Category Archives: Says the Editor

Says the Editor: A Sea in Your Belly

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It was a hot and heavy sex scene, right in the opening of the book. And it was a good one, too, written with sensitivity and in a way that made us care about these characters even though it was, in their minds, nothing more than a meaningless hookup — although the reader knew it would be the start of something bigger.

And then the hero kissed his way down her body and stopped at her naval and…

WAIT.

WHAT?

I’m sorry, but WHAT THE FUCK?

From Webster’s:

Definition of naval
1 obsolete : of or relating to ships or shipping
2 a : of or relating to a navy
b : consisting of or involving warships

THIS IS A SEX SCENE, PEOPLE, NOT WAR ON THE HIGH OCEAN.

(And while war on the high ocean could be a metaphor for sex, in this case, it certainly was NOT. No warfare happening here. Just a lot of mutual lust.)

Believe it or not, I finished the book. It was a good book (although it should have had a much better editor because yes, that was only the beginning of the issues), hard to put down even though I did more wincing than any reader should ever have to.

But I’d have liked it more, I’d be telling people to go pick it up and read it, if the team behind it had been more careful.

Just in case you’re confused — because it does happen, and I’ll forgive you for an honest mistake (because you’re not an editor being paid to know the difference. I hope.) — they should have used NAVEL.

Again, from Webster’s:

Definition of navel
1 : a depression in the middle of the abdomen that marks the point of former attachment of the umbilical cord or yolk stalk
2 : the central point : middle

In Delphi’s golden age, when the ancients held it to be the navel of the world —Henry Kamm

Sigh.

It’s on you to put out the best book possible. And while the best editors are human, even humans make mistakes. Remember that no editor is 100% perfect and that Microsoft Word loves to insert typos just to fuck with the heads of conscientious authors everywhere.

Make sure the editor you’re hiring really IS the best you can hire. I’m always open to new clients, and if my rates are too high for you — I do have a mortgage to pay — let’s talk. It’s about making the best book possible, right?

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Says the Editor: More Verbal Abuse

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It was fourteen months ago that I first brought up the subject of verbal abuse and warfare.

I’ve been studying it ever since then, learning it, recognizing it, calling it out when I see it — usually privately.

But this last time? Well, not so much.

Like last time, it started with a phrase. This time, it was, “It goes without saying.”

Now, taken by itself, that’s not such a bad thing. If you’re having a dialogue and both people have the same body of knowledge, it’s a very safe phrase to use. It shows harmony between characters (or people, but do think of this in the context of fiction and fictional conflict ’cause it’s way more fun that way), a shared history, and even a similiar mindset. Oh, not every time; I’m generalizing here. The point is that there is a way that this phrase can be used to show parity between characters.

And then there’s the verbal abuse and warfare. The times the phrase is used to get one up on another, when it’s used to show that the speaker is lording their knowledge over someone who may not have the same breadth of experience and knowledge about a subject. And that’s how it was being used the other day.

As an editor, I deal with writers all day long. I am also a writer. Put those two things together, and I understand the writer mentality pretty well. We are, by dint of the massive amount of rejection we face, a pretty insecure lot. Add in the fact that we’re working in a field that relies 100% on subjective judgments by others, usually complete strangers, and I’d say we’re allowed to be.

So long as we support each other and help each other, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it feels pretty good to help out a fellow writer and watch them grow and gain success.

But that’s not what was happening here. One writer was using “It goes without saying” as a way of lording it over others in the group that the topic of discussion was basic knowledge.

Remember: I work with writers daily. Writers who aren’t myself. The subject at hand didn’t go without saying; it was stuff I say to my clients and my friends and even casual acquaintances I’ve run across at various meetings and workshops. The scenario usually goes like this:

“I used X publisher and I wasn’t happy with how they handled…” they’ll say.

“Is it in the contract?” I’ll ask as gently as I can.

“Well, no. But they said…”

“Specifically? Did you ask? Did you ask if they could put it in writing? Did you talk to other authors who’ve used that publisher?”

“Well… no…”

I’ve had variations of this conversation more times than I can count. And each time it kills me. They didn’t know to ask. They didn’t know they could ask. They didn’t know they should.

“Lesson learned for next time,” I tell them and encourage them to contact me if they need to be walked through any steps along the way. I’ll hold their hand, I’ll give them suggestions based on my experience, I’ll let them bounce ideas off me. Many do. Many get referred to lawyers or others who I think can help them make informed decisions, too, because Lord knows I don’t have all the answers. Just hopefully experience and contacts to people who do have more answers.

