Category Archives: Says the Editor

Says the Editor: Verb? Adjective?

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Is it a verb? Is it an adjective? No! This is a picture!

Seriously, though…

I had an interesting experience I wanted to pass along, because it’s about worldview, and it’s about word choice, and it’s about how every person brings something different to a piece and to the use of language, itself.

You see, I have a short story. I’ll be telling you more about this short story in the near future, but for now, let me say that I wrote a short story and I’m working with an editor on it. Yes, even editors use editors! (That’s because we understand the value of a second set of eyes, and we understand that it’s money well spent, and we understand how a fresh perspective (dare I say worldview can help us produce the best book — or in this case, short story — possible.)

And I used this phrase: At last, we quiet.

Or something like that. 😉

And my editor wanted me to change it to At last, we quieted.

So I took a look. Because I brought her on board to help me, right? And… I realized that the piece is in present tense, which is kind of rare for me but there it is, and approving her change means… a tense change right in the middle of the piece.

I pointed that out to her. She looked it over, thought about it, agreed, but said something about the phrase still bothered her.

I took another look, both at her request and because, frankly, I was intrigued.

And it hit me. She didn’t like that I was using quiet as a verb. So I changed it to an adjective by adding a verb in there and we were both happy.

It was a few hours later that it hit me what a brilliant change that wound up being. It’s one of those small, subtle changes that no one will ever be aware of (although now that I’m pointing it out to you, you might), but it’s a verb that echoes back to the genesis of the story, the action that sets the character on the path that leads us to the point where she finally quiets.

But hopefully — and this is what really good writing does — that one small word change, that one insertion, will give the reader a more complete reading experience, will heighten the emotion even if they don’t know the hows or whys they got there. That the reader will come away with a bit of extra satisfaction that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

This is why we use editors, friends. I sent her the best story possible. She helped me make it better.

More to come about it, so stay tuned.

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#SaystheEditor Don’t Pick Favorites

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Favorites. We’ve all got ’em. And by and large, favorites are an okay thing to have — on a personal level.

But on a professional level?

Not so much, I’d say. At least, not that I’d admit to publicly.

But another editor did, loudly proclaiming on Twitter the number of books she’s edited this year and that of them all, THIS was her favorite.

Can you imagine being one of those other authors? Can you imagine that you’ve chosen to partner with someone, you’ve worked with them to produce the best book possible, and they… announce to the world that your book wasn’t their favorite?

Talk about being gut-punched. Or having the rug pulled out from under your feet. Or any other familiar cliche/saying that pretty much encompasses the way you feel when you’ve been betrayed.

Because if that were MY editor, coming out and saying that someone else’s book was her favorite? I’d be looking for a new editor real fast.

Because if that were MY editor, I’d rethink my belief that she had my back and supported me at all times, even if it’s true that my book wasn’t her favorite or that she has a client who’s better than me. (In fact, I’m quite sure the people I work with have clients who are better than me — because better is entirely subjective.) After all, writers are inherently insecure.

Think about it: you hire an editor to help you make the best book possible. You hire someone to help you produce something that helps overcome that inherent insecurity, a book you can be proud of and that you are confident is the best you can produce.

You don’t hire someone expecting them to hold up someone else’s work as better than yours. Which is exactly what this other woman did.

Just… I can’t get over this. I’m angry on behalf of those other authors. Every single one of them deserves better. Every single one of them deserves to think their editor is proud of the work done by the author and the editor, both separately and as a team. Every single one of them deserves to think their book is as good as everything else that crosses that editor’s desk — because, in my view, every book is. Yes, some have prettier writing than others. Yes, some have more unique storylines, more engaging characters…

Every book has at least one element that is better than the one beside it. And every book has at least one element that’s not as good. When you look at it that way, how can you pick favorites? Every book that crosses my desk has elements that are unique and worthy of being celebrated. I’d like to think that every book that gets returned to its author has been improved, that the possibility for greatness is that much closer. Heck, I wouldn’t like to think — I know.

But that doesn’t mean I can pick a favorite of the multitude I have worked on over my career. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. Doing so undermines the value I put into every single one of my clients. The time I spend talking to them about non-editing things. The referrals to formatters and cover artists and help with promotion. The way my clients love to send me good news about a sales goal achieved, a word count achieved, a panel they’ve been asked to sit on, a proposal to teach a class that’s been accepted.

So as you vet editors, take a minute and look at their social media presence. (For one, do they spend more time on it than editing? Interestingly, I have felt that way about the editor who picked favorites.) Don’t choose your editor because you hope she’ll say those things about you. Choose your editor because he or she believes in you and because s/he will have your back at all times — even when asked to pick a favorite.

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#SaysTheEditor Worldview

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Milo cat inspired today’s post about worldview, so here he is again.

I have two cats: Milo and Lucy. They’re shelter cats, classic tabbies (as you can tell from the picture above) and… nothing really special. They do cat things: kill mice, eat, beg for food, play with toys, sleep on me, take over my favorite furniture, beg for raw meat when I’m cooking, come ask for pets, and give purrs. Normal cats, if you think about it. They are so easy-going that they don’t even wake me at the same time every day, like many pets do.

But Milo cat was diagnosed last March with diabetes. I caught it early — I went away for the weekend and came back, only to look at him and be convinced he’d lost weight while I’d been gone, a whole 48 hours — and he’s in remission.

