Show not tell


When I sent off the manuscript for my children’s book to a copy editor (as recommended by Matador, the self-publishing company I use), I rather thought that the editor would be impressed by how few corrections were needed. I was firmly under the impression that my grammar, punctuation and general layout were pretty good, and having gone through it countless times myself, I couldn’t really see any areas for improvement. I imagined the editor looking at my book on their screen, and raising their eyebrows as they nodded with approval. Surely, I suggested to the dog, the editor would probably decide not to charge me, on the basis that my manuscript needed no further work? The dog agreed. After all, as far as he was concerned, the fact I could even hold a pen was an astounding achievement.

I was in for a shock when the manuscript came back – incredibly, considering how many times I had gone through it myself, there were quite a few basic mistakes that had been identified – words in the wrong place, missing words, extra words, too many spaces between words, not to mention spelling mistakes and too many commas. Thank goodness I’d decided to have the copy edit done – it was obvious to me now that going through the book, over and over again, didn’t necessarily identify all the errors; clearly a fresh eye was needed, to pick out the remaining mistakes.

The copy editor also recommended that I give some thought to something called ‘show not tell’ – the idea of letting your reader see the thoughts, actions and emotions of your character, rather than describing them, in order to prevent your own, ‘authorial’ voice from getting between the character and the reader. For example, instead of saying that ‘Hannah felt nervous’, I might say, ‘Hannah’s heart began to race’.

I struggled with this concept a bit, but as I looked at the dog, sleeping peacefully on his chair, it occurred to me that he was the perfect example of ‘showing not telling’. Although he was very bright and understood a huge amount of spoken English, there was no denying that being unable to speak, could have left him in a predicament when it came to communicating his needs and thoughts. What should he do, when he wanted to tell me that his water bowl was empty and he was thirsty? But being an expert at ‘showing not telling’, for him it was simple – all he needed to do was pick up his empty water bowl and throw it at my feet. What about when he was bored, and wanted to play? Easy – just grab a chewy bone and whack me smartly on the ankle with it. How should he respond when I made a derogatory comment about the state of his fur? A loud snort always got his message across.

Clearly, I needed to see the world more from his perspective, if I was to get the hang of ‘showing not telling’ properly. I hadn’t realised when I started the writing process that I would have so much to learn, and I certainly hadn’t realised that the dog would be up there amongst my teachers… I’d have to start treating him with more respect!

(Many thanks to Sarah from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy!)

All hard work and no biscuits


I’d written a children’s book, attempted and failed to get an agent or traditional publisher, and had finally decided to go for the self-publishing option. What to do next?

I naively thought it might be a case of simply sending the manuscript off to my chosen publisher, Matador, and then sitting back with a cup of coffee and some biscuits, with the dog at my feet. I assumed that after we had relaxed for a while, a parcel would come in the post, full of beautifully produced books.

It seemed we still had much to learn. First of all, the publisher strongly advised that I have the manuscript copy-edited to check for mistakes, grammatical errors, etc. They could do this for me, or they could recommend a list of independent companies to do it; I selected Cornerstones, one of the independent ones, and sent my manuscript off. I soon had an email back to let me know that they’d have it back to me in about a month. In the mean-time, the publisher advised me that I would also need a front-cover illustration. I googled around until I came across an illustrator called Ian R. Ward, whose work I liked, and I got in touch with him. I sent him some excerpts from the book so he could get an idea of the characters, and he was soon working on some initial sketches.

I thought at this point that biscuit-time might have arrived, but the copy-edited manuscript came back sooner than I’d expected. Now I needed to sit down and go through it word by word, looking at each change that the copy-editor had suggested, and deciding whether I wanted to accept each one or not. I did that and sent it off to the publisher. Was it biscuit-time at last? With the dog’s tail wagging, we headed towards the tin.

But before we could get the lid off, an email arrived from the illustrator, to say that the cover illustration was finished. I explain to the dog that we need to hold off on the biscuits until I’d had a look at it. The illustration was great, and completely captured the feel of the book. Fantastic! Off to the publishers with that as well!

Surely now, the dog pleaded, we could put the kettle on and get the biscuits out? But wait – another email arrived from the publisher to say that I needed to look at a style proof, to see what I thought about the font, font size and general page layout they’d suggested for the main text.

Right, done that as well. The dog and I sat down, and even had the biscuits half way to our mouths before another email pinged into my in-box. The dog raised his eye-brows and gave me his best and most exasperated ‘Harrumph’. Whatever now? It was a suggested front-cover design from the publisher’s graphic designer, incorporating my illustrator’s cover illustration. What did I think about the lay-out, font, etc., for that?

The dog put his head down and wandered dejectedly off towards his bed. He could only assume that the biscuits would be stale before we got to them. Who would have thought that self-publishing was such hard work? I kept quiet, not wanting to lower his spirits further by telling him that it wasn’t over yet…