And that’s the scenario I keep flashing back to as I consider what was going on between me and the other writer. She had experience she could have been sharing with the group, supporting them and helping them make really smart business decisions. Instead, she chose to lord it over them, needing to raise herself up over them. The discussion did need to be had, the questions did need to be specifically stated. Making a statement like “That goes without saying” to an observer who didn’t realize this set of questions should have been second nature makes their IWI kick up something fierce. That writerly insecurity… it’s a vicious little bastard. There’s no need to feed it, and a phrase like, “It goes without saying” turns into verbal abuse the second someone feels bad about themselves because they did need the information to be discussed.

I knew we’d crossed the line between simple lack of audience awareness (which is not a good thing for an author to do! Know who your audience is often gets cited as a top rule for a writer to consider) and into verbal warfare with a potential for abuse when she explained to me that “It goes without saying” was a phrase.

Wow. Ya THINK?

Of course, this wasn’t the first interaction with her, either. She’s been making a point of one-upping me for a couple months now. Until this, I ignored her. But this time, I called her on it. And what do you think happened?

Refer to the end of the last post about verbal warfare and abuse. Because it was the same damn thing: a clumsy attempt at a classic redirect, gaslight, and abuse.

So. As you work on your fiction, unless your character needs verbal warfare, unless he or she is a gaslighter, unless you’re willing to deal with abuse, be mindful of the phrases you use. Both “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again” and “It goes without saying” are common phrases in our lexicon. Think about the message you’re sending when you use them. Are you speaking to someone on the same level? Or are you engaging in verbal abuse and warfare?

And if it’s the latter, why?

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Call for Submissions: Pizza People!

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I am not certain about this one, but it’s too funny not to tell you about. And if you decide to go for it, you HAVE to tell me, and if you are accepted, you HAVE to tell me so I can cheer and buy you a pizza and pick up a copy and read it, cheer some more, tell everyone to read it, and then cheer YET some more.

Because, dude. This one’s fun.

Ready? It’s from Dark Moon Digest, and… it’s called…

Ready?

You sure?

It’s worth my teasing you like this. It really is.

Unless you don’t like cleverness, or puns, or any of that fun stuff. But if you do, why are you hanging out with the likes of ME?

Okay. Fine. Here goes.

You sure you’re ready?

“Tales From the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror.”

I KID YOU NOT.

Pizza horror.

And they are taking it seriously. (How seriously can you take pizza horror? And is there anything more horrific than gluten free pizza?)

Now, this anthology has some editors picked out, two folk named David James Keaton and Max Booth (no, both of them do not have the same name. One is David and one is Max and c’mon. You could figure that out yourself). And it’s a paying market, too.

The submission deadline isn’t until June 1, so you have time to think up some serious pizza horror. Have at it!

Here’s the link again, just in case you didn’t notice it above.

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Says the Editor: About That Editing Discount…

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You guys are GOOD. I’ll give you that, and as I do, know I’m full of admiration and appreciation for this one.

Last week, I offered a discount for anyone finishing up their 2017 NaNo project and returning to the WIP they’d been working on before November 1. I’d only take four, I said, the first four to commit to sending me a manuscript (or actually sending it, depending on how much more tweaking was going to be involved — some of you hate to send me your stuff and tweak right up until the 11th hour!).

And okay, I’ve already had one solid taker. Yay! Three more slots remain.

But… and this is where I tip my hat in admiration and appreciation, there’s a group of you who found the loophole. One I hadn’t even considered but of course I’ll honor.

That’s asking me for a sample before you commit to a full edit with me.

I TOLD you there was a lot to admire and appreciate in this move! Because OF COURSE I’ll honor the discount if you like the sample I work up for you and commit to sending me a manuscript. Yes, even if that means I give away more than four discounted edits. I may not get to all of them during December, and I’m as always upfront about my calendar and where my editing time is going to be devoted, but yes. Absolutely. I was contacted in good faith, with full intentions of giving a discount on my work. And it was for the first four people who committed.

Which, in my mind, means that if you start the process of committing but aren’t one of the first four to actually make the commitment, yes, I’ll extend the offer to you even if you’re the fifth. Or seventh. Or tenth. (I should be so lucky! So far, I haven’t done that many samples.)

To those of you savvy enough to think of this before I pointed it out, like I said, you’ve got my admiration and appreciation. Tons of it. That was slick maneuvering, and I bet you’d outsmart this dude, too. (but would you want to? THAT is another story. Me, personally, I would not want to outsmart him. Bring on the ducks!)

To those of you who didn’t think of it, that’s fine, too. Get in touch with me before those last three slots are firmed up — which means sooner rather than later. Because once those three are booked, it’s back to regular rates. And I’m told my regular rates are high — which they should be. I’m worth it, dammit. And frankly, so are you.*

So. Ask for a sample or just grab the discount now. Your choice. Just don’t dawdle because this is a limited-time offer. And there’s no shipping or handling charges involved, either. (I had to add that because I’m starting to feel like an infomercial here!)

