’t touch a word!”  Editors at publishing houses hear this all the time, and it’s so frustrating for them . . . . They see the errors and so will their readers, but the writer is all ego!  These types of writers you really can't help; their egos won't let you!  But whether you own up to the criticism or not, or live in a state of denial, if the mistakes are there, it’s far better that I (or another editor) catch them than thousands of your readers!  

As for, Yvonne Lee, I’m impressed that after three published books, she’s still willing to learn from others so her future books will continue to be bestsellers.  That’s rather admirable, don’t you think?
And yes, I’m still a little envious of her sales and her publicity (then again she is a former stewardess and I’m not!).  After having gotten to know her and working with her, I feel she deserves it.  She’s also going places with her writing, and I find that very exciting and am glad to be a part of it.

Being jealous or envious of other writers won’t get you very far in your writing life, unless you use that as motivation to write better.  Bottom line:  if you want to be as successful in your writing, do what successful writers do.  A good place to start is to get some serious help with your editing to give your writing a lift, so you too can become that best-selling, award-winning writer that will be the envy of everyone else.  Myself included.  Good luck!

For those wishing to contact Robert Raymer for his editing services, please go to his website at

*Here’s also a link to The Story Behind the Story which contains the editing changes I did for my stories that led to their various publications. 

**And for Yvonne's marketing, check this out.

***Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 


Yvonne Lee said...

Thanks a lot, Robert, for sharing our writing and editing experiences with others in this post. Am sure other writers and budding authors will look at their own work in new light....that perhaps they could do with an editor to critique their work before they submit to any publication or publisher. Thanks again and I'll definitely recommend you to others:)

Best Regards,
Yvonne Lee

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thank you, Yvonne! Yvonne, by the way, is the author of The Sky is Crazy: Tales from a Trolly Dolly, which has sold 10,000 copies (huge for Malaysia) and has also been translated into Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. She also wrote Vanity Drive: The Vagaries of One Woman's Vanity, and her latest book is Madness Aboard.

And for Yvonne's marketing, check this out:

sintaicharles said...

Great post.You are a gem.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks. Most writers need that extra eye on their work, someone who can gently push them in the right direction. Sometimes what they need is a strong shove--that's how I benefited. It felt like a wake-up call! Oh, so this is what I have been doing wrong all along and I didn't even know it!