Part of keeping him in remission — and the part that ties into today’s theme of worldview — is that I feed him twice a day, at the same time every day. It’s rigid and there are times when I hate it (and times when I love it) because it can be limiting on how I live my life.

Enter my cat sitter.

She’s important, because it’s her worldview that opened my own.

You see, Milo gets more food than Lucy at each meal. He’s bigger than she is and has a higher caloric need, by and large. He’s also lazier, so some days, Lucy gets supplemental feedings. But Milo gets more of their special diet at each designated feeding.

Despite that, Milo often — usually — finishes his food faster than Lucy. And because he’s Milo and he’s a piggie and probably still hungry, he goes and tries to shove his head into Lucy’s bowl. So not only do I have to feed them at certain times, I have to supervise them, too. It’s a good time.

Now, I’ll tell you that Milo is a bully, trying to take Lucy’s food.

But my cat sitter? She left me a note that she thinks Milo’s a doll, coming over to encourage Lucy to eat faster. Because my cat sitter, once the cats are fed, will break out a toy and play for awhile.

Worldview.

See how that worked?

And you know how this ties into writing, right? That I’m going to tell you that we as authors — heck, we as people generally only have one worldview: our own. But our characters often demand that we adopt more than that. We need to adopt theirs, too. And that’s not always so easy to do. Our characters have backgrounds that are different from ours, they often have values that are different (especially those of you who write mysteries and thrillers who have to get into the villain’s head and don’t want to descend into trite stereotypes).

How do you do it?

There’s no one tried-and-true answer to this one. But there are a lot of ways in which it can come about. Everything from listening to your characters to listening to the points of view of the people around you, people you have discussions with (be they political or not), or even eavesdropping.

If you’ve got a favorite method, I’m all ears. Share how you expand your characters’ worldview with all of us, will you?

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#SaysTheEditor The Air Around Us

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I was thinking about this one a few weeks ago, and it’s been rattling around my head ever since, so here it is.

Let’s talk about air. About the air around us. About how air feels.

I can see you, you know. Making those funny googly eyes at your screen, trying to figure out what the hell I’m talking about, why you should care, and how this can possibly be worth an investment of your time. Bear with me; it actually does make sense.

Like I said, I noticed it a few weeks ago. The seasons were finally starting to change, the nights finally getting cold enough that I had to close the skylights… earlier every night. And then finally, I couldn’t close them early enough and had to turn the heat on.

Now, I like having the skylights open. I love to be outside, and one of the reasons for that is the feel of the air. The way it touches my skin, and if you stop and think — REALLY think — you’ll realize you understand what I mean. The autumn air, when the skylights were open, put a nip into the air. Not the “it’s about to snow” nip, but a sharpness that plucked at my arms and invigorated me. And, a day later, when the heat was on and I stood at my kitchen sink — largely under those now-closed skylights — I realized that the temperature-controlled air had an entirely different feel on my bare arms. It was softer. Sanitized, somehow. It felt protected, safe, almost coddling, especially when I considered the state of the rest of the hurricane-ravaged world.

This post today isn’t to tell you that you have to use all five senses when you describe something in your fiction — that’s a newbie’s game, designed to get a young writer to think and push themselves beyond the usual he looked or he noticed type of convention. All too often, scenes that make sure they encompass all five senses aren’t well done because the focus turns from the scene to the inclusiong of the senses.

Rather, as a writer, you should be thinking about these things. How does the air feel as it brushes against your face, your arms, and can you relate that to your character? Note that in my descriptions above, I use emotions as well as concrete telling details — emotions such as protected and concrete details such as sharpness — and if you don’t see how something like coddling can be an emotion and not a concrete telling detail, you need to stop and think. It’s not always the word itself so much as what the word conjures for the reader.

And again, this doesn’t mean you need to stop and describe every last thing. Just the important details, the small points that bring the scene to life. For me, it was noticing the difference in the air as I stood in a familiar place and did a woefully too-familiar exercise. Everything else was routine, so part of my brain went and sought out what was different, what was notable.

Right there. That’s your key. When something’s familiar, what’s different? Can you bring that to life? Remember to make sure there’s a reason for this — unnecessary detail just to show off how you can flex your descriptive muscles is never sexy writing — but have at it. What can you notice that your reader will appreciate, that will enhance the scene or the story, that will help push your own writing to new heights?

Think about it. The air around you. How does it feel?

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#SaysTheEditor Musings about Authorial Responsibility

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I read a book a few weeks ago that I had to walk away from before I’d finished it.

I’ve done that a lot this year, come to think of it. To look over my GoodReads page, I haven’t finished about a third of what I’ve read this year. There’s been a variety of reasons, but one that I keep coming back to is how women are treated and how abuse and rape culture are perpetuated. That was the case in this book I’m talking about (which, interestingly, isn’t the last book I DNFed) — the heroine repeatedly winds up in situations where NO doesn’t mean NO to two different men. She’s also been cheated on in the past and has a history of actually discovering the boyfriends in bed with the women they are using to cheat on said heroine.

Even before #MeToo began trending on Facebook and Twitter, where almost all of us women have stood up and said, “Yes, I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted,” this was something that has been bothering me.

Here’s where I get stuck: on the one hand, authors shouldn’t be glorifying or perpetuating rape culture.