Bring it. Show me what you’ve got, and let’s work on making it the best book possible.

*If you still can’t afford my rates (regular or discounted) but really want to work with me, drop me a line and let’s talk. I can be flexible, as you’re seeing here with this cool loophole, up to a point. I do have a mortgage and car payment and all that single parent stuff that demands I not give my work away.

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Says the Editor: Just Start Writing

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I can’t make this stuff up, even if I tried. And since I’m a writer as well as an editor, I do try.

I actually see it more often than you’d think. People who… well, you know what? I can’t tell you what their motivation is most of the time. Sometimes, they’ll tell you. “I want to get in on the riches of being an author,” or “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” or “People tell me I should write a book.”

The query isn’t actually, “I want to write a book” — that’s not really something you can ask someone.

Nope. It’s “How do I start?”

And it may seem flip to respond, “Just start writing,” but that’s my go-to answer. And, of course, that comes off as being flip or rude or not helpful. Because I think a lot of these people are looking for magic formulas and rubrics and step-by-step instructions. And maybe down the road, with experience, those magic formulas will appear, but not at the beginning. Because at the beginning, you need to try a lot of things, make a lot of mistakes, and then discover what truly works for you, what your process is.

But before that, you also have to figure out what exactly you don’t know. And then you have to go learn it, incorporate it into your draft, ingrain it in your writing self.

So, yeah. Just start writing.

Make mistakes. Puke words on a page. Read a lot — but don’t just read. Study what you read. Compare it to what you’ve written. Tweak what you’ve written. Go read something else. Study. Compare. Tweak.

Unfortunately — or maybe it is fortunate — there are no magic wands when it comes to writing a book. It’s a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s frustration, boredom, elation, trepidation, inspiration at 2AM or just at that point when the shower hits the perfect temperature and you’re too excited by the revelation to enjoy it properly.

And of course, “Just start writing” also means “Get off social media and quit talking. Shut up and get busy already.”

Because, yeah, that’s gotta happen, too.

Just start writing.

If nothing else, writing is a journey of self-discovery. So get busy. Discover things about yourself you never knew possible. Discover your characters, your setting, your story in ways you hadn’t been able to imagine them. Discover if this is really something you want to see through to completion — and be sure to discover the why behind that, too.

Go on. I dare you.

Just start writing.

And for those of you who ARE writing, I’d like to remind you that I’m offering a special for the first four authors who contact me with a manuscript they put aside for NaNo 2017 and now need help with. I made this offer a few days ago and this post was scheduled, so I have no idea how many remain. If you need help, don’t delay. Get in touch with me NOW.

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Says the Editor: NaNo Winners and an Editing Discount!

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My timelines the past few days are starting to fill up with NaNo Winners — this year’s slew of writers who were able to write 50k words in the month of November, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. (You know: NaNo)

Congratulations to the winners. I’ve done it myself, way back when, and I know it’s no easy feat. I remember my year-old daughter standing at the door to my office, dropping her shoes over the baby gate to get my attention. (If I didn’t close the gate, she would come in here and turn the computer itself off. She was a pistol at that age!)

I found that the month-long rush to get words down didn’t work for me as a writer, and of course, I strongly believe in doing what works best for you as a writer. Yet I have other friends and clients for whom NaNo sets the discipline of writing every day, and for them, it lasts throughout the year. They use it as a tune-up time, to make sure they’re still pushing themselves to write daily and to get the words down. Even when revising, they set lofty goals and do their best to achieve them.

So NaNo works on many levels (and if you’ve got thoughts on this, let’s hear them!), but one way it doesn’t work?

Revisions.

Every novel needs to be revised. NaNo, by its very structure, doesn’t leave a lot of time for revising as you go. In fact, they tell you NOT to revise at all. The goal of NaNo, after all, is 50,000 words — not 50,000 good words.

So once you win, close up that file. Take a deep breath. Pat yourself on the back and order the winner’s t-shirt (do they still do that?), then sit down and indulge in the best piece of chocolate (cake) you can find. Savor it. 50k in a month is no small feat.

And then return to whatever you were working on that was interrupted by NaNo.

If you hate it or need a jumpstart, or if you think it’s time to get eyes on it, drop me a note. The first four manuscripts that come my way as a “Help Me After NaNo” plea will get a discount. (Why four? That books me solid for the month of December.)

Remember: this isn’t for your 2017 winner. It’s for what you were working on before November began. Or something you’d set aside before NaNo and now need some feedback on.

In other words: complete before November 1, 2017.

And again, to the winners and the winners-to-be in the next few days: huge congratulations from a veteran NaNo participant and winner.

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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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