The Festival of the Book introduced me to assisted self-publishing, but the panel members stressed something else as well—the importance of having your work professionally edited before submitting it. As I went through the guidelines for iUniverse, I found the same thing—submit your edited manuscript. Editorial evaluation was part of the package, but was I as ready as I thought I was?

At that point, the manuscript was formatted for hard copy submission. Double spaced Courier text, careful avoidance of option characters such as curly quotes and em-dashes, headers and footers, page numbers, underlining for italics and chapters as separate files. iUniverse wanted Times New Roman and a single file. I’ll talk later about the problems this caused me, but my main concern at the moment was finding an editor locally.

Back when I was writing the Alaska Science Forum I’d worked with an editor, and we generally wound up with something better than I could have done alone. Carla suggested rather than insisting, but her suggestions usually made sense. Further, she’d seen one of the very early versions of the manuscript and liked it. I hadn’t seen her for years, but when I phoned her she graciously agreed to edit the manuscript and suggested I e-mail her the chapters (57 of them at that point.) After skimming what I had sent her, she immediately made one suggestion that has a lot to do with the current shape of Homecoming—forget putting things in strict chronological order, which resulted in chapters jumping back and forth between planets several hundred light years apart and not knowing of each others’ existence. Instead, put the action on Central first and only then put in the simultaneous action on Riya. That was done in July ‘09, and it was a major improvement. Then in August Carla settled down to the serious, chapter-by-chapter editing.

Editing does several things. First, it catches grammatical errors—not many of those; my mother was a retired schoolteacher and I grew up speaking correctly or else.

Then it called my attention to ambiguities that I could not see because I knew who was speaking or to whom a pronoun referred. That’s a real problem in any kind of writing. You can write a conversation, even a long one, without tags (at least if only two people are involved.) But the chances are that your reader will forget who’s speaking after a couple of exchanges. Carla caught that kind of problem, and encouraged me to break up the longer conversations with action—even something as simple as a character looking away, or getting a cup of chocolate. As for pronouns, the rule is to use the character’s name if there is any remote chance the reader will be uncertain who “he” or “she” is. Of course there are times you may be deliberately using the pronouns to say something about a character, such as Zhaim’s use of “it” when referring to a slave, or Davy’s refusal to name someone he disapproves of.

There were places where we argued about changes. I remember one place where the change Carla suggested changed my meaning. Eventually I realized that my original phrasing, much as I liked it, was obviously not getting across the idea that I wanted, and I had to rewrite the phrase. I didn’t like the rewrite as well as I did my original, but it left less room for confusion.

I don’t know if all editors do this, but Carla again and again said of something I mentioned as having happened, “that should be a scene.” So I’d add a scene—sometimes no more than a sentence or two, sometimes several pages. The slaves’ discovery of the cave is one of those scenes, as are Marna’s visits to her mother’s home and to the Healers’ Center. I think that the book is the better for them.

By the end of October we reached the point where my manuscript needed only to be put into the format iUniverse required. By that time I had it in Times New Roman, single spaced, with a tab character beginning each paragraph. I had cautiously used the find and replace option on Word to change double dashes to em-dashes and triple periods to ellipses, and I was assured (wrongly as it turned out) that iUniverse could change my straight quotes and apostrophes to curly ones. I needed only to stitch the chapters together into a single manuscript, and I could send it in. I thought. Little did I know of the wars with Word to come—but that’s another story.