Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ask the Editor: Finding an Editor

James G. asks: I'm ready to find an editor for my completed novel. How do I go about it? How do I know what to look for? Are there questions I should ask? What if I'm not satisfied?

I'd love to say, "Just hire me and all your problems will be solved," but the truth of the matter is, finding the right editor for your manuscript is like finding the right doctor for your health. We all have different needs, different personalities, and different expectations. 

Let me tell you a story. 

A while back, I was shopping for an editor for my first indie-pubbed work. I did some online research, contacted writer friends for referrals and started with a list of ten options. Three of those were out of my price range. Down to seven. Three couldn't meet my time requirements. Four left. One felt a conflict of interest since she was currently working with a manuscript with a similar theme as mine and backed out of the project. With three left, I opted to go with the editor referred by one of my closest writer friends because I really respected her opinion. When I hired this editor, I explained that I prided myself on writing an uber-clean manuscript so I wasn't overly concerned with line edits (though she should definitely correct any sporadic typos or errors she found) and I wanted her to focus more on structure (did I leave any loose ends? Is the story credible? Could she see the character arc clearly?). She assured me she was up to the challenge. 

A few weeks later, I got the manuscript back, and I was major league disappointed. She had amended words from correct to incorrect usage (I used "sloe-eyed"; she changed it to "slow-eyed." Really? I mean, REALLY?!) Instances where I'd intentionally repeated a phrase or statement for emphasis, she deleted with the comment, "repetitive." (Duh.) There was absolutely no feedback regarding my structural concerns. I sent an email, thanking the editor for her work, but asking (again!) about my structural concerns. No reply. A week later, I sent a follow-up email and wound up with a, "Oh, yeah. It's fine" reply. The experience not only left a bad taste in my mouth, it made me think that this editor was more interested in my payment than in my manuscript. I wound up sending the manuscript to someone else to fix the edit mistakes she'd created. 

My unsatisfactory results with this editor ultimately led to my launching Excellence in Editing. No writer should pay for shoddy service! And an editor should deliver on what (s)he promises! do you know? Here are a few tips:

1. Get references and check them out. Ask for book titles, buy, and read! Remember, this is someone who will polish your work. If you see lots of errors or weaknesses in the stories previously edited, beware!
2. What experience does the editor have with your personal goal (contests, NY publishers, small press, or indie publishing)?
3. Ask for a sample! Some editors (like me) will edit a few sample pages for a flat fee. The good thing about a sample is, it gives each of you a chance to feel each other out.
4. Understand what you need and stress those needs to your prospective editor. Line edits are about punctuation, typos, grammar, and spelling. Structural edits are about the story.
5. Discuss payment and refund options.
6. Be sure the editor offers you at least one follow-up.
7. Have a contract! Editing is a business and shouldn't be handled fly-by-night. 

Have any questions or concerns, contact me, whether you plan to hire me or not. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Are You Guilty of Character Anachronisms?


anachronism [uh-nak-ruh-niz-uh] 
something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time: The sword is an anachronism in modern warfare.

Recently, I read a story wherein the heroine (age 28) referred to a television commercial that aired in the 1970s. The product itself hasn't been in existence (except through dealers in rare items) since 1976--nearly ten years prior to the character's birth. Needless to say, this jolted me out of the story. 

I see this a lot from contemporary authors who are at least a decade older than their characters. Their references don't jibe. They use phrases no twenty- or thirty-something would ever utter, recall television shows or popular songs they wouldn't have heard of. Their characters often come across as too savvy because they insert their personal experiences (which usually occurred much later in their lives!) into the character's much-younger background.

If you're going to write characters who are much younger (or older!) than you, be sure to research carefully. Spend time with people who are the approximate age of your characters. Use search engines wisely! Be sure the slang you use, the pop culture you reference, and the knowledge you give your characters is age-appropriate.

For example, anyone born between the years 1966-1976 are considered Generation X. Generation X children were more likely to have lived through their parents' divorce than any other previous generation. They were the first "latchkey" kids. As they aged, they've become focused on higher education, and financial and family security. They tend to use digital technology to simplify their lives through online banking and shopping. Gen X watched the OJ slow-speed car chase and the subsequent trial, which was probably their first foray into Court TV. They came of age during the AIDS crisis, the stock market collapse, and the 90s dotcom burst. This was the MTV generation (when MTV still aired music videos). Their movies reflected coming of age angst: The Breakfast Club, Reality Bites, Clerks,  Fast Times at Ridgemont High. On television, they tuned in to Beverly Hills 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The X Files.

After 1976 to about 1994 are Generation Y, or Millenniums (also known as Echo Boomers since they are the largest segment of new population since the Baby Boomers generation). Generation Y kids had soccer moms and trophies for every player. This generation is more technologically savvy, thanks to the popularity of the PC and the Internet. For the most part, these are the bloggers and social media mavens. They're culturally diverse and more liberal in their thinking. Gen Y kids played with Transformers and Pokemon. They fell in love with Elmo. Pop music renewed the popularity of boy bands with 'N Sync and The Backstreet Boys, but added the hiphop of Eminem and Tupak. Their television shows were edgier: South Park, Family Guy, Two and a Half Men, as well as the glut of reality shows that burst from the networks. They grew up with Home Alone and The Lion King--on videos they could watch whenever they wanted--before discovering the films of Judd Apatow and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What a difference a few years makes! 

To fully connect with your reader, be sure to research your characters, their pasts, and their experiences before creating their fictional journeys.