Monday, February 17, 2014

Warning! Going Small Press? Be Sure Your Story Will Be Properly Edited!

It's been a while since I've posted here, not because I've forgotten about you all, but because I don't want to beat a dead horse about editing dos and don'ts. Most of my previous articles speak for themselves and are still prevalent. But today, I have a new issue that came to my attention quite by accident. It's a warning to any author looking to (or about to) sell to a small press publisher. Please take the following to heart and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

A small press publisher contacted me with an offer to do some temporary freelance work for them. It seems they found themselves overwhelmed with manuscripts and their editorial staff couldn't keep up so they were looking for a freelancer to do some work on the side for them. This was supposed to be for copy editing only (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.). I did some back and forth emails with a representative for the company, asking what I thought were pertinent questions, checked them out online, looked them up on the usual watchdog sites (Preditors & Editors, etc.), and no red flags went up. 

One of the questions I asked was, "Are your manuscripts properly vetted by your editorial staff before I receive them?" She assured me they were, indeed. But in later correspondence, I was assured the manuscripts were all recommended by their "acquisitions editor-beta reader."

Wait a sec. Back up. An acquisitions editor is not the same thing as a beta reader! The two are vastly different roles. So...which one is reviewing the manuscripts and doing the structural edits before I get the manuscripts for the copy edits? I received the following reply: 

"As the case with many small press publishers, we do not take any manuscript that we feel needs character or storyline (both structural and concept-based) development."

Now, I'm confused. I do have experience with a small press publisher (five books' worth) and I had a tremendous amount of structural and concept development with all my editors there. And I'm grateful to them for making my work better.

In fact, I recommend that even self-published authors hire structural as well as copy editors for their work. No author, no matter how talented, is so brilliant that he/she doesn't need someone to review the work for loose ends, excessive backstory, areas that need more tension, stronger conflicts, deeper POV, and so on.

So, if you're planning on signing with a small press publisher, you might want to ask a question you hadn't considered before: what kind of edit process will my manuscript undergo? And be prepared to ask for specific details regarding structural vs. copy edits, and who exactly will be doing the work!

If the answers aren't what you expected, there's no shame in walking away. (That's what I did in this case.) Sometimes, no publisher is better than the wrong publisher.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Setting the Stage

A common problem I see in contest entries and pre-edited works is the lack of scenery. Characters do a lot of walking inside, walking outside, but the author gives us no detail. Sure, it's a challenge. And while many how-to books insist you need to use all five senses when writing a scene, I'm here to assure you if you can use any three in a scene, that's good enough. We all want our readers to be able to picture themselves in our stories. Give them a stage with three of the four walls, and trust them to fill in the blanks.

Take a simple segue between the living room of a house and the front porch. As your character exits, what time of day is it? Morning? Afternoon? Dusk? Night? 
What season is it? Is it cloudy? Raining? Sunny? Foggy? Snowing? 
What year is it? Contemporary? Historical? Futuristic? 
What's outside the property? Rural setting? City? 
What sounds does the character hear? Chirping birds? Heavy traffic? Crickets? Are there other people around? A plane whizzing overhead? The clip-clop of hooves? A dog barking? The rustle of leaves? Does the wind howl? Has the blizzard blanketed the world in white so that there is no sound? Can your character hear the whoosh of the waves kissing the shore? 
Does the sun bathe her face in warmth? Does the rain splash his shoes? Does the cold make your character shiver? 
Is the air heavy with the perfume of flowers? Fresh rain and spring mud? Salt and coconut oil on the beach? Garlic from the Italian restaurant across the street? The smell of burning leaves?

Yes, if you were to answer all of these questions, your book would wind up at 1000 pages. So choose a few to add to your scene. For example, using the scenario I started with, here are three entirely different options:

Cassie stepped outside onto the porch and watched the sun sink into the horizon beyond the barn. A brisk wind had kicked up while she'd prepared tonight's meal, and crimson leaves danced across the pasture. She shivered in her thin calico gown. 

Cassie stepped outside onto the porch and shielded her eyes from the morning sunlight glinting off the fresh snow. Another perfect day on the slopes waited. Once she'd cleaned up the breakfast dishes, she'd grab her skis and head to the lift before the crowds appeared for the holiday weekend.

Cassie stepped outside onto the balcony and looked down at the crowds ten stories below, beginning the daily rat race to work. The first sun had already risen, lighting the sky a pale pink and heating the temperature to wilt-worthy degrees. The second sun would be up soon, and she'd probably have to grab an air-skid to get to today's meeting on time. 

Three vastly different time periods and locales, all described in three sentences. 

So take a few sentences to set your stage in every scene. Your story and your readers will benefit!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

You Can Lead A Writer to Research...But You Can't Make 'Em Use It

There's an old saying in the writing world that the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. This is why research is so important in fiction writing. When I cite anachronisms, spelling errors, and other problems in a manuscript, 90% of the time, it's an error that could have been corrected with a little research.

