Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are You READY For an Editor?

In the last two weeks, I've had to turn down three clients.


They weren't ready.

Nobody's perfect, and one or two issues are expected in any manuscript submitted for edits. But if simple problems like improper punctuation, hundreds of instances of smiles and looks (She looked at him, he smiled at her...) rather than true body language signals, no indication of setting or time, too many dialogue tags or incorrectly placed dialogue tags, starting the story in the wrong place, and other rookie errors litter your manuscript, you'll easily be pegged as a newbie writer with a rough first attempt.

Sure, I could shove my conscience into a dark closet, take their money, fix their typos and punctuation errors and send them into the self-pub world without properly preparing them. After all, who am I to judge them?

Who am I? Well, I'm not just an editor. I'm an author. And I'm a reader. And if I allow a writer to release a shoddy product with my blessing, I'm basically peeing in my own pool. I'd rather not. I take great pride in my profession and in helping other authors achieve publication status. But I'm not about to tarnish someone else's dream to line my pocket with a little cash.

So...are you really ready for an editor? Answer the following ten questions honestly:

1. Do I have a complete story?
2. Do I understand and utilize the concepts of GMC, POV, and Show vs. Tell?
3. If my story is more than fifty pages long, does it include chapter breaks?
4. Have I used punctuation properly to the best of my knowledge?
5. Is this work entirely my own with no issues where I've cut and pasted info?
6. Am I confident in my research?
7. Has a beta reader or critique partner reviewed this work?
8. Do I use a good balance of description to convey mood and tone?
9. Have I properly formatted the manuscript according to the editor's requirements?
10. Can I handle criticism and make educated decisions regarding changes my editor will recommend?

If you can't answer, "Yes" to all ten of these questions, you're not ready, either.

I apologize if this bursts your dream, but your editor is not your ghostwriter. The emergence of self-publishing has opened doors to writers who might never have seen their work published otherwise. But that doesn't mean you don't have to learn your craft before you publish. A concert violinist doesn't just pick up an instrument, pluck the strings, and become first chair at the Met. Athletes don't just decide to play one day and sign a multi-million dollar contract with a professional team the next. Practice and education are crucial! You need to know the ins and outs of writing, grasp and utilize the concepts of good storytelling, and most of all, you have to work hard at it. 

Join writing organizations, find critique partners, read. Don't just read for pleasure. Read to learn. Notice the way an author manipulates his characters to evoke emotion in you. Absorb the way the story unfolds naturally, smoothly, with you going along for the ride. Even if it's just to figure out how to end a sentence, pick up any newspaper, magazine or storybook and take a look at the sentence structure and punctuation.

By the way, if you can answer, "Yes" to all ten questions and you're looking for an editor, let's talk.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ask the Editor: Do I Need a Critique Group?

Maggie A. sent me the following:
Hi Gina. Great blog! I've learned a lot here and printed out copies of stuff I can use later. I'm a newbie author, still working on my first novel, a historical romance that takes place in the time of Charlemagne. Some people have recommended I find a critique group to share my chapters with, but I recently heard a New York Times best-selling author say critique groups stagnate a writer's creativity by sticking to "the rules" too much. Do you agree with that statement? As an author, do you belong to a critique group? If yes, what are the benefits? If I wanted to look for a critique group, where would I start and what should I look for? What should I avoid?

Hi Maggie! Thanks for reading and for the great question. Currently, I have two critique partners and belong to one small critique group where I rely on the opinions and guidance of three very talented writers. I've actually run the gamut on critique groups over the years. Some have been extremely helpful, some have been nightmares.

Certainly, I believe you should have at least one critique partner--preferably someone who is at about the same level as you, writing-wise, but with different strengths. For example, if you're really good at plotting but your mechanics (grammar, punctuation) need major work, find a writer with excellent mechanical skills who has difficulty carrying an idea through to fruition. You'll both benefit from your relationship. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. This is why a lot of writers join critique groups: the bigger the pool of writers, the easier it is to find someone with strengths that mirror your weaknesses. But that ease comes with a few costs.

