Friday, October 19, 2012

Guest Post from Touring Author Sheila Deeth Celebrating Divide by Zero!

Hi Everybody!

I self-published some children’s stories a while ago. I read and re-read, edited and re-edited them over and over before I let them loose on the unsuspecting world. Then I found I’d written Gad instead of God in the middle of one.

My new novel, Divide by Zero, was just released by Luckily I didn’t have to edit that all on my own. My words were handed over to a wonderful writer and editor, Shirley Ann Howard—since I’d already read and enjoyed several of her books I could hardly believe my good fortune. She taught me lots of things about editing and I suddenly realized, there’s a reason I’ve always enjoyed polishing a nice clean smooth wooden table—it’s like polishing a manuscript; it’s making words and wood shine.

Now I’m editing Vampires of Rome for Peter Joseph Swanson, another author I really admire, and I’m learning even more. So here are my first rules for editing a novel:

1. Don’t expect to do everything at once.
2.   Familiarize yourself with the voice and the story in your first pass. Read like a reader and take note of where you skim, where you’re confused, where the wording conjures entirely the wrong image, and where you’re itching to change something. Track changes and write lots of comments. What color is her hair? What year did they meet? Does he always speak so very formally?
3.    On the second pass look for answers to your questions and make the changes you skipped the first time through. If you started switching “he is” to “he’s” in chapter five, you’ll want to do it more often near the start. If something was confusing, find another way to say it. Try cutting down your long sentences, removing “that,” changing “he was walking” to “he walked,” deleting extraneous “but” “and” “however” etc.
4.    The third pass is a good place for some more global edits. Look for every use of “that” and see which you want to keep. Look for “was” “were” “and” and more. Look for “as if” and see if you want “as if it was” or “as if it were.” Look for likely misspellings of your characters’ names, and anything else that came up once too often in the earlier passes.
5.   And now, just to confuse things, change your font. I recommend Garamond. Those semi-colons will suddenly stand out. The italics look different—did you really want the quote marks italicized too, and the punctuation (probably not)? Even the shape of the paragraphs changes and you get to ask if this sentence belongs on the end of one or the beginning of the next.
6.   And now—yes, there’s still another pass—now read your file with much larger text on the screen. How did that word get to be only half italicized? How did did you manage not to see that repeated “did”? And those commas—why did you use so many in that sentence.
7.   That last pass shouldn’t have changed very much so now you stop. You really hope you haven’t left any mistakes but just know that you have. It’s life. Seven for God’s perfect plan and humanity’s perfect imperfection!

Shirley Ann Howard taught me well. Thank you Shirley! But even then, the “final” version of Divide by Zero, emailed in a beautifully formatted pdf file by my publisher, had the classic statement “She picked up a diaper for the baby provided by the church.” Luckily the publisher allowed a few more “final” edits. The church is now providing diapers, not babies, and Divide by Zero is wending its way to the stores.


About Divide by Zero:

It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks.
Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost.
Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people. Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might take a child to raise the subdivision—or to mend it.

About the author:
Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has a Bachelors and Masters in mathematics from Cambridge University, England. Now living in the States near Portland Oregon, she enjoys reading, writing, drawing, telling stories and meeting her neighbors' dogs on the green.

Divide by Zero is available from: 
And more.

Sheila can be found on her website:
Or connect with her on:

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  1. Great post, Sheila! Congrats on your book.
    Hi Glenda, wonderful to stop by your blog today:-)

  2. Wow Sheila Deeth, and Glenda

    Great post! Loved it and I can not wait to read your book Sheila!


  3. Hi ladies - such a useful post and thank you for sharing this with us! Valuable system of editing that I am going to use.

  4. Thank you. It's certainly been fun editing someone else's work, but a scary responsibility too.

  5. Thanks for comments everybody...The thing that amazed me about Sheila's words was that it was so succinct and yet it told you exactly what to do. As a proofreader for many, I've done the first step, reading for content, then I go back...etc., so I've been doing what you've said but never had it put together sooooo simply!

    Best, G

  6. Thank you Glenda. I'm so glad people found this helpful.