But on the other, as authors, I’d argue that we have a responsibility to reflect society as it currently is, the good AND the bad.

And yet… by being a mirror and accurately reflecting the way men treat women, aren’t these books (and their authors) collaborating with and contributing to the normalization of abuse and rape culture? How many readers pick up a book where the hero won’t stop rubbbing up against the heroine, even when she says no, and the reader breathes a sigh of relief. It’s not just me. And by feeling less alone, the reader normalizes the behavior: It’s just how guys are. I am wrong to put up a fuss about it.

On the one hand, I want to say I don’t have an easy answer. Not every single book should have the heroine turn and knee the bastard in the balls when he won’t stop. Not every heroine can or should call the man on the bad behavior. Not every heroine needs to be empowered from the get-go. And maybe there are other, gentler ways to de-macho the men who think there is nothing wrong with this behavior. Maybe the heroine needs to learn that yes, this is the way some men are. And maybe even some heroines need to learn to accept this bad behavior. There’s a multitude of options, from what we’d right now consider politically correct and the proper response clear on down to situations that leave a reader horrified and… putting the book in the DNF pile.

But maybe there is an easy answer, after all. And that’s that every single person on the planet has a range of experiences, both sexually and not. Fiction should reflect as many of those experiences as authors can find within themselves to write about. And authors absolutely should not write a sanitized version of their truth or their world. They should write what they say — although I can’t stress enough that authors also have a responsibility to refrain from glorifying rape and abuse. (But, again, this opens up the can of worms about the segment of society who think that rape and abuse should be glorified, as they are horrified by what many of us would call a healthy relationship based on respect. And we can turn in circles like this until the serpent swallows so much of its tail that there’s nothing left but its head.)

It’s up to us, as readers, to filter through it all. To read widely (heh. I’d originally typed wisely) and to make recommendations based on what we like — and to point out the wider themes in books where we see them. For me, right now, abuse pings my radar and I can’t read books that glorify abusive situations — such as the hero rubbing up against the heroine even after she tells him to stop. Or the book I read earlier in the year, in which the hero paid off the heroine’s mortgage and did other things she was fully capable of doing, always with the caveat that he was doing it to prove how much he loved her. He thought he was being nice. I thought he was being a controlling, abusive dick because if he truly loved her, he’d have been aware enough to realize how important it was for her to do those things herself.

We all have our catnip and we all have our triggers.

I think we, as readers, need to broadcast them both.

And that we, as writers, need to write to the authenticity of our experiences as much as possible.

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#SaysTheEditor My Typos are Better Than Your Typos

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It’s finally happened. And so, it’s time to change the mindset of many many authors, readers, and publishing professionals.

For years and years — and remember, I put the first Demo Tapes anthology for sale in 2008, and this attitude pre-dates even that — the general wisdom was simple: self-published books didn’t have nearly the quality of books from the major publishers. Now, some of that referred directly to production quality, and that’s been fixed many years on now.

What’s lingered has been the stigma about the writing and editing.

No more, I say.

I’ve ranted here before about finding significant numbers of typos in books published by the big houses. I’ve ranted about bad writing.

It’s not only in self-published books anymore, boys and girls.

So no more. No more putting down the indie writers as a whole. A number of them won’t stand for excessive typos and lazy writing any more than you or I would. Many of them are my clients, but even more aren’t (simply because I can’t work for everyone. I’m only one person, after all!).

And a very very large number of them would be mortified if I nodded my head in agreement showed up in a book with their name on the cover.

That’s because I have yet to find another body part that you nod. Oh, a body can nod off to sleep, but that’s entirely different. And a character or a person can certainly nod to show they are paying attention, or nod to show interest, but it’s pretty widely assumed that a nod means assent of some sort — even assent that attention is being paid or that the subject at hand remains interesting. So there’s no need for that in agreement phrase that’s thrown in. The reader will assume it’s there unless they are specifically told why the nod isn’t one of agreement.

This falls into the “Shit!” he swore school of bad writing.

Come to think of it, I found that in a book from one of the big publishing houses, too. Recently.

So. Enough. Enough denigrating an entire publishing model — one that works for a number of authors and readers — based on a lack of polish that the other, more highly regarded (although more and more, I do not know why this is so) model increasingly unleashes on the public.

Stick to the books that are well written and well edited. Period. It no longer matters which publishing model you follow or who published the book in your hands.

A lot are good. A lot are bad.

Publisher simply doesn’t matter anymore.

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Call for Submissions! Hot Metal Bridge

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Local-to-me college literary magazine Hot Metal Bridge is in the middle of one of its two annual submission periods, and if you have some short fiction (up to 6k words) that you’d like some eyeballs on, this is a good one to submit to.

They are looking for

fiction that turns out heads to show us a new perspective. Be it through formal invention, depth of insight, or strength of narrative, the fiction that grips us does so by revealing a little sliver of some idiosyncratic, particular human life. But we don’t want to get too specific here: we want your best story—your ire, your lore, your comic relief—whatever form it may take.

Yes, I’m guessing that’s a typo in those first few lines. (Hey, HMB staff, I’d be glad to come be an in-house copyeditor for you! I could possibly be convinced to work for O fries and Dave & Andy’s, although not on the same day.)

There is zero cost to submit, which is my favorite kind of submission.

AND.