For one thing, the more opinions you receive, the more you'll lose your voice by trying to please all those critiquers. Be strong enough to believe in yourself and what you're writing but not so rigid that you dismiss constructive advice. It will take a while for you to know when to go with your gut and when to heed someone else. So don't rush to make changes to your story every time someone disagrees with you. Let it simmer, mull it over, try different versions, but always keep the original intact somewhere.

A more important concern: the bigger the pool, the more varied the personalities. Large critique groups (more than seven members) often fall apart due to in-fighting. Writers are passionate people. We have to be passionate to put our emotions on the page. In large groups, however, this passion can spill over into ugly confrontations or worse, back-stabbing. Drama creates drama creates drama, etc. until there are vicious lines drawn that often affect the entire circle with devastating results. Many critique group members wind up leaving (or get thrown out) after a heated disagreement with group members or the group owner. So be careful who you trust.

This isn't meant to scare you off critique groups. Finding people you can rely on, whose opinion you value, is often a lot of hit-and-miss. Honestly, it depends upon the personality of the writer. You need nerves of steel, a strong backbone, and thick skin. But the rewards can be worth the war--if you find the right circle of writers to strengthen your skills and help launch you into the publishing world.

Good luck to you!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ask the Editor: Dialogue Tags

Melissa D sent me the following: I'm confused about how to use punctuation with dialogue. When should I use a comma and when should I end with a period? What's the difference between single quotes and double quotes? And if the character is asking a question, does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation marks?

Another great question, and a source of much frustration for me when I see it done wrong in published work! Thanks, Melissa.

In the U.S., we always use double quotation marks for dialogue. Single quotation marks are only used inside double quotation marks.

“I want to watch ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” Robbie shouted.
Punctuation goes inside the quotes.
“Too bad, Robbie,” Nicole replied. “‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ is on tonight.”

Clear as mud? Okay, let’s try another.

The witness hesitated.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” the attorney told her. “Simply repeat what the defendant said to you for the court record.”
After a long moment, the witness sighed and leaned forward to speak directly into the microphone. “He said, ‘I’ll kill you first!’” she whispered in a tone roughened with raw emotion.
“And how did you respond?”
“I asked him why.” Her voice, though softer than a child’s coo, carried volumes across the silent courtroom. “‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I’d never given him a reason to distrust me.”

If the the dialogue is a question, the question mark goes inside the quotes: "Why are you doing this to me?" or "Why are you doing this to me?" she asked.

Notice, too, that my dialogue tags are not capitalized—except in the last exchange. Why? Because the last exchange is not a dialogue tag. “Her voice…carried…” is an action. “He said,” “she cried,” “he exclaimed,” “she whispered,” “he asked,” etc. are all dialogue tags. “He rose from the table.” is an action. “She glanced up.” Action. “Mom hung up the phone.” Action. If “Mom exclaimed, and then hung up the phone,” it’s a dialogue tag. Dialogue tags complete the dialogue and are included as part of the dialogue. Even dialogue that ends with a question mark or exclamation point is part of the dialogue. Actions are separate thoughts and require a new sentence. If you took away the dialogue and the rest of the passage is still a complete sentence, requiring no further clarification, it's not a dialogue tag.

“Where are you going?” he asked.
“What do you care?” She slammed the door so hard the walls shook.
“What a witch!” he said to no one in particular.
“Jerk!” With one last scathing look at the house, Carrie stalked to the waiting cab.

Let's try to separate those four.
#1. He asked. (He asked what? Incomplete thought=dialogue tag.)
#2. She slammed the door so hard the walls shook. (Complete sentence.)
#3. He said to no one in particular. (He said what? Incomplete thought=dialogue tag.)
#4. With one last scathing look at the house, Carrie stalked to the waiting cab. (Complete sentence.)

Hope this helps! If not, feel free to email me at for additional clarification!