Research is the writer's best friend. I spend a lot of time urging writers to double-check their research. Why? Because in minutes, with the magic of the Internet and my vast library of research books, I discovered a glitch in the story's timeline, the character's procedure, or a historical inaccuracy that cannot be ignored. Sometimes, what I find throws off the rest of the story, and I understand if an author's first reaction is, "I don't want to change that. It'll mean totally revising the manuscript." Yes, it's disappointing that a scene that hinges on three hundred pages is illogical or impossible. Yes, I commiserate with an author's need to protect his/her baby from deep cuts. You've already spent so much time on the story, finally feel it's perfect, and now I come along and rip it to shreds. So, of course, the author feels too protective to take a step back, consider my comments as helpful, and rise to the challenge. Since I'm a freelance editor, I don't have the power to make a writer follow my suggestions. All I can do is strongly advise. To opt against making changes is the author's prerogative, but an author shouldn't be surprised if that decision doesn't endear the book to readers.

What I discover too often are writers who write the facts around their story, rather than writing their story around the facts. Savvy readers will know the difference and will lose respect for the author who doesn't know the difference.

Last year, I wrote a post about the best habits for doing research. You can read it here. I urge you to do so and to follow these habits before committing to your story.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Need for Etymology When Writing Historical Fiction

For those who aren't familiar with the term, etymology is the origin of words. I'm in the midst of judging a contest, and my entries are in the historical category. I love judging, by the way. It gives me a chance to read some stellar works (I've seen some amazing stories and even collected new favorite authors from the contest circuit) and if the work is less-than-stellar, I have the opportunity to provide an author with the chance to improve.Today's post is one of those Public Service Announcements. Don't Let This Happen to You:

Last night, I picked up an entry and began to read. Within the first ten pages, I'd stumbled over four words that didn't seem accurate for the time period. A quick flip to my etymology references confirmed what I suspected: all four phrases were nineteenth century in origin, while the setting of the entry is six hundred years earlier. The editor in me cringed. Four? In ten pages? What else am I going to discover as I dig deeper into the manuscript? Because right there, the author lost me. He or she clearly didn't do the research and I'm now going to consider every phrase that leaps out at me as anachronistic.

Now, of course, I don't expect the dialogue in a modern book (regardless of historical setting) to read like a Shakespearean play, but at the same time, don't use 19th century slang (or even 16th century slang!) in a 13th century story. It takes seconds to look up the origin of a phrase. Those of us who know these things (and readers who flock to the same historical time period over and over do so because they *do* know these things) don't easily forgive that kind of "lazy writing." It makes us wonder, what else did the author screw up? And once that happens, the reader's no longer engaged in the story. 

Some helpful websites that every historical author should have bookmarked: 

The Online Etymology Dictionary
The Big List
Etymylogically Speaking

Monday, May 27, 2013

Announcing the New Website

I'm thrilled to announce I've finally launched the website for Excellence in Editing! You can find me at (note: there's no "in" in the middle). Bookmark it. On my site, you'll find details on my pricing, testimonials from other clients, helpful links for writing and editing.

I hope you'll visit and take advantage of all I have to offer!

Meanwhile, don't forget to drop me a line with questions you might have about the editing process and shopping for the right editor for your precious work.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

On References

Well, it's happened again. A writer I know went online today to complain that she'd paid an editor to review her manuscript and when she received the finished product, the errors and typos were out of control. In this case, the edited version was now littered with improper punctuation, incorrect dialogue tags, and spelling changes that reflected a European style while this book was intended for an American audience.

I really can't stress enough how important it is to know what you're getting before you pay an editor to work on your story. A true professional will not be insulted if you ask about punctuation placement, his/her stance on the Oxford comma (I'm a big believer, by the way), or if (s)he knows the difference between "affect" and "effect." 

Ask questions, my friends. Ask for references--not just the names of authors (where you might just get the editor's buddies who'll tell you what a fabulous product they received) but titles of books you can review for yourself. Ask more questions. Ask for a contract. Ask more questions. Be absolutely sure you and your prospective editor will see eye to eye on the majority of your concerns before sending your money.

Publishing is a business as well as an art. Put the left side of your brain in gear before hiring anyone to do work that will affect your bottom line!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ask the Editor: When Do I Hire an Editor?

Kevin D. sent me the following question: I've written the first hundred pages of my story (the other 200 or so are still in my head). Is it okay for me to take advantage of your Introductory Special to make sure I'm not wasting my time? Thanks in advance for your reply!

My answer? That depends on how much money you have to throw around and how serious you are about your story. To be honest, my "introductory special" is so successful, I don't see how I could stop offering it any time soon. And of course, even if it's not advertised, any writer who wants to make sure (s)he and I will see eye to eye on edits prior to hiring me to take on a larger project will always be welcome to send me a sample and I'll be happy to provide the sample price.

Here's the thing. Sure, you've got the story written in your head. But I strongly suggest you get it written on paper before you contact an editor. Why? Because a lot of times what's in your head doesn't translate to paper and you wind up with an entirely different story than what you'd originally envisioned. Because lots of people start a story and even write a hundred or a hundred fifty pages, then quit. Because it's more difficult for an editor to perform a structural edit on an incomplete manuscript.

The Internet's a wonderful thing and the sudden growth of self-publishing is grand. But it also means that people are in more of a hurry than ever to get their book "live"--often before it's polished and ready. Take a deep breath, put your head down, get those fingers on the keyboard and finish the story! Then revise and polish. Once you've done all that, contact me. I'll still be here and your story will benefit in the long run. I promise.