If you have non-fiction or poetry or a visual art, they’re taking those, too.

Get busy, because the submission deadline is December 3, which feels like a long time from now but actually isn’t.

Did you miss the link to use to submit? Here it is again.

Also, be sure to stop in at the site and check out what they do and what they’re about. You might find a favorite new place to stop in for some literary escapism.

Still not convinced? Well, let me put it to you this way: if I had something to submit, since I never worked for HMB when I was a Pitt student (mostly because I don’t think it existed back then, in the Dark Ages when having a dot matrix printer in my dorm room was considered a luxury), I totally would.

Because Pittsburgh.

Because we’re a literary city.

Because it’s my home.

As always, if you submit and are accepted, be sure to let me know so I can cheer with you and help get word out of your excellent work once it’s available to the larger world.

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#SaysTheEditor Refining Your Plot for Character Growth

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I’d wanted to read this one particular book for awhile now. Rock Fiction; it’s always in my wheelhouse. And the author is someone I recommend without hesitation when people ask. Win-win, right?

A quick check of the library showed that they had a copy available on Overdrive, so one click later, I was reading away. And quite surprised by what I found. Not in a good way, sad to say.

The problem, in the end, was a simple one: the plot wasn’t quite refined enough, and as a result the character growth suffered. Whereas most books fit the formula of “this is a story about _____, who wanted _____.” this story… wasn’t.

Oh, it was a story about Jane. And it was a romance, so presumably Jane wanted Dick, right? (Pardon the pun. Oh, Lordy, pardon that pun. But it was either use Dick or Tarzan!)

But… Jane also wanted to make music. And run a small business. And then Jane wanted Dick AND Tom. And then she wanted to be rid of past ghosts. And to be moral support for a friend going through a bad time.

Did you get whiplash from all that wanting?

The upshot here is that Jane never really wanted any one thing, which was pretty funny considering that Jane’s first arrival in the book portrayed her as a woman who knew exactly what she wanted in life (or at least in sex partners) and didn’t hesitate to go get it.

For me, I’d have liked it if the story had been framed with Jane’s underlying drive being her music. Hey, I’m a lover of Rock Fiction, remember? But that would explain a lot of the motivation for what comes next: the tragedy that drove her from the stage, her fears and PTSD, and it would even frame how her love for Dick and then Tom unfolded and helped her overcome her issues.

Best of all, the story would not have needed much tweaking. Just a sentence at the beginning and a wider triumph at the end. And maybe some more exploration of her fears as they related to her music career as the story unfolded.

Notice that? I’m NOT saying it needed to be rewritten or restructured. All that is already there. What was lacking was that bottom part of the sentence, “This was a story about Jane, who wanted _____” It would have been so easy to do, and it would have taken all these various elements of the plot and tied them together. Not necessarily with a neat bow — I hate those — but in a very rich sense that allowed for maximum character growth of our heroine.

Ultimately, when we read, that’s what we’re looking for: that character growth, that beauty that comes out of pain. Readers may not realize it, but the underlying adventure that we seek is one of change and fulfillment. Of coming into one’s own. Of who the character (and, by extension, us) becomes as they move from Point A to Point B.

This book lacked that. It’s not surprising I found it lacking. But it came oh, so close…

Go ahead. Push yourself. Don’t come close; that’s another way of saying “I fell short.”

And, as always, if you need me, I’m right here to help guide you.

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#SaysTheEditor Yes, You Need Me

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I got a call for guest bloggers last week. I’m not telling you directly about it because:
1: The call was for Pittsburgh-based folks, and most of you aren’t Pittsburgh-based
and (here’s the key)
2: It was full of grammatical errors.

Why would I encourage anyone to be associated with a group that’s trying to curate an unpaid writing staff, but can’t be bothered with proofreading the job packet? Why would I take the time to write a post or two for them, using my strict standards for grammar and punctuation, and… let them possibly change that up and make me look bad?

One or two typos… that’s one thing, in certain circumstances. Like a blog post, a Facebook status, even sometimes (*cough*) a Tweet. (Typos, folks, not a lack of knowledge of homophones.)

But from a professional organization? Looking for writers?

Yeah. No thanks.

I came this close to sending them an e-mail offering to proofread for them. It didn’t take long to decide not to. After all, my fiction clients keep me gloriously busy* and fiction is my passion. I’m about making the best book possible, not about hitching myself to a company, while local, that would probably thank me and tell me to contact them when I wanted to submit unpaid blog posts to them.

So… as you consider publicity (and even publications!) for yourself, look hard at the source. Is their copy sloppy, riddled with errors? If so, how will they make YOU look to others?

Bottom line: You can write the best book possible, but if people aren’t helping you look your best, it’s not in your best interests. Publicity or no, walk away.

.
* That said, this is always a good time to add your manuscript to my queue, or to ask for a sample if we haven’t worked together yet.

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#SaysTheEditor Series Book Two (or Three, or Four or…)

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I did it. I really did.

Over at GoodReads, I gave one star to a book I’d picked up without realizing it was the second in a series. The book had arrived here years ago, back during my crazy book trading days, and had sat and waited for me to finally read it. And this past week was finally its time.

So I looked it over. “Are you part of a series?” I asked it.

It’s a book, so it didn’t answer. Go figure.

And maybe I should have looked it up online, but it was late, I wanted to crawl in bed and read, and hey, the book wasn’t showing in any way that it was part of a series.

I spent seven pages constantly wondering a rousing WTF before I gave up. I had zero clue what was going on in this book… it was a cluster of words and images I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. When I realized that the first chapter didn’t explain things any better than the prologue had, I gave up.

It wasn’t until I logged on to GoodReads that I realized it wasn’t a standalone book. Which explained much, but…

And here’s the point of my post:

As authors, you owe at least a hint that your reader is now holding Number Whatever. Publishers need to mark books clearly (does anyone think that maybe this is partly why some authors get hit with the dreaded “bad sales” label).

I am often asked by clients how much of the first book or books is enough, how much is too much, how much is not enough. That’s not something that can actually be quantified, because every book is different, every book in a series relies on its predecessors differently, and not every series builds the same way. Like everything else, the answer to “how much” is entirely subjective.

Obviously, that’s where a good editor (ahem) can help. Getting it right can be hard, and an experienced set of eyes is always a good thing.

But more to the point, this is a good one to run past your beta readers. “Do you need more of the past history” is a completely valid question to ask a beta, especially if the beta hasn’t read the previous books. Ask and encourage them to mark up the spots where they get lost, or where a little more explanation (but never an info dump!) is needed. And remember that you may get different answers from readers who’re familiar with your series than you will get from new readers. Finding the balance between those two needs is your goal. Enough to catch a new reader up, but not so much that you bore your reader.

I don’t feel good about that one-star review. I thought about not reviewing the book at all, but I’d promised myself that I’d leave even a short review for every book I read in 2017. And I made it clear in that review that you can’t read this book without having read the first — and that I think the author (and in this case, the publisher) have an obligation to help a new reader into the world. Not that I need a complete recap or background, but it would have entirely changed my reading experience if I’d known even a little bit of what was going on with the swirling colors and the loss of magic and who these people were and why I should care.

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#SaysTheEditor Author Privacy

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This is a sticky wicket, but it’s happened to me and it’s happened to some of my clients, so I’m going to address it: the issue of privacy.

Now, as an editor, I rarely give out the names of my clients. I have a few I go to for references and there’s a number of folk who’ve linked to me on their Amazon and/or GoodReads pages. I’ve either discussed that with the author beforehand (in the case of references) or am pleasantly surprised when authors link to me, tweet about me, blog about me. But note that it’s always their choice whether or not they are going to talk about our relationship. Some authors — perhaps many — prefer to hold their professional associations close to their hearts. And that’s fine.

Where it gets more difficult is when authors (and sometimes, me as editor) are asked to divulge personal information. What constitutes personal varies by person, of course. For some, it’s asking where you live. For others, it’s your biggest regret, your fondest wish for life. Some authors may not want to reveal their favorite book.

Reasons for this, as with everything else, vary. Stalkers and trolls abound. What if you mention the wrong book and lose a reader over it? What if your lifelong dream is something that will be fodder for ridicule? What if you say something that inadvertently opens you up to legal trouble, or an uncomfortable and dangerous situation down the road?

Of course, it’s fun to read the answers, especially if you like the vibe of a new-to-you author, or if the author is someone whose books you adore and whose interviews you’ve read in the past.

While I’m able to see both sides of this issue, if you’re an author who wants to bow out of answering something, I encourage you to do so. Your writing is what should matter, even in this day and age of social media. You need to be safe, to feel safe, to know that no deranged reader is going to give out your home address or tell their troll friends how to drive you over the edge.

So for bloggers or journalists, if someone declines to answer, rather than publishing the request to decline to answer, would you please consider editing your interview so that the reader doesn’t even know the question was there? Yes, even if it’s your trademark question, such as boxers or briefs — it seems fun, but as authors, we know too well how one offhand comment can come back to haunt you in horrible ways. If you’re not sure about that, read Stephen King.

A little bit of respect, folks, for the need to be private in a transparent age. Angry readers HAVE shown up on authors’ and reviewers’ doorsteps. Let’s respect the wishes of those who don’t want that to happen to them.

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#SaystheEditor Unintended Verbal Warfare

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This one showed up, of course, on Facebook. It was from someone who claimed to be genuinely curious about what peoples’ “excuses” were for missing the anti-hate rallies scheduled around town.

I put excuses in quotes for a very deliberate reason. (Those of you who’ve worked with me will recognize how badly I HATE words in quotes, so you know it’s a major thing I am calling your attention to.)

Here’s how Webster’s defines excuse:

1a: to make apology for
b: to try to remove blame from

2: to forgive entirely or disregard as of trivial import : regard as excusable graciously excused his tardiness

3a : to grant exemption or release to was excused from jury duty
b : to allow to leave excused the class

4: to serve as excuse for : justify nothing can excuse such neglect

Look at all those weighted words! to make apology for or trivial interest or justify nothing can excuse such neglect.

Those aren’t words that help define a genuine interest. Those definitions show that the woman’s word choice was verbal warfare. By using excuse instead of reason, she set her position out there: Nothing you say will be good enough.

She also set herself up as the arbiter of what might maybe be good enough. Judge, jury, and executioner? One look at the comments and yes, she was.

In your fiction, look out for words like these, words that are loaded with more meaning than you maybe intend them to have. Be aware of how words and phrases show your — yes, you, the author! — perspective, politics, and worldview. Stay alert for how these words can undermine your entire meaning, your character’s authenticity, or even the reader’s experience.

Because no reader likes to be bullied. But when you’re asked for an excuse instead of a reason, no matter how well-intentioned the rest of the request is, you’re only setting yourself up if you answer.

Stay alert. In real life and in your fiction. Be on the lookout for the language that divides us and stirs up the art of verbal warfare.

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#SaystheEditor Don’t Tell Me What She Sees

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Strangely, I’ve been seeing this one a lot lately, mostly from some of my younger writers.

She saw him enter the room.

Umm… Okay…

I get it. You’re worried about point of view, because I am a stickler for POV. (Okay, I point it out and it’s up to my clients to change it. I’m an editor, not a drill sergeant and not a dictator.) So you want to make sure it all comes through the screen of your POV character.

BUT.

You’re telling me what she saw. You’re not showing it.

He entered the room with a flourish, jazz hands flapping until they froze into place. One leg extended, toe inside the bulky hiking boot as pointed as it could get and ever-so-gently touching the tile floor.

It’s still the narrator’s sensibility. You haven’t broken POV at all. In fact, you’re sharing a deeper POV with us, by letting us see him in action. The details the narrator and/or POV character choose to show wind up revealing things to the reader. Maybe a different POV character or narrator would tell us about the guy’s hair. Or clothes. Or his sparkling eyes. Or. Or. Or.

So take a minute and go back through your Work in Progress. Are you telling me what the character says? What he knows?

He knew the sun would be hot in the morning. versus The sun would be hot in the morning; it always was at the end of July.

Try and get away from those telling statements. Show. Take a few minutes and play with your descriptions. Show me the colors, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel. Maybe (read: definitely!) not all at once, but reach for those sharp, pointed, telling details that paint a picture.

Your reader will thank you.

So will I.

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#SaystheEditor Please Edit

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I opened my inbox the other day to find mail from a client. We’ll call him, of course, Steve. And Steve lurks around here, so don’t be surprised if he outs himself, or hopefully is laughing too hard to do that ’cause I’m about to poke fun at him while making a serious point.

The subject line on Steve’s e-mail said, “Please edit”

Now, from anyone else, this would have been a turn-off. But Steve and I have been working together for years now (He’s one of my favorite clients) and he had originally been hoping to have this book done a year ago. A year!

But what I read into his subject line was something that had been echoed earlier that same week by Stevie, who it turns out is a new client (and thank you to the existing client who referred her, as Stevie is a doll and fast becoming a favorite client). And that’s this: you guys get to a point where you can’t stand to look at your manuscript anymore, and so you’re all too eager to get it off your desk and onto mine.

That’s fine. In Stevie’s case, it came with a set of nerves. This is her first time through the editing process and it’s new, it’s scary.

But for Steve… well, I read a lot of frustration into his comment. I read the whole, “I’ve been staring at the words on the screen and staring and I know I can take it further, but I’m damned if I can see how or where right now, so let’s call in the help and…” and I imagine him throwing his hands up and making unintelligible growling noises.

Or maybe that’s just my kid who does that when he runs low on words and high on frustration.

Yet the point remains: How do I know when it’s time? What happens if I push myself to that point of being too frustrated to speak, and by the time my awesome editor is done with it, I’m STILL not ready to look at it again, but I’m trying to build a readership here, and I’ve already taken more time than I wanted to with this book and… and… and…

Breathe.

Trust yourself. Trust your story, your manuscript, your method. And then breathe some more.

It all works out, and whether your trepidation is from newbie nerves or experienced enlightenment, the only person who can say you’re ready for editing is YOU. And usually, you say you’re ready when you get to that point where you just can’t look at it anymore, you need a break, you need some fresh input.

Beta readers can be good at this stage. Or not. It’s all up to you.

Anyway, I’ve got Steve’s manuscript here, I laughed with fondness at him when I saw that crazy subject line, and for those of you who think you’d never be THAT rude to your editor, well, spend more time with me. Because I know Steve, I don’t think it’s rude at all.

If anything, it made my fondness for the guy grow.

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#SaysTheEditor You Might be Wanting the Wrong Thing

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I see this one from time to time, and after thinking about it, I think it’s a misguided desire.

Now, this obviously isn’t something that comes direct to my inbox from a potential client. Nope, those folks (you guys!) are savvier about what they want, and are usually coming to me via a referral, or because they’ve read this here blog and like me and my approach to fiction and to life.

It’s the job wire, the setup where authors send a request to a larger group of editors who belong to the e-mail blast, and the editors have to bid and win over the author. Usually, the poor author is totally overwhelmed with the number of entries and queries they get. So I think they add “Must have experience with a publishing house” as a way to weed out what they think are the hobbiest editors, the people who have sketchy credentials, who will charge large amounts of money and mess up their manuscript. I get that. I respect it.

Unfortunately, they are boxing themselves out of some of the best partnerships they could be making.

Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. After all, an editor who’s been with a publishing house — THEORETICALLY — has extensive editing experience. And they know what it takes to construct a novel for maximum effect.

Except…

I’ve been hearing for over ten years now that editors at publishing houses don’t really do much editing. They don’t have time, torn between meetings and working with their clients. As a result, they want books that are as close to publishable as possible. They aren’t using the expertise being sought by these editor-hunters.

Think about that: Editors don’t have time to edit.

One other thing to consider is that two types of literature have developed: the confined boxes that traditional publishing loves, and the imagination and boundary-pushing fiction coming out of many in the self-publishing world. I work daily on manuscripts that the big houses won’t want because the manuscripts that cross my desk don’t tick the right boxes and don’t follow the current trends. This includes my client, Steve, who just quit his day job to write full-time. (Think about that.)

I get that saying “You must have worked for a publisher” seems like a weed-out technique. I sure didn’t bid on that job, even though the project itself sounded right up my alley, because I’m not going to change this author’s mind. Not in a quick e-mail.

But I also don’t regret not having a background at a publishing house. I love to play with words. I love to work with authors. I love having the freedom of living life on my own terms. I love being able to focus on the manuscript in front of me and delve into what it needs, without making it conform to a checklist so it’ll fit neatly into a marketer’s box. And I’m a better editor for having that freedom.

That author limited himself and excluded me from his future. His loss; it’s my busy season and you guys are starting to line up. Because you guys? You know what’s what. And you don’t want to conform to a checklist and fit into a box… unless it’s a box of autographed books purchased by a huge fan.

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#SaysTheEditor Time to Celebrate!

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Nope, we’re not celebrating me, although of course I’m WORTH celebrating, and you all should celebrate me (and refer your friends and yourselves to me. Have I mentioned I’m hankering for a really good erotic romance author right now? I am. Totally. Preferably someone prolific, but keep reading to see why).

I got word the other day from one of my clients. Let’s call him Steve. Steve does some really hard work on his manuscripts, and his world building is mind-blowing (and then some). He writes series that are strong, compelling reading. And he’s an absolute joy to work for and with.

Of course, he’s got his writerly ticks that I try to beat out of him. Who doesn’t? (And that’s a trick question because the answer is that if you don’t have a writerly tick, you’re not human.)

So I was very pleased to get a note from him that he’s managed to build enough of a career with his books that he’s quit his day job and become a full-time writer.

Yes, boys and girls, these success stories ARE still possible, even in the current crowded marketplace and ages of 99c box sets that are great exposure but lousy royalties.

How did Steve do it? By being prolific. By working hard on every element of his books and series. By having an innate understanding of what it takes to tell a great story, a gentle touch on the action scenes, and an ability to draw strong, likeable women who are vital to a male-dominated world. (No calls for your version of political correctness here, folks. It takes all kinds to rock the world, and no one’s saying you have to read and love these books. Plenty of others already are.)

Steve WORKS.

That’s the bottom line.

No whining (at least to me). Just work.

And it’s paid off.

So my heart swells with pride as I congratulate him again. And the editor in me drools at the thought of what’s to come, now that he’s a full-time writer. I hope his fans are drooling as hard as I am.

His present can be your future. Go get it.

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#SaystheEditor You Deserve Better Than This

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I woke up the other morning with my good eye swollen shut and an unsolicited e-mail in my inbox. A so-called publisher was looking for editors. The scope of the work was unclear, there was no pay rate given, there were errors in the body of the e-mail — we editors may be important in the life cycle of a book, but not so important that our job title should be capitalized — and… then I noticed it.

Immediate recoil.

I’ll paraphrase, but it comes down to, “Most of our authors are first-timers and experience has taught us that first-timers don’t know what the hell they’re doing, so your job is to do this work for them, without teaching them, without guiding them. Just shut up and do it for these incompetents so they can earn a ton of money and you can earn some amount that we won’t divulge. Oh, and here’s an unsolicited attachment.”

Like I said, that’s a paraphrase, but the essence is there: Our authors are too stupid to do the job.

WHY would any person want to partner with someone who treats them like this?

Oh, I know. Because the person on the other end is promising them lots of success and money. Which is what I confirmed when I Googled the publisher and… wow. Red flags all over the place. They are revolutionary in publishing! Their authors are featured in major media outlets! Services and seminars to teach you how to do this!

And then I noticed the typos.

But know what I DID NOT SEE?

A link for submissions. Apparently, the only way to get your book published by these people is to attend one of their seminars.

Right there’s the final red flag. You should never have to pay to attend a seminar about something you can easily research for free.

For me, though, that final red flag happened much, much earlier. It was in that implied slight to the author. That you guys aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to know how to write compelling back cover copy about your own book. Why would you ever want to work with someone who doesn’t respect you and your creative talents? Why would you want to partner in business with someone who looks down his (the company’s figurehead is a man) nose at you?

You are better than that. You deserve to be treated better. You deserve to be respected for your vision, for your hard work putting words down on a page, for your dedication to your craft.

You deserve to be taught, to be guided, to be corrected, to be respected.

You deserve to be helped in your quest to make the best book possible.

Don’t be lured in by the siren’s promise of money, and gobs of it. Don’t be lured in by a flashy, slick website and sensationalistic copy. Publishing is a business. It is incredibly hard work, mastering the craft of writing, putting words down on a page until they form a story, revising and shaping that first draft into something you’re proud of, putting yourself out there to critique partners and beta readers and hearing that you’ve got a ways to go yet, hiring an editor (Hey, pick me!) and hearing you aren’t there yet, and then finding your production team, then your promotional team, then seeking reviewers…

Publishing is HARD. Don’t be suckered by promises of an easy path through it.

You deserve better than these scammers. You really do.

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#SaystheEditor How You Present Yourself Matters

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Hope you guys are glad I’m back, even if it’s only temporary.

So here’s the deal. A couple weeks ago, I saw on Facebook an appeal from an author for reviewers.

Not a bad place to look for reviewers. Except…

Well, you KNEW there would be an except. Admit it. And this one, well, it’s one thing to forgive a typo. Facebook is ridden with them and I have yet to meet a grammatically correct meme (although they might be getting better, oddly. Maybe. Might. Or maybe it’s that I’m not on Facebook as much as I had been and so simply see fewer memes).

If I didn’t manage to distract you with that aside about memes, you know where I’m headed: the request for reviewers for the author’s new book was… well, the grammar sucked. And frankly, it didn’t make me want to read his book. In fact, it kinda made me want to undo our connection because clearly, he’s not smart enough to hire me and he’s not careful enough to consider that a potential reviewer might take a look at his poorly worded post with its not-so-charming errors and… expect the same between the covers of his new book.

And that’s the thing: I see authors all the time who undermine themselves this way. Bios with typos. Book cover copy that makes no sense. And the commas! Is it so hard to know when to set off an author’s name in commas and when not to? Cripes. Ask your editor for help if you’re not sure.

If they won’t help you with the little stuff, or they want to charge you an arm and a leg for it, maybe they’re not the right editor for you.

Don’t be this guy. How you present yourself matters.

Check. Double-check. Whatever it is that you’re going to put out in the world, make sure you’re presenting yourself the way you want to be viewed. In this author’s case — I’ve followed him for many years — he’s usually smart, funny, and creative. This post made him look uneducated, crass, and certainly not smart, funny, or creative.

And if you need help, drop me a line. Because I believe that part of making the best book possible is that how you present yourself matters. And that means I’m glad to help you present yourself as smart, funny, and creative — or however you choose to appear.

It’s your choice. But success is hard enough to come by as it is. There’s no need to make it even harder.

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Through the Window #atozchallenge

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Quite possibly, the only Hanukkah song I’ve ever liked is the one that begins,

In my window where you can see the glow
From my menorah, on newly fallen snow

Menorahs have nothing to do with this post. Windows, however, do.

And that’s because I want you to stop and think about windows. About how you use them in your fiction.

Specifically, are they used as a diversion? To show that the character is ducking out on a difficult subject at hand? Is the author using the view out the window as a distraction from something that is difficult to write?

If not, are windows a way of bringing a bigger element into the scene? Do they widen the world-building? Does a lack of windows tighten the pace, the tension, the world-building?

Yep, on one level here, I’m talking about a literary device. It’s one that most authors aren’t aware they are using, because we’re told to use all our senses, and so it makes sense to expand those senses to what’s going on outside. Is there nothing in the house to feel? Then add some wind blowing outside. Nothing to smell? Add some flowers.

(First off, however, an author does not have to actually use all five senses in every scene. At least, not by the time the final draft gets uploaded. That’s a great exercise for first drafting and finding your way to the heart of the story — the puke on the page! — and then, as you revise, you can craft and shape out many of those unnecessary details.)

So think about your own work. Think about what you’re reading. (Because you ARE reading, right?) What purpose are the windows serving?

And if you’re using them to dodge something that’s difficult for the author or the character, is this a spot that could use a deeper push? Go and and get uncomfortable; you can always walk away if it’s too much.

But you can also come out with something brilliant.

Let me know how it goes for you.

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To Ooze Unctuously #atozchallenge

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One of those people who insist on living in my house and eating all my favorite foods has signed up to take a creative writing-fiction course next year in school. (To be fair, he does keep me in cookies, which he bakes himself.)

This really isn’t a post about food. It’s about how I groaned when I heard this. Not because I don’t want my kids to learn how to be good writers, especially of fiction. And not because I think all they need to do is read my blog and they’ll know how to be great writers.

But because there’s something about high school and teaching creative writing that puts an emphasis on big fancy words. Like Unctuous.

And the purple prose. “Shit,” he swore!

Oh, I can go on.

On the one hand, it’s great to take a bunch of high schoolers and encourage them to expand their vocabularies. But on the other hand, using words like unctuous is a dead-on signal to me that I’m dealing with a young writer. Someone who is still learning craft and is going to need… well, to have these sorts of words beaten out of them.

Now, fancy words like unctuous aren’t necessarily bad. I have come across spots where they are dead-on the right choice. But those spots are few and far between. I mean, say it. Unctuous. It leaves a slime coat on your tongue, does it not?

Yick.

So here’s the point: sometimes, simple is best. Not all the time. But most of it.

And here’s the rule: don’t use fancy words and fancy language to impress your reader. Impress your reader with your knowledge of craft, of your ability to plot well, develop characters they want to spend time with, to write dialogue that rings true. And to use the right descriptive words, no matter how mundane and boring they are. (Did you see that? Mundane. Some would consider that word on the same plane as unctuous.)

Short and sweet today. Because I need to go find something to get the unctuous slime out of my mouth. But somehow, I have a bad feeling that if I go into the kitchen, my cupboards are going to be stripped pretty bare.

I do have young people who insist on living with me, after all. And they don’t like unctuous food any more than I do.

But they like the cookies